This weekend we get to meditate on the classic story of Samuel, who fell asleep in the Lord’s Presence in the temple — and he gets woken up several times by this mysterious Voice calling out: “Samuel! Samuel!” And at first — he assumes it’s just Eli the priest calling for him like he normally would any other time. But when he goes to ask Eli what he wanted, Eli responds: “Wasn’t me! Go back to bed, Sam!”
And after doing this a few times, however, Eli starts to realize something else is going on here: “Then Eli understood” we read “that the LORD was calling the youth.”
But why didn’t Samuel realize what was going on? Well, the text straight up tells us why Samuel didn’t know it was God. It says this: “At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD.”
He wasn’t familiar with how the Lord sounded.
And so even when God was clearly speaking to him… clearly calling to him… Samuel did not recognize His Voice.
And I think this invites us each to ask ourselves:
Are we familiar with the way that God speaks to us in prayer? Are we able to tell the difference between our own passing thoughts, our desires, the temptations of the world or evil spirits… and the authentic Voice of God?
Jesus told us point blank: “My sheep hear my Voice. My sheep KNOW my Voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
So that’s the question for each of us: Are we familiar with God’s Voice?
If maybe you’re like “I don’t know…maybe? Maybe not?” —That’s ok. I just want you to know that it’s possible to become familiar with God’s Voice in your life. Because I KNOW that the Lord IS speaking to each of you. Because you are one of God’s sheep! You are one of His chosen. You hear God’s Voice… but maybe you’re just not familiar with it yet!
Maybe we still need to familiarize ourselves with the ways that God speaks to us… so that the next time He does call out to us — we are even more prepared to respond as Samuel eventually did: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!”
So OK… I’m going to give you four ways… four features of God’s authentic Voice so that you can familiarize yourself more with the way the Lord is speaking to you:
The first feature:
- The tone… the ton of God’s Voice is always one of encouragement and NOT discouragement
We know that God never speaks to us through accusation. He never belittles us. That’s not the tone He ever takes with us. God is a loving, kind Father who always approaches us with warm and strengthening words… words like “Be not afraid!” Or words like: “Come, follow me!” He wants nothing more than to foster virtue and goodness and beauty in our hearts. The last thing He wants to do is squish us and drag us down into self-hatred!
Let me make something absolutely clear for each and every one of you: If there are voices in your life causing you to feel worthless, or if you’re listening to voices of despair or doubt — then you can be sure that those are not from God. They are demonic. The devil is cruel and merciless. He wants you to feel like you’re beyond help… that you’re total trash. That God must’ve made a mistake or something when He made you…
But as my seminary spiritual director always liked to say: “God doesn’t make junk.” God made you, and He doesn’t make junk!
So listen again to St. Paul’s words of encouragement in our second reading today: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you? You have been purchased at a price!!!”
And what price was that?
The precious Blood of Jesus…the Son of God!
Look at the Cross! THAT’S the price that was paid for YOU.
You’re not trash!
That’s how much you are worth. That’s how much you are loved!
Therefore, we can be sure that any voice that says: “You’re worthless. You’re bad. You’re not loved. Just give up. Why bother?” — THAT’s NOT God.
Reject it, in Jesus Name! In fact, let’s do that right now, repeat after me:
[“In the Name of Jesus, I reject the lie that I am worthless. In the Name of Jesus, I declare the truth that I have been purchased at a price.”]
Now, OK… the Lord CAN and DOES, however, convict us of our sins… but He always does so with love… Never with cruelty or dismissiveness.
Sometimes when God convicts us of our sins, it can feel very brutal, and we can maybe even misinterpret it as a sort of accusation! After all, nobody likes hearing that they are in the wrong or that they are guilty of sin.
But we need to remember that: Conviction is different than condemnation.
Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it! He never says to us: “I can’t believe you did that! What a disaster! You’re a terrible person!” No… He always builds us up, gives us courage to do the right thing, to repent and go and sin no more!
But sometimes He does pointblank say to us: “Ya know, you have to stop doing that. That’s not leading you to God.”
Think of Jesus sort of like the dentist who tells you the rotten tooth has to come out. Or the doctor who says: “We need to remove the tumor NOW.” There’s no other way around it. You know the doctor is right. You know they are only trying to help you.
Telling you the tough truth is the kindest thing, the most merciful thing they could do for you. And yet, we still sort of hate hearing it, don’t we?
Same thing happens with the Voice of God… He will sometimes tell us what we don’t like to hear, but always with that tone of fatherly care, concern and encouragement.
- Is what the Voice is saying consistent with what I know to be true?
This is a very important principle as well. If a voice contradicts what we know to be already true, then we know it’s not God.
For example, if while in prayer I thought I sensed a voice telling me: “Father Anthony… you should leave the priesthood and go get married” — If I heard that… I would know for a fact… beyond a shadow of a doubt… that THAT is not the voice of God.
Because it is inconsistent with what I know to be true. It contradicts with the objective fact that I was ordained a Catholic priest on July 11th, 2020. I made a lifelong promise of celibacy — and as we all know, God does not change.
So when you think you hear something from the Lord, ask yourself: Is this consistent with what I know to be true? Is it compatible with my vocation? With Sacred Scripture? With Tradition? Does it contradict the teachings of the Catechism? If it does conflict with what you know to be revealed as objective, rock-hard truth, then you know it’s not the Voice of God, and you should reject it. Don’t justify it. Cut it off. It’s not from the Lord, and it won’t bring you life.
- Is the Voice persistent?
I’ve found that when the Lord has something He wants to communicate to us, He doesn’t let us off the hook very easily. He comes after us! Turns out… it’s really hard to ignore God, because He is so lovingly persistent!
He will continually tap us on the shoulder, place that person, that situation, that desire on our mind and heart in various ways, over and over again until we have to address it.
We see this at work in that first reading today — the Lord is PERSISTENT. He calls to Samuel, and Samuel repeatedly wakes up and goes to Eli to see what he wants… and Eli repeatedly sends him away saying “I didn’t call you. Go back to sleep!”
Did the Lord give up? No!
Was He deterred? No!
Was He like… “Hey what gives?”
No! He was persistent.
He kept waking Samuel back up — over and over and over again… until it became clear what was actually happening. And that happens to us too.
God’s Voice is persistent in our lives. He’s stubborn. He nags us in the most beautiful ways possible! And sometimes it can even get to the point that you just wanna look up and say: “OK GOD… I GET IT!”
But thank God He’s so persistent, because we are hard of heart! And we are stubborn…and we’re so slow to respond… and so often we’re blind and deaf at times. Thank God the Lord is persistent with us!
- Does the Voice give you freedom to choose?
As the Scripture says: “For freedom Christ has set us free!” And so God’s Voice always gives us freedom to choose.
In my experience, God’s voice is never one of pressure. What I mean is that God doesn’t pressure us from a place of fear. We read in sacred Scripture that “perfect love casts out fear.” So if you hear a voice in prayer filling you with dread and anxiety… that’s not God.
The Lord refuses to twist our arm or suffocate us into making the right choice. Grace is always gentle and firm. It inspires action, but it leaves the decision totally in our hands.
I remember when I was discerning whether or not to go off to seminary, I came to a fork in the road, and I knew I had to choose between two paths… between two very good choices: Either to go off to seminary, or to continue dating an awesome girl. And I remember telling God point blank: “I just don’t want to go where You won’t be.” And the Lord replied SO clearly: “I’ll be there no matter which way you choose.”
That’s how the Lord’s Voice sounds. There’s no pressure. He wanted me to decide. And yea, the Lord eventually made it clear that He wanted me to go off to seminary, but it was gentle, and it was my choice in union with God’s will.
So there you have it… four principles that hopefully will help us all become more familiar with the way God speaks to us. Because we are His sheep, so lets get to know His Voice!
This morning, we have the great joy of witnessing a baby get baptized! Part of the baptism ritual is what we call the “ephphetha rite.” It means “be opened!” And during this prayer, I will trace the sign of the Cross on the little baby’s ears and mouth, saying: “May the Lord Jesus soon touch your ears to receive his word.”
This tiny little baby doesn’t know the Voice of God yet… but we pray that [he/she] soon will!
And it’s up to [his/her] parents, godparents, and this entire faith community to help familiarize this child with the authentic Voice of the Lord… with the God who loves [him/her]! Who died on a Cross to purchase [him/her] at a price! Who poured out His blood to wipe away [his/her] sins, and now He is raised from the dead in order to speak to all of us, and call us into eternity in order to be with Him in Heaven forever.
So let’s get familiar with THAT guy. Let’s get to know THAT Voice… and IGNORE all those other voices that lead us away from Him.