“Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Never in a thousand years could Samuel have guessed what he would do in his life. He was to be the last of the great judges of Israel. He provided steady leadership and guidance to the people of Israel, but His sons were unworthy to follow him as leaders of Israel, and the people demanded a king. Samuel would anoint two kings, Saul and later David, and he never feared to challenge abuses of Saul’s power directly. All of this was the will of God, enacted through Samuel, who, for the entirety of his life, never stopped listening to God and serving him.
We all must strive to listen to God as Samuel did.
There are two primary ways in which we can listen for God: prayer and study, specifically, study of Scripture. They are not mutually exclusive. Some would argue that the best way to study scripture is, in fact, while on our knees.1 Prayer is absolutely essential to our lives as Christians, and yet, many of us neglect it or think that going to Mass on Sunday and praying a rosary or two is sufficient prayer. These are good things, but they are not enough. We are called to pray without ceasing. (1 Thess 5:17) That is a lofty goal, but it is attainable if we recognize what prayer actually is and devote ourselves to prayer.
Prayer, simply put, is communicating with God.2 To share the deepest moments of our life with him. To ask for his help, but even moreso, to ask for his love. This isn’t automatic, and we must practice communicating with God. In other words: the way we learn to pray is through prayer.3 Think about your relationship with your closest friend: Were you instantly able to talk about the deepest movements of your heart? Or was it a bit challenging and uncomfortable at first? It can be frightening to plumb the depths of your life and bring forward the deepest secrets in our hearts. It is scary to be vulnerable with someone. Make no mistake: more than any moment of physical vulnerability, the moment we open our heart to another person is one of the most vulnerable moment of our lives. We fear rejection at the core of our being. We are human, after all. We have been created to live in community.
With God, though, we need not worry about rejection. He loves us deeply. He will not reject us. “[W]hen we can be vulnerable enough to show it all to God, to let Him into it and let ourselves be loved in the midst of it, we experience the transforming power of His love.”4 No matter how odd our personality, no matter what kind of sin we’ve gotten into, God loves us infinitely and uniquely. Fr. Jacques Phillippe writes that “God’s love is personal and individual. God does not love two people in the same way because it is actually his love that creates our personality, a different personality for each. There is a much great difference between people’s souls than between their faces…”5 Prayer opens our soul to the word God wishes to speak to it, the word of his unique love for us. This love, which he intends for us to share, is living and active. This love calls each of us to a unique mission amongst his holy people.
How, then, do we pray?
First, make a commitment to pray a certain amount per day. I don’t care who you are, you can always find five minutes a day to pray. Honestly, I suspect we all have 15 minutes at least we can give to God. If you don’t think you do, pull out your phone and look at your screen time app. How much time do you spend on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever? I promise you that time in prayer will be better for you body and soul than any thread or post or story.
Second, find some silence. Some people will deny this is necessary: they are wrong. Perhaps someone experienced in prayer can find the peace necessary to pray, but beginners in prayer—most of us—need silence, because we need to quiet our minds from all the distractions of the world. In this area, it is helpful to prepare. For example, you could listen to some music, like Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, or one of Bach’s Oratorios. Note that the kind of music matters. If it doesn’t lift your soul to God, then it won’t help you to cast aside this world and meet God. If that’s not your thing, do some deep breathing for a minute or so.
Third, just pray. Tell God what’s happening in your life. Tell him what’s good and what’s bad. Tell him what bring you joy and what terrifies you. Tell him how you feel about him, whether you’re happy with him or furious at him. Tell him what you need help with. Ask him to help you. Maybe most importantly, ask him to help you see how much he loves you.
Finally, don’t forget to be silent with him for a while. We need the silence: it is in the silence that God speaks to our hearts. Remember, Samuel said, “speak, your servant is listening.” He did not say, “listen, your servant is speaking.” If you feel inspired to read some passage in Scripture, go for it, but don’t go overboard. Prayer time is not reading time, and even I make that mistake too regularly.
Single people, you can make time to pray, you just have to decide to do it.
Married couples, you have it a little harder, especially if you have children. Nevertheless, husbands and wives: your primary goal is to get your spouse to Heaven. To get to Heaven, a person must pray.
Husbands, I don’t care how challenging it is or how tired you are or how grumpy the children are, there is no excuse for not giving your wife a few minutes of silence a day so that she can pray. You have one job that matters: get your wife to heaven. Do it.
Wives, I recognize that you are burdened with many tasks and are often exhausted and many times have already spent much of the day with the kids, but your husband needs a few minutes of silence a day so that he can pray. Remember, your most important job is to get your husband to heaven.
Children, when your parents are praying, don’t bother them! (Well, if someone is hurt or the house is on fire, you can bother them…) Instead of bothering them, join them in prayer.
Christ has invited us, saying Come, and you will see.
Let us go to him in prayer, so that we might see eternal life.
January 17, 2021
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20; John 1:35-42
- Cf. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology I: The Word Made Flesh (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 206. Also https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/kneeling-theology-believing-in-order-to-see-scripture/ and https://www.ncregister.com/blog/pope-francis-benedict-xvis-life-of-prayer-is-theology-on-ones-knees
- Fr. Boniface Hicks and Fr. Thomas Acklin, Personal Prayer: A Guide for Receiving the Father’s Love (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2020), Loc. 262.
- From The Way of the Pilgrim as quoted in Personal Prayer, Loc. 247.
- Personal Prayer, Loc. 327.
- Jacques Phillippe, Thirsting for Prayer (New Rochelle, NY: Scepter Publishers, 2014), 22-23 as quoted in Personal Prayer, Loc. 467.