What are some famous prayers that you have memorized?
[Random replies from the congregation included the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Hail Holy Queen, Rosary, Act of Contrition, Prayer to St Michael the Archangel, Stations of the Cross, Memorare, various hymns, various litanies, the Angelus, Regina Caeli, Sign of the Cross, and so on...]
Excellent! Yes, these are all good! But there is a problem here. Conversation between two people always involves both people taking turns talking and listening. If one of the two people is doing all the talking, and the other person can't get a word in edgewise, then it's not a conversation. It's just one person talking. But prayer is supposed to be a conversation with God, which means we're supposed to take turns with God, sometimes talking, and sometimes listening. But we don't! During all the prayers you mentioned a few moments ago, we spend the entire time talking, and no time LISTENING, which means that what we THINK are prayers are not really conversations with God at all, because we're not letting God get a word in edgewise. We're not really talking WITH God, we're just talking AT God. Talking AT somebody without listening to them is not a conversation, and since prayer is supposed to be a conversation with God, the way we do it is not really prayer, it's just a speech.
To drive the point home, God the Father only speaks directly a few times in the New Testament, and today we heard one of them. During the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, God the Father spoke from the cloud and said, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him."
LISTEN to Him! The one thing that God our Father in heaven directly told us to do is LISTEN to Jesus. But we don't. We just talk at him instead, and call it "prayer".
But you may say, "Hey, Father Joe, saying that we should listen to God is all well and good, but I know some people who say that they listen to God talking to them, and I worry about those people. Just exactly HOW are we supposed to listen to God without looking like we're crazy?"
I'm SO glad you asked! Let's get down to brass tacks: HOW are we supposed to LISTEN to Jesus? Here are my favorite 7 ways to listen to God.
#1: Read the Bible, especially the New Testament. The entire Bible is the revealed word of God, and the New Testament contains many direct quotes from Jesus himself. As you read the Bible, listen to God speaking directly to you from the sacred text.
#2: God speaks to us through our legitimate desires, so listen to your heart. Follow the logic here: We tend to enjoy doing things we're good at, and we tend to be good at things we have talent in, and our talents are from God. Connect those dots. When you enjoy using your talents, hear God in the joy and peace it brings to your heart. Listen to that inner joy and peace, and know that when you do so you are hearing God speaking to you.
#3: When you feel inspired to do any good deed, listen carefully to that inspiration, for many inspirations come directly from God, whispered into our minds by divine providence. Next time you feel inspired, stop what you're doing for a moment, smile, and listen to him.
#4: God speaks to us in Sacred Tradition. There are two fonts of divine revelation: Sacred Scripture, and Sacred Tradition. Just as the Bible is God speaking to us, so too the many Catholic traditions that we bump into every day are God speaking to us. Pay close attention to them, and listen to what God is telling you through them.
#5: The 7 sacraments are special gifts from Jesus to us, guaranteed to give grace when performed properly, and grace is defined as a share in the life of God. Connect those dots, and we can hear God speaking to us every time we receive any sacrament, especially the two sacraments which can be received frequently, namely Reconciliation and Holy Communion.
#6: God speaks to us through the teaching magisterium of the Church. Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to St Peter and his successors, and then Jesus promised that he would be with us until the end of time. Connect those dots, and you get the fact that to listen to the Church is to listen to Jesus.
#7: Finally, God speaks to us through the circumstances of our lives, and that includes the people in your life. The characters in a story are always exactly where the author wants them to be to make the best possible story, right? And who is the author of history? God is. Connect those dots, and you get the fact that God chose you to be exactly where you are because you are the best possible person to fulfill the role that you are in. Look at the circumstances of your life, and see God's plan unfolding there, and hear that cosmic story being read to you lovingly in his voice.
Recap: Through (1) The Bible, (2) our legitimate desires, (3) inspirations, (4) Catholic traditions, (5) the sacraments, (6) the Church, and (7) the circumstances of our lives, God speaks to us. LISTEN TO HIM. And let your prayers be real conversations with God. Amen.