2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached January 14, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Speak, Lord, for you servant is listening.
Today’s 1st reading with the account of the young Samuel, sleeping in the Temple, hearing the voice of God, thinking it was the priest Eli, and then being instructed in how to respond to God’s call, is truly one of the more enchanting passages of the Old Testament. The boy Samuel gets to hear God speaking; not only does he hear God speaking, he hears God calling his name and speaking to him, personally. We might easily to think to ourselves, “Boy, that would really be wonderful to hear God speaking to me.”
I heard a man tell a story of how one night, as he was tucking his young son into bed, his son blurted out with a pained question, “Why doesn’t God love me?” The father was perplexed by the question, but with the help of his wife he came to understand that the boy felt God did not love him because he did not speak to him. Perhaps we feel the same way at times. Perhaps we ask ourselves, “Why is God silent?”
Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions. Maybe we should ask ourselves, how is it that God speaks to us?
In the opening of the Letter to the Hebrews we find a passage that was read for the Mass of Christmas Day: In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through his Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe. (Heb 1:2) This is truly one of the key passages in the whole Bible. It also tells us how God spoke and how he now speaks.
Samuel, about whom we heard in the 1st reading, is one of those prophets of times past, through whom God spoke to his people, Israel. He spoke directly to Samuel and through Samuel to the people. Samuel was privileged to receive the word of God in a direct and immediate fashion. That was an immense gift and privilege, but even so God spoke to him only in a ‘partial fashion’. He has given us a much greater gift because he speaks to us fully through his Son, Jesus Christ.
As we also learned on Christmas Day, Jesus Christ, is the Word that was in the beginning with God, the Word that was God, the Word through whom all things were made, and also the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us. That Word is not a partial word; in that one Word God says all that he has to say, all he can say, indeed he speaks his very self, fully and perfectly. When that same Word and Son of God becomes man and is born of the Virgin Mary, God speaks that Word to us.
Now, to have God speak to us, to have God speak to me, is to hear Jesus Christ. On the Mount of Transfiguration, the voice of the Father was heard saying, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him. (Mt 17:5)
Ah, well, but I do not hear him speaking to me the way Peter, James, and John heard him, living with him as a man among men and conversing with him, face to face, on a daily basis. Now, Jesus has returned to heaven and we do not see him any longer. How can I hear him speak?
Well, in the 3rd century in Egypt there was a man named Anthony. One Sunday he went to Mass as was his custom. At Mass the Gospel was read, as it was read here today. In that Gospel, Anthony heard Jesus saying these words, If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. (Mt 19:21) The rich young man to whom Jesus first spoke those words turned away sad because of his many possessions. For his part, though, St. Anthony of Egypt did not just hear those words as any other words; he did not just hear those words as spoken to the congregation; he heard those words spoken to himself, by Jesus. He went out and did as he had been told.
In the 4th century in Milan, Italy there was a young man by the name of Augustine. Augustine was not yet baptized and was just beginning to believe, but he was held back and was struggling because he had not treated his body as a temple, but was joined to a woman in a sinful union. He was longing to be free of his chains, but did not find within himself the strength to break free. While weeping in the bitterness of his heart he heard the voice of a boy or girl saying, “Pick it up and read, pick it up and read.” Somehow he heard this voice as a divine command; he knew the story of St. Anthony; he stopped weeping, picked up a Bible, and he read from St. Paul, Not in dissipation and drunkenness, nor in debauchery and lewdness, nor in arguing and jealousy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh or the gratification of your desires. (Rm 13:13) He heard the Lord Jesus Christ speaking to him through these words. With that his chains were broken and he found peace. He was baptized. He became the great St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church; apart from the Bible and Church documents he is the most cited author in the Catechism. (cf. Confession, Bk VIII.29)
Jesus lives and is always present to his word, especially when it is read at Mass. Yes, Jesus is in heaven, but he is also in the midst of his Church. The Book of Revelation speaks of him as walking in the midst of seven golden lampstands that represent the whole Church. (Cf. Rev 1:12-16,20) He is of course also present in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. He is present within us when we receive him in Holy Communion. St. Catherine of Siena wrote that in Holy Communion “the soul is in God, and God is in the soul, as the fish is in the sea, and the sea is in the fish.” (Dialogue 2) Jesus lives and he speaks to us and even within us.
So what can we say? God does want to speak to us, to each one of his children, according to their own needs and circumstances, through his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Faith opens our ears to hear him speak. But we must also be ready, like St. Anthony and St. Augustine to do as he tells us – often that is our difficulty, not the hearing, but the doing. The Virgin Mary tells us, Do whatever he tells you. (Jn 2:5)
When our faith is awake, we might hear him speak to us through the word of Sacred Scripture, through the word that is preached, through the writings of the saints that embody sacred Tradition, through the teaching of the Church, through a person God puts in our life, and we might even hear him speak in the interior of our heart.
When God speaks, it is not so much a matter of hearing words – as I am speaking to you – but of understanding a meaning, with clarity, with certainty, a meaning that brings peace, and a meaning that sounds in harmony with all the words of God.
God wants to speak to us his children, but do we want to listen? Do we want to follow?
Jesus asked the two disciples in today’s Gospel, What are you looking for? They answered, Rabbi, where are you staying? Do we want to accept Jesus’ invitation to come and see, to see where he is staying, to stay with him, not just for an afternoon, but in eternity? Where does Jesus abide? In the bosom of his Father. (Jn 1:18)
Speak, Lord, for you servant is listening.