“Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” A young apprentice named Samuel spoke these iconic words as a teen. His openness to listen to God eventually led him to become one of the great prophets who would anoint David the King of Israel.
David himself was a young man, an obscure shepherd. Both these youth – like Mary – had no expectation that God was about to call them to some remarkable task, but each found their lives changed ever after. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Samuel’s words, the rule for prayer in every age, were not his own; he learned this invitation from Eli (I Sm 3:7-11). So too, the gift of prayer is handed on from generation to generation. What God will say and do in each life is not in our hands, but helping others to listen to the Lord’s voice is a sacred trust. Observing the Lord’s Ascension helps us appreciate how listening to Christ’s voice remains essential. Jesus promises the Spirit, reminding us of all He taught and leading us to all truth. Jesus has not left us on our own to know the Way, and the Spirit allows us in many times and places to hear that Voice of the Good Shepherd that only a small number could access 20 centuries ago. I want to say thank you on behalf of all of us for the work of the One In Christ Area Catholic Community Planning Council and the groups that have formed around each of the initial four goals of this ACC: worship schedules; evangelization; stewardship; and the broad area of youth and young adult ministry. Like so many in our ACC and across the diocese, I have sat through dozens of meetings this past year. From the outside, perhaps progress seems slow, the vision obscure. We are not all of like mind. Priorities and proposals differ. Personalities emerge that do not always seamlessly merge. Spiritualities and treasured convictions – each of them part of the rich Body of Christ – are not uniform. This is of course what we would expect, and it is really no different than the first group of disciples around Jesus. Imagine Simon the Zealot, whose goal was to overthrow the Roman occupation, sitting next to Matthew the tax collector, a living symbol of that Roman power, both chosen by Jesus to be formed and reformed into His witnesses. As more and more people engage in these discussions, it gets inevitably messy and perhaps even discouraging at times. But that is precisely our work … asking the Lord to speak, and listening. There are so many words, so many voices, today. Learning to hear Jesus amid all that, quieting our souls in prayer, takes discipline and practice. Perhaps even more discipline and practice is needed to hear the Lord’s voice speaking through other human voices. Those voices may inspire, challenge, instruct; they can also distract, mislead, discourage. To hear the Good Shepherd takes discernment, time, the help of the Holy Spirit. Making the effort to listen in our parishes with respect and faith can be a model for the larger culture; and if we do this well, we learn skills and make visible progress in being a community rooted in faith that itself becomes evangelization. In a divided world, that is no small part of the Church’s current work. So today, as we remember the hope given to us by the Ascension, give your children and grandchildren a hug, teach them how to pray, and cultivate a listening heart. With such seemingly small steps, God will do remarkable things we cannot predict or control – as Mary and Joseph will attest.
“Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Eli taught that to Samuel, so Samuel could listen to God. What will God say to you, this week, in your prayer and also in your listening to others who give voice to the truth revealed in Jesus Christ? ]Fr. Tom