Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Listening to the Word of God

At Youth Group last night we were discussing listening to the Word of God with humility from the Imitation of Christ.

How all the words of God are to be heard with humility, and how many consider them not:
"My Son, hear My words, for My words are most sweet, surpassing all the knowledge of the philosophers and wise men of this world. My words are spirit, and they are life, and are not to be weighed by man's understanding. They are not to be drawn forth for vain approbation, but to be heard in silence, and to be received with all humility and with deep love."
And I said, "Blessed is the man whom Thou teachest, O Lord, and instructest him in Thy law, that Thou mayest give him rest in time of adversity, and that he be not desolate in the earth."

One of the things that was discussed is that listening to the Word of God is more than simply reading scripture or obeying the commandments, as important as these are. Listening to the Word of God also means hearing God speak to us in the depths of our hearts in the midst of our daily lives.

When one encounters God directly speaking to us where we are at, we begin to see that He really does love us and is looking after us, that He is not a "far off God", but one who draws near to us.


Joel Schuster said...

How would you know the difference b/t God speaking to the heart and Satan speaking temptation if it were not for the filter of the Word of God?

So many times people get into real trouble believing, and being deceived, that the 'quiet-still voice' that they hear leading them is God.

Fr. Christopher Gaffrey, ofm said...

Thanks for the comment, Joel. You raise a good point. Scripture is indeed a good guide. Any "inspiration" that is contrary to divine revelation is obviously from the evil one, but so is any exaggeration of one part of scripture over and above the entirety of scripture. Remember how in the desert, the devil tries to tempt Jesus by misusing scripture itself!
The gift of discernment is necessary.
St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises speaks of three kinds of inspirations, two of which are angelic, and one divine.
The angelic ones are divided into ones from the holy angels and ones from the evil spirits and Satan. These occur mostly in our intellect. If one is walking in the way of the Lord, the inspirations from the holy angels will seem like water dripping on a sponge (they will not disturb one) while the inspirations from the evil spirits will hit one like water dripping on stone. What's worse, the evil spirits may even resort to inspiring holy things which in order to distract one from God's will. For example, a friend of mine was on his retreat for final profession, and during his prayer he had an inspiration to get married. And yet he noticed that this inspiration was in his intellect and splashing against him and was obviously an attempt to distract him with something holy (marriage) from doing what he already knew to be God's will (to become a religious).

If one is not walking according to the way of the Lord, then the very opposite will be true. The evil spirits will try to placate one's spirit while the holy angels will inspire one to good things and these will seem like shocks to the system.

Divine inspirations are the only one's that are directly in the heart (not that everything already in the heart is from God, but rather when one is inspired and it is to the core of one's being, it is a sign of God's direct action on the soul). These inspirations are accompanied (at the very moment of inspiration) by joy and peace (fruits of the Holy Spirit) and a great desire to fulfill the inspiration. The devil may try to derail one from following such inspirations, which is why St. Ignatius says one must look at whether those three elements were present at the time of the inspiration.

Remember that St. Paul reminds us to test the spirits (so discernment of spirits is possible and is a charism of the Holy Spirit) and these methods above are some of the ways that holy men and women (not just St.Ignatius) have discovered through prayer and reflection on God's word and the writings of other holy men and women throughout the centuries.

Joel Schuster said...

Discernment: Knowing the difference b/t what is right and what is wrong. The only place for understanding what is right, truly right, is the Word of God itself. Without the Word indwelling within our hearts there is no way to discern anything. We cannot rely on our heart which is deceitful! We may, and often do, deceive ourselves that something is bad is good and likewise that something that is good is bad.

I would be hard pressed to declare something as 'divine inspiration' unless it falls directly in line with what God has already revealed/inspired. And I would submit that a regulative principle must be used! Otherwise we also start injecting our own desires into the interpretations that you so rightly point out must be made with scripture only and with the it's entirety.

Testing Spirits: Again, by the Word of God only! Is not God's Word sufficient and totally applicable?

How then do you know God's will for your life? Is there 'special' revelation that is applicable only to your life? Or mine?

Or rather, maybe we shouldn't get the cart before the horse. Maybe the Fruits of the Spirit are not markers of verification of the path but stepping off points to start the journey. Maybe the 'calling' for our life is already declared. I find it irresponsible to suggest that there is only one 'Will', that (to use the example of your friend) something Holy, like marriage and is called out within Scripture, would be a distraction from something that's simply a felt need.

My point is not to condemn the judgement call, he may have felt very called to ministry, and had external calling as well. Great! I rather suggest that the only means by which we should determine God's Will for our lives is by Scripture.

And Scripture seems to be very clear... no 'Gideon cloaks/fleeces', no 'little voice', no 'burning of the chest', no 'Casting Lots'... yes to 'open doors', as long as you do something!

I find it odd that people would want to work so hard as determining the Will of God is for their life without first finding out what God's Will first is. Rather, shouldn't we rely on the Holy Spirit to create in us New Desires? And that those New Desires will themselves be God's Will? If we are new creatures won't we by default wish to Glorify Him even by enjoying ourselves?

Fr. Christopher Gaffrey, ofm said...

Thank you again for a rather interesting comment.

Discernment is not only about knowing what is right and wrong but also figuring out what God's will is for one's life.

"Are all apostles, are all prophets, are all teachers..." no, but God calls each to different ministries, to develop different charisms, to work different things for His Kingdom. The general will of God for all of us is holiness. But each person is called to live out holiness in different ways. Marriage is not the only vocation spoken of in scripture. Christ was consecrated to the work of the work of God, and St. Paul mentions his own celibacy when saying he wish all to be like him, continent. There is also mention of virgins dedicated to God, and the earliest church history shows that priests were not able to marry after being ordained.

The point being that God has a plan for each person. Sure, God is going to work His will of salvation in whatever state of life one ends up in, but each person is called to something specific (look at Jer 1:5). The way one finds out one's specific call is to pray and discern. Certainly scripture helps that because one cannot follow God's will without being in a relationship with: first encounter, then mission, as the adage goes.

Yes, God can reveal to each person His will for his or her life. Just as He did with Jeremiah or with Saul, or with Moses. The call will be similar in that each is called to know God and walk in His ways, but the way God wants that to get played out will be different for each person, and God can be calling one to a specific mission as He did with Saul of Tarsus. God didn't call all people to go on apostolic missions to the gentiles, only certain ones.

Remember in Acts how one of the communities receives a word from the Spirit about setting apart Paul and Barnabas for the work He had for them?

Perhaps to allay some of your concerns about what you thought I may or may not have been saying, no "voice" from God is to be taken immediately without being tested, prayed over, and examined, perhaps even with the help of a spiritual director.

We're probably closer in thought than you think, the only difference is that for me scripture indicates other instances of the "word of God" being the internal working of God on the heart of someone, giving them a mission or a word of knowledge, etc, and yes, such "words" are also to be tested in the light of public revelation, scripture and its proper authoritative interpretation handed on by the apostles to the bishops (apostolic Tradition).