The Gospel reading for Monday, the 18th was John 10:1-10. When I read it Monday morning it struck an uncomfortable chord. I zeroed in on verses 3, 4, 7 and 9:
1“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. 2But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.”….7So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep….9I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
It seemed I had been too long without hearing His voice call my name. I wasn’t even sure in which direction to look for the “Gate”.
Since Monday afternoon, I’ve spent about eleven hours on the road behind the wheel. It was welcome time to contemplate His message and why I was feeling lost.
I asked myself why I haven’t felt close to Jesus these past few weeks. Why has He been absent when I especially needed Him? Why have I not heard His voice? My engineer’s analytical mind started trouble-shooting. First, I know I’ve been running hard the last month, burning the candle at both ends you might say. I don’t think its coincidence that my spiritual dry spell corresponds with my busy-ness.
I recalled my baptism and being told, “Ephphatha, be open and hear the Word of God!” I know that God commanded, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” (Mark 9:7) He wouldn’t have issued that command if He didn’t give us the ability to hear Jesus. So, why am I not hearing him?
I reasoned that, not only does God want us to listen to His beloved Son, He wants us to have a relationship with Him. Good relationships require good communication. Then it hit me, “Effective communication has to be two-way: I not only have to listen but I have to speak to Him!” I realized therein lay the problem: I hadn’t been speaking to Him through my prayers. I remembered how, when I did pray, it seemed difficult, as if the words wouldn’t come. I couldn’t seem to focus and offer up my desires and gratitude into intelligible thoughts and words. And, I knew why. I had put my daily grind ahead of Christ. With my inconsistent and ineffective prayers, He had been supplanted by my negativity, stress and worry over worldly things. By putting Him second, I wasn’t going to be passing through the Gate even if I could find it.
Irony is always a bitter pill to swallow but doing so usually cures what ails me. Had I simply trusted in Him to help me, I either wouldn’t have felt the way I’ve been feeling, or at least I’d have been able to bear my cross a little easier.
Accepting that I needed to rejuvenate my daily piety, I still thought about how it is often difficult for me to hear His voice even when my prayer life is hitting on all cylinders. Sometimes I think I hear God, but I’m not sure if it is His voice, my own, that of other people, or even the devil.
Putting myself in a quiet place sometimes helps, especially at Eucharistic Adoration. I realized this was more of the problem: because of my traveling, I missed my last two hours of Adoration. But, even then, I recalled my last two trips to the Adoration chapel and how, when I finally cleared my head of the voices, I simply fell asleep. (I know, “He said to Peter, ‘So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?’” [Matthew 26:40]). Ouch!
I also know that I don’t just hear God in the silence of Adoration. He talks to me through Sacred Scripture. Maybe if I’d be more consistent with my daily reading I could hear Him.
I recalled, too, that He often talks to me through other holy people, especially those from within our parish community. And, then, another probable cause for my situation came to me: although I haven’t missed Sunday mass in years, I have only been to mass at my parish church once in the last five weeks. The other four Sundays have found me out of town where I’ve attended mass at other churches.
In addition to missing my parish family, my travels have caused me to miss meeting with my friends for our regular faith sharing, something which I look forward to. Meeting with them to talk about how God is working in our lives, what we are doing to stay close to Him, what we are doing to learn more about and grow our faith, and what we’re doing to bring Christ to others, has become an important part of my life. I know He talks to me through these men and women during our get-togethers. And I miss it.
I thought, “I don’t just miss meeting with them, I miss them.” The image of the flock of sheep popped into my mind. I know from herding sheep on a farm in England when I was a kid that they feel safe in numbers. But, they can be really stupid, too. When one wanders away and loses sight of the rest of the flock it is truly lost. I think that has been me. I wandered off over the hill out of sight and out of ear shot.
In that analogy I saw the truth in the parable: a flock of sheep is like our Christian Community. Not only do we need one-on-one communication with God, we need each other, we need to stick together, and we need to hear His voice together.
Then, somewhere between Paducah, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee on I-24, I had an epiphany. With all these hours of driving in silence without distractions, had I created the environment I finally needed to hear Him call my name? I wondered if I was actually smart enough to have reasoned all this myself or if all my thoughts were not God talking to me instead? The more I think about it, I can’t take the credit.
“Dear God, thank You for these hours we have spent together, for the gift of reason and for the gift of perseverance to find my way back to You. Lord, help me to never lose sight of the Gate and help me to always lead others through the Gate as well. I pray that no matter how far I wander and how unworthy I may feel, I may always recognize Your voice and never again say, ‘God, I can’t hear You.’ Amen.”
(God, I Can’t Hear You was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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