Does God Really Speak?

mountain bounty by jeremy cram

Photo credit to Jeremy Cram

 


It is only meaningful to listen to the Holy Spirit and obey him if he speaks.


Does God really speak to us? Are there not many people who, instead of hearing God speak, feel they are encountering absolute silence? And among those who do hear him speak, are there not a good many who are merely hearing themselves, their own thoughts and fantasies?

There are people who, no matter what they do, feel affirmed by God. If they have success, it is clear that God is with them and blessing their plans. If they have opposition, it is even more clear that they are doing right. Everything that comes from God should be marked by the Cross, they say. Did not Jesus himself fail . . . ?

Are you hearing your own voice or the voice of God? Is it you who are speaking to yourself, or are you listening to God speaking to you? Perhaps the question is not nuanced enough. It need not be a question of either/or. God can speak through your own self. And that is usually what he does, provided that you stand before him in all honesty and live from the basic attitude of wanting to do his will. As soon as you want to listen to the Holy Spirit, he becomes active in you, for no one can begin to listen to God on his own initiative. The will to listen is already a work of the Holy Spirit. “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16), so the Spirit speaks together with our spirit about what God’s will is. The Spirit uses our deep, true self to make understand what God wills.

I am often asked the question: “Does God want me to enter a monastery?” My immediate reply is: Do you want it? Do you have the desire to enter a monastery, not only with a theoretical, abstract desire, but are you drawn there, do you believe you will be happy and find your home there? If you truly want it, it is likely that God wants it also, that he wills it through you. Then it remains to be seen if you have the necessary qualities of physical and psychological health, common sense, and a certain spiritual maturity, and if the religious community to which you are drawn wishes to accept you. A vocation consists mainly of these three elements:
(1) a personal desire; (2) the capacity to live the life; (3) a religious community that opens its doors to you.

God seldom speaks directly with audible, perceptible words. He speaks, for the most part, indirectly, via your own deep, truth-seeking will. I say “deep” will. For alongside the deep will there are many superficial “wills” , namely, all the small opposing desires that often drown out the deep will.

God also speaks through events, circumstances, encounters with other people, and through books. Much of what is happening around you contains a secret message from God. It is a question of deciphering and interpreting it. In everything that happens, you can gradually learn to recognize a You. The impersonal becomes personal. Apparently random events become personal messages from God.

God speaks uninterruptedly. He instructs, encourages, challenges, and comforts. He truly walks in our garden of Eden (cf. Gen 3:8). Yes, our life becomes again something of a paradise when we continually meet God.

If we read the Bible, it is, among other things, to learn this fact: that God is constantly speaking to us. “And God spoke to Moses and said. . . ” How often we read that phrase! It does not mean, of course, that Moses constantly heard God’s voice. But he was so in harmony with God, so completely on the same wave-length, that he thought the same thoughts as God. For the most part, we deserve this mild reproach from God: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts” (Is 55:8). But that can change! We can come to the point where we think God’s thoughts, where God thinks with our understanding and loves with our heart.

We can eventually receive “the mind of Christ” (see Phil 2:5) and, like him, encounter the Father in all things. When he admired the lilies of the field and saw how the birds were fed without sowing or reaping, he saw in this the Father’s love and care (Mt 6:26-29).
When he heard talk of the collapse of the Tower of Siloam (Lk 13:4-5), he saw it as a call to conversion. In everything he met a You.

It would be wise to take few minutes each day to examine one’s conscience and ask oneself: What has God wanted to teach me today? Where have I encountered him, or where should I have encountered him?

If you object that one should consider one’s sins during the examination of conscience, I can answer that this is one of our greatest sins: that we do not recognize God, who walks in our garden.

~ A Reflection by Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.

 

 

Your Spiritual Director

 


Many complain and lament that they have not succeeded in finding a spiritual director. But it is the Holy Spirit who is our spiritual director, and apart from him no one else is.


 

Holy Spirit art by Ladislav Zaborsky

The Paraclete, art by Ladislav Záborský

 

Director and “Companion”

These directors {says Saint John of the Cross} should reflect that they themselves are not the chief agent, guide, and mover of souls in this matter, but that the principal guide is the Holy Spirit, Who is never neglectful of souls, and that they are instruments for directing them to perfection through faith and the law of God, according to the spirit God gives each one.

Thus the director’s whole concern should not be to accommodate souls to his own method and condition, but he should observe the road along which God is leading them, and if he does not recognize it, he should leave them alone and not bother them.
It would be more correct to speak of a spiritual “companion”. His task is not to lead—that is the work of the Holy Spirit—but rather to accompany the person who has confided in him and help him listen to the Spirit and recognize his impulses. It is truly a difficult task, and it demands much self-denial on the part of the spiritual “companion”. It is tempting to think that one’s won path will be suitable for others and that the methods that have been helpful on one’s own life will also be helpful to others. But this is not so. What is helpful for one may be harmful to another.

For this reason, the “companion” finds himself in a very delicate position and can feel extremely poor. There are no ready-made ideas or recipes on which to fall back. When  he goes to the confessional or the visiting room, he ought to be completely empty. He knows nothing except this: that now it is a question of listening attentively to what the Spirit wants with just this person.

True Freedom: To Be Bound by the Spirit

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God”, writes Saint Paul (Rom 8:14). One is not living as a child of God if he does not allow himself to be led by the Spirit.

Perhaps this is difficult  to understand in our day when freedom and liberty are spoken of so ardently. And rightly so! Even the Second Vatican Council speaks enthusiastically about man’s freedom:

For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man. For God has willed that man remain “under the control of his own decisions,” so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him. Hence man’s dignity demands that he act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure.

True freedom does not exclude the fact that one is led by another. The decisive question is: By whom or by what are we led? Are we led by blind impulses, or are we led from within, from a level that lies even deeper than what we usually call the unconscious? “The soul’s center is God”, writes Saint John of the Cross. No one is so truly himself, no one lives so authentically, genuinely, and freely as the one who lets himself be led by God, who lives in the center of the soul. To live from one’s center is the greatest freedom.

A Wholehearted Yes

If the Holy Spirit is your director, then it is up to you to let yourself be led, to say Yes to his inspirations.
In connection with this Yes, I would like to point out three things.

1. It is important that your Yes be wholehearted. If every time you say Yes, you add many “Buts’ , and if you have many reservations, you cannot expect the Spirit to lead you where he wills. Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) speaks of a “great and very resolute determination” not to stop before one has reached the goal. In the Bible this is called a “pure” heart. Pure honey is honey that is not mixed with anything else. In the same way, the heart is pure when it does only what it was made to do, namely, love.
Experience teaches us that life becomes easier and simpler when we say a wholehearted Yes to God. We have a need for what is clear and unambiguous and are content with this. To know what one wants and to want what one knows gives rise to a special joy. The opposite gives a particular weariness and repugnance. We all know how it feels when we cannot make a decision, when we continually waver back and forth, and when, after finally deciding, we immediately question what we have decided. Indecision consumes an unbelievable amount of energy.

2. It is good to remember that your actions have a tendency to release a chain reaction, for good or for ill. If you say a wholehearted Yes to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it will be easier to say Yes to him the next moment. If you say No to him now, it will be more difficult to say Yes tomorrow. That is why it is so urgent to come over the threshold and break through the barrier that has been built up by a bad habit. When the first step is taken, everything goes more smoothly.

3. We live more or less in cycles. We are all a bit “cyclothymic”. We often have mild mood swings, also in the spiritual realm. When we discover a new way, such as the way of confidence and trust shown by Saint Thérèse, for example, we become very enthusiastic. We may sail forward for a few days or weeks, but later on the feelings cool down, and we become weary and tired and drag ourselves along. A machine works always in the same way. One can estimate exactly how much it will produce. But a living being has its seasons, its summer and its winter. God does not expect the same from us in the winter as in the summer.
It is extremely liberating to know that God never demands more of us than we can give him. He is always content when we do what we can. The only important thing is that we never give up, that with a holy stubbornness we do what we can.
In practice, our spiritual journey will probably be like the famous procession in Echternach (Luxembourg), where after every third step, one takes a step backward. It goes more slowly, but, nevertheless, one arrives.

~ A Reflection by Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.

 

 

 

 

Notes on Spiritual Guidance in the Carmelite Way

Tiny bluebird friend by Unknown Artist

Tiny bluebird friend by Unknown Artist

In the Gospel [Jesus said] … where two or three are gathered to consider what is for the greater honor and glory of My name, there I am in the midst of them… that is, clarifying and confirming truths in their hearts, It is noteworthy that He did not say: Where there is one alone, there I am: rather, He said: Where there are at least two. Thus God announces that He does not want the soul to believe only by itself the communications it thinks are of divine origin, or for anyone to be assured or confirmed in them without the Church or her ministers. God will not bring clarification and confirmation of the truth to the heart of one who is alone. Such a person would remain weak and cold in regard to the truth. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel by St. John of the Cross)

This passage, even though it deals specifically with souls who have received visions and revelations, is pertinent to all of us, for it contains a basic truth, namely, that we are not always the best interpreters of our own experience. St. Teresa of Jesus taught that it is one grace to receive a grace from God and another grace to correctly understand the grace that one has received (The Book of Her life. 154). And the grace of understanding is often communicated to us through another person.

St. John of the Cross does not say that we need someone to tell us the truth but we need a trusted guide who is able to assist us in “clarifying (aclarando) and confirming (confirmando) truths [that] are in [our] hearts.” Aclarando is the process of clearing up obscurity or shedding light upon things that are unclear, whereas confirmando means to confirm and give support.

Good spiritual directors are hard to come by, you may say. This is true. However, the guidance of which St. John of the Cross speaks can come to us through many sources. We can receive clarification and confirmation about truths that are in our hearts from our spouse, a coworker, a support group, a friend, or even a book.

So we may ask ourselves and reflect:

What are the channels through which I receive spiritual guidance? What or who is most helpful in clarifying or shedding light upon my experiences?

 

~ By Marc Foley, O.C.D ~ The Ascent of Mount Carmel Reflections