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FAITH AND CULTURE | Listening to the Spirit of God

The modern world is full of noises and sounds. Whether at home or in public, we are confronted by plenty of sounds. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that our auditory system has the ability not only to identify them, but also determine their location; for example, we can locate a mosquito by its buzzing or a car by its noise. Simply stated, our sense of hearing directs our attention and connection.

There are also noises that distract our attention from what is essential at any moment. We can find ourselves in spaces where noises are so loud that it is hard to hear what others are saying, or truly discern what is happening around us — the noise simply overwhelms our sensory experience.

Beyond the external experiences and physical dynamics of hearing, we also speak of having internal “noises” that disturb our inner peace and prevent us from truly listening. In this regard, distractions, diversions and disturbances stem from our own emotional dispositions. We can hear what others are saying, for example, without really paying attention. Listening or paying attention requires intentionality and openness — it is a skill that comes with practice.

In spiritual terms, the practice of listening is a matter of discernment or having the ability to judge well and grasp the objective truth in what confronts us. Far from being simply a purely subjective human skill, discernment places us before the Spirit of God and truth: “But when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on His own, but will speak what He hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming” (John 16:13). Discernment, then, is an invitation to listen to the Spirit of God through spiritual docility or radical trust. It challenges us to open our hearts and minds to what God has to say in the here and now of our lives.

The problem confronting our discernment is that we often find ourselves surrounded by a surplus of external and internal noises vying for our attention. Externally, we are busy running around, and it is difficult to find the space to quiet our minds and hearts. Similarly, our internal spiritual disposition is often preoccupied with all kinds of valid and real concerns, so finding time for prayerful attention is difficult to achieve. Consequently, we can fail to really listen to God’s voice and will for us.

In faith, however, we know that the Spirit of God has been given to us; in fact, it is this Spirit that has gifted us with several spiritual gifts to guide our steps forward with confidence: “Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are a variety of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:47). Confronted, as we are, by a variety of noises, voices and opportunities, it is comforting to know that we have been given what we need.

Indeed, our listening in and to the Spirit is never far from the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, prophesy, healing and discernment of spirit, helping us work for the common good and expanding our capacity to embrace others along the way. May our docility to the Spirit of truth and life be our source of endless joy and hope.

Javier Orozco is the executive director of human dignity and intercultural affairs for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

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