by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Editor’s note: Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was away on a bishops’ retreat this week and submitted this column in advance of that. Watch future columns for his thoughts on the events of Jan. 6 and subsequent developments.
From Jan. 5 – 11, I was on retreat with the bishops from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa.
We were fortunate to have the pope give our retreat! That is, Msgr. Charles Pope, a pastor of a primarily African-American community in Washington, D.C., a regular guest on EWTN and a columnist for Our Sunday Visitor.
I am always grateful to begin the year with these days of prayer and reflection. We never know what challenges the coming year will bring. Certainly, none of us last January foresaw a pandemic on the horizon. Whatever plans any of us had last January were changed drastically by the Covid-19 virus.
None of us anticipated the health concerns for ourselves, our families and our society. Who could have foreseen the disruption of our economy, resulting for some in the loss of employment and threatening the very survival of many small businesses?
Who could have predicted children longing for the opportunity to go to school? No one imagined that social distancing and wearing a mask would become a societal norm for the majority of the year.
Did anyone anticipate that it would become nearly impossible to visit anyone in a skilled nursing home, assisted living residence or any institution with primarily elderly residents?
The fear of Covid-19, and the resulting social isolation, have caused already high rates of anxiety and depression to skyrocket. I certainly never envisioned in January 2020 churches would be closed for several weeks. One truth that 2020 made apparent was we are not nearly as in control of lives as we had thought. 2020 shattered many illusions.
2020 also made me much more grateful for the gift of our Catholic faith. It helped many of us realize what is really important and necessary in our lives.
With most people on the planet, I was happy for 2020 to come to an end. Still, I have to admit that it sharpened my spiritual vision, making clearer what is fleeting and what endures. It helped me appreciate more the blessings of faith, family and friendships.
2020 also made me more aware that the world, as we know it, is passing away and our destiny is to live with God and his saints forever.
During my confirmation homilies, I express my hope that the confirmandi have not just learned about Jesus, but have come to know Jesus. I encourage them to be young men and women of prayer.
Prayer, properly understood, is a conversation with God. To have a vibrant prayer life, we must speak to God from our hearts. Jesus is interested in everything going on in our lives — the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, the joys and the difficulties. God wants us to share with him our desires as well as our needs.
At the same time, a significant part of our prayer must involve listening to God. A conversation must be a two-way communication. We need to speak to God honestly about our lives, but we also need to cultivate the ability to hear God’s voice as he seeks to reveal himself to us. How do we learn to listen for God’s voice?
When Pope Francis speaks to young people about prayer, he tells them to unplug! If you want to hear God’s voice, you have to get away from all the noise in your life.
We live in a very noisy society. We are being constantly bombarded with messaging and information. To hear God, we have to seek solitude and silence. This is why our churches and adoration chapels are so important. They are oases where we can shut out the clamor of the world and listen for God’s voice. We also need to create quiet spaces in our homes where we can pray.
The sacraments are moments of direct encounter with God. For instance, every time we receive the sacrament of reconciliation, we encounter the liberating mercy of God.
What a blessing to be able to experience God’s unfiltered, merciful love. Similarly, each time we receive the Eucharist with attention and devotion, we allow the Lord to satisfy the hungers of our soul. Eucharistic adoration is important because it helps to awaken us to the beauty and power of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Another important way that we hear God’s voice is through the Bible. The Bible is the word of God. God speaks to us through the words of Scripture in a unique and powerful way.
I encourage you to read a portion of the Bible each day. Even if you are unable to go to a Mass on a given day, it is an excellent practice to pray over the liturgical readings for the day.
We should not read the Bible like a newspaper or a novel. We need to read the Scriptures slowly and prayerfully, allowing the words to penetrate our hearts.
For most of this year at Sunday Mass, we will be reading the Gospel of St. Mark. Reading and praying over a short passage from Mark’s Gospel each day would be a great way to listen for God’s voice this year.
When you finish Mark, then I encourage you to do the same with the Gospel of St. John. Bishop Robert Barron has produced the Word on Fire Bible that contains all four Gospels along with brief commentaries and beautiful illustrations. It is a great tool for praying over the Gospels.
After reading slowly a small passage of the Gospel, then ask God the question: “Lord, what is it you are attempting to say to me through this passage?”
We should read the Bible with the expectation the Lord wants to speak to us amid the unique circumstances of our lives. Oftentimes, if we ponder the passage prayerfully, there will be a verse or a phrase or maybe just a word that will speak to our hearts.
We also hear God’s voice by pondering the daily events of our lives. During the Nativity narrative in St. Luke’s Gospel, we find Mary pondering the extraordinary events taking place in her life. Part of my daily morning prayer is to ponder my calendar, reviewing the meetings and events scheduled for the day. Then, I ask the Lord to help me recognize his presence in the people, the conversations and the activities of the day.
At the end of the day, I ponder all that happened that day. I ask Jesus: “What is it, Lord, that you were attempting to reveal to me through the events of the day?” The art of listening for God’s voice and being able to recognize his presence is essential for a vibrant prayer life.
As we begin 2021, we do not know what this year will bring. However, we do know that the Lord will be with us, revealing himself to us in the good times and the difficult times.
If we learn to listen for God’s voice, then we will be able to have peace and joy no matter the storms and chaos in the world around us.