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Contents Introduction Hearing God in the Modern World


1. First Things First Affirming What We Believe


2. Making the Commitment Loving God above All Things


3. The Movements in Our Souls St. Ignatius’ Rules for the Discernment of Spirits


4. Preparing Our Hearts Learning Detachment and Trust


5. Communicating with God The Many Ways to Pray


6. Hearing God in His Word The “Five Ps” of Praying with Scripture


7. A Balancing Act Integrating Our Intellect, Emotions, and Will


8. Listening to God in Difficult Times Seeing the Big Picture


Conclusion The Endgame



Introduction Hearing God in the Modern World


he modern world is full of technical complexities. Every day we are presented with new and improved technology—and new challenges of learning how to use it. The problems of the world are even more complex. Why do oil prices fluctuate? Will there be enough money for Social Security and Medicare? How do citizens deal with terrorism, drugs, and international conflicts? With all these complexities, it may seem like a quaint notion to look to our faith for answers. If I cannot even read the manuals for my cell phone or computer, how can I expect to find guidance from the Bible, which was written by people thousands of years ago? Furthermore, why would modern people want to listen to God speaking to them? What sense does this make in the modern world? Many Christians and unbelievers alike think it makes no sense at all. The Bible and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ seem so irrelevant that they dismiss a life of faith entirely. To them it seems that the Church is concerned only with their sexual morality. They prefer to make their own decisions, or at least to experiment with various options until they find what is right for them. So the decision to listen to God speaking to us is a radical—and life-changing—one. To have such a desire means that we believe that there is a loving God who cares for us and has a plan for our lives. Such a worldview differs from the secular culture in that 9

How to Listen When God Is Speaking

our reference point is centered on loving and serving God, not on ourselves and what we can attain. Believers in God do not look to powerful political leaders or rich and popular entertainment figures as their models. Rather, they look to Jesus Christ, not only as the model of their lives, but as the one who has the spiritual power to transform them into a new creation. That was our Father’s intention from the very moment of creation. Instead of seeing human existence as an accident, believers accept that God desired to create the world for the sake of all humanity and to call each individual, without exception, to a unique purpose within history. This means that God created my soul and yours in our mothers’ wombs to live precisely at the particular moment of history into which we were born. “Now” is the time for the mission God has chosen for each of us to fulfill. The choice to listen to God and do his will is the most noble, fulfilling, and purposeful thing we can do with our lives. Listening to God in prayer will give us new and deeper insight into the person of Jesus Christ. As we meditate on his life in the gospels, as we understand the ways in which the Old Testament foretold and prefigured him, and as we gain insight into the meaning of Christ in the letters of the apostles, we will come to know Christ better. He will definitely challenge us. His words and actions in the gospels will challenge our instincts to be self-centered or to focus on our own personal pleasure or the acquisition of property and power. He will challenge those habits of sin that we too easily rationalize. Instead of letting us slip into mediocrity, Jesus Christ commands us to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” 10


(Matthew 5:48). Jesus will challenge our compulsive behaviors and ingrained patterns of wrongdoing and sin. We think that we can never change, and then we find that Jesus changes us the way he changed Matthew the tax collector (Matthew 9:9) or healed the blind man (Luke 18:35-43) or even raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Meditation on these actions of Jesus Christ can give us hope that he will raise us up from the death of our bad behaviors and give us new life. When we read about the leper who dared to ask Jesus for a healing (Matthew 8:1-4) or about the woman with the hemorrhage who was afraid to ask but who touched the tassel of Christ’s garment and was healed (Mark 5:24-34), then we gain courage to ask Jesus to help us too. By listening to the gospel in prayer, we learn to become the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair; her great love saved her and her faith freed her from her sins (Luke 7:36-50). Learning to listen to these and other Scripture passages will change our lives into something far better than we could ever imagine—even better than the fantasies we entertain when we buy a lottery ticket and hope to win millions! Yet listening to God is not as simple as listening to our MP3 players or cell phones. How do we even learn to listen to God? How does someone know whether God is speaking or whether they are hearing a little voice in their own heads? What is discernment of God’s will? What are the basic principles of discernment? What are the goals and purposes of listening to God in the modern world? These are some of the questions this book seeks to answer. Jesus taught on many different levels to the people of his time. He traveled throughout Galilee proclaiming, “Repent and believe for the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). Then he 11

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called disciples—among them the disciples of John the Baptist (John 1:29-51) and some fishermen at the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:18-22)—to form a small group to follow him more closely throughout his earthly ministry. To these disciples he would address the Sermon on the Mount, although a large crowd also gathered around to hear him (Matthew 5:1-2). Throughout his public ministry, crowds listened to him teach in parables, yet he would explain privately to the smaller circle of disciples both the reason for speaking in parables (Matthew 13:10-17, 34-36) and the parables’ interpretations (13:16-23, 36-43). The crowds were taught on one level, but deeper explanations and more profound teachings were given to the twelve disciples (John 13–17). Jesus’ disciples learned to listen to this wisdom and then shared it with the world. Today Jesus calls each one of us into that inner circle. He wants to share with us his profound wisdom and his love so that we, too, can share it with a needy world. Let’s discover how we can become listeners like Jesus’ disciples so that we can hear God in the modern world today, in whatever place or circumstance we find ourselves.


Chapter 3

The Movements in Our Souls St. Ignatius’ Rules for the Discernment of Spirits


n the last chapter, we described some basic principles underlying discernment of God’s will—committing ourselves to God first, committing ourselves to getting to heaven, and accepting God’s revelation on his terms. These basic principles belong on the objective side of the ledger in discernment. Perhaps we can understand them as the bones of a vertebrate animal—they provide the structure. But these bones need flesh, blood, a heart, and a brain. Unlike Dorothy’s traveling companions in The Wizard of Oz, we already possess them. The question is how do we listen to God speaking to our hearts, minds, and wills? What is the process of discernment of God’s will? Interior, personal discernment depends absolutely on those objective first principles, but in our relationship with God, discernment definitely takes a very subjective turn. We move from knowing those extremely important things about God to a personal level of knowing and loving God. Such a knowledge and love of God occurs within one’s prayer life. Prayer includes a communal prayer life in the liturgy, in the sacraments, and in families and prayer groups, as well as a personal prayer life. Prayer is discussed in more depth in later 45

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chapters. Here it is important to note that a common aspect of all these types of prayer is the experience of God’s peace, a key element of knowing that he is present to us. One aspect of developing spiritually is to learn how to distinguish our compulsive behavior, sins, emotional desires, drives, and inner movements from the peace that comes from God. Familiarity with God’s gift of “peace that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7) makes it possible to discern God’s leading from our own inclinations, since what is not from God cannot convey a peace that lasts. At the outset, a few words of warning are appropriate here. We should be careful not to substitute our knowledge of theology for an authentic personal relationship with God. Truly, knowing about God does not necessarily save a soul from sin. In fact, “the demons believe in God, and they tremble” (James 2:19). Some Christians so emphasize their knowledge of God that they fall into various temptations that cause them to be prideful or even arrogant, as St. Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 8:1 (“Knowledge puffs up but love builds up”). This knowledge about God must be integrated into the whole of our personal relationship with God. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should abandon the study of theology or the doctrines of the faith. Some believe that a personal “heart” knowledge of God means that we can dispense with learning about doctrine. Neither option is healthy, because the task of discernment will be a process of integrating all aspects of our person—mind, heart, body, and will—into our relationship with God. The Lord wants an authentic relationship with us in which we reveal our true personalities to him. He wants us to freely admit who we are, including the character flaws and sinful actions that we would rather keep out of the discussion. At the end of the Sermon 46

Chapter 3 | The Movements in Our Souls

on the Mount, Jesus even talks about people who say, “Lord, Lord” and perform mighty deeds in his name but fail to do his Father’s will. He will say to them, “Go away, because I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21, 23). Jesus will not be schmoozed by fast-talking, miracle-working wise guys. He desires a personal relationship and not merely nice words about a relationship. Such a personal knowl-

The Lord wants an authentic relationship with us in which we reveal our true personalities to him. edge based on the truth of our lives is crucial for discerning God’s will. Like politics in my hometown of Chicago, it’s not what you know but who you know. We need to know God through a rich prayer life, which will be discussed in chapters five and six. Learning about Interior Discernment In third grade Sr. Cordelia gave out free tickets to the movies for every student in the class. In fact, Catholic school kids throughout Chicago were offered the tickets to see a movie about a Catholic saint. We talked Mom into driving us to the theater. What made an impression on me then was a big battle at a castle and a brave soldier wounded there. After the fights ended, not much else made sense to me. Ten years later I realized that the movie was about the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of my order, the Jesuits. Over the years I have found his story to be so important for understanding the rules for discernment of God’s will that I want to pass it on to you. 47

How to Listen When God Is Speaking  

An excerpt of How to Listen When God Is Speaking by Fr. Mitch Pacwa

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