Chapter Talk – Fourth Sunday of the Year – January 31, 2021, cycle-B
“God acts in the simplicity of open hearts, in the patience of those who pause until they see clearly” (Let Us Dream, p.61). These words of Pope Francis are among many thoughts he has on discerning: discerning what is the voice of God or the movement of the Spirit and what is the voice of the “bad spirit” as he calls it. In the readings for this Sunday, we have God in the first reading from Deuteronomy (18:15-20) anointing Moses as the needed prophet who will be the voice of God, who will utter the word of God to the people, giving them an orientation and vision for how they are to live and act as a people consecrated by God. There is a warning from God, however, that if “a prophet presumes to speak in my name an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die” (Dt. 18:20). Is this not a warning for us in this sense: while we may not consider ourselves prophets, how often do we speak words that come off as absolute, asserting the truth so strongly as IF we were speaking as the mouthpiece of God? In the gospel Jesus speaks “with authority”, there is newness to his teaching, one is immediately touched by the healing power that flows from his words. The voice of the bad spirit speaks: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” (Mk 1:24). The ‘new authority’ of Jesus’ word stands in stark contrast to the bad spirit. Jesus, the anointed one, God’s beloved Son, heals with a ‘word’. He says to the ‘bad spirit’: “Quiet. Come out of him” (Mk 1:25). And so, we are given the ‘new teaching’ that comes with ‘authority’, the ‘authority’ of God’s healing life and salvation. There are many gospel passages where Jesus’ authority is being challenged and it is striking to notice how his words flow from his communion with his Father. He pauses, he steps back, he listens, he discerns. Jesus ‘reads’ hearts, hearts that were testing him, that were trying to trap him, hearts that were closed and hardened to his new teaching, his new wine of the gospel.
To discern the voice of God speaking to us individually and as a community is no easy matter. How do we discern? I am not specifically referring to discernment of one’s vocation, but rather to discernment of the voices that speak within our inner life, and that influence our words and choices. Jesus, who is the Divine pattern we are following and striving to live from, reveals his ‘new teaching’, which comes with ‘authority’, meaning it carries the truth, God’s truth, in any given moment…In the gospels Jesus discerns, he knows and sees the bad spirit that is diminishing the person. Pope Francis distinguishes between the voice of God and the ‘bad spirit’ voice that is not focused on God’s truth but allures one into fears, anxieties, selfish protections and so on. He writes: “How do we distinguish the spirits? They speak different languages; they use different ways to reach our hearts. The voice of God never imposes but proposes, whereas the enemy is strident, insistent, and even monotonous” (p.61).
Pope Francis distinguishes further these two voices: “The voice of the enemy distracts us from the present by getting us to focus on fears of the future or the sadness of the past. The voice of God, on the other hand, speaks to the present, helping us to move ahead in the here and now….The voice of God opens your horizons, whereas the enemy pins you against a wall. Where the good spirit gives you hope, the bad spirit sows suspicion, anxiety, and finger-pointing. The good spirit appeals to my desire to do good, to help and serve, and gives me strength to go forward on the right path. The bad spirit, conversely, closes me in on myself, and makes me rigid and intolerant. It is the spirit of fear and grievance. It makes me sad, fearful, and irritable. Rather than freeing me, it enslaves me. Rather than opening me up to the present and the future, it encloses me in fear and resignation” (p.61-62). Dear sisters, are not these comments by our Pope what we need to hear right now? God’s truth, God’s way forward is not in those experiences where we feel pinned against a wall and feel there is no way out. To give energy to those voices is to put God aside. When they overpower us, we need to pick up our anchor of faith and give space to the voice of Christ who says: ‘depart’, ‘be quiet’! The Divine truth builds up the human person, it is so much deeper and broader than the diminishing voice of fear, a voice that is rigid and intolerant of change or growth. The Divine voice of Christ comes with hope, with perspective, with opening to larger horizons for God’s saving work to be done within and amongst us.
Returning to the words of Pope Francis that I began with: “God acts in the simplicity of open hearts, in the patience of those who pause until they see clearly” (p.61). Here is the medicine we need dear sisters: open hearts, patience in the pausing, which can last some time (!), until we see clearly, listening beyond our certainties; indeed, then God will speak, God will act, God will show us the way.
How important is this? “Learning to distinguish these two kinds of ‘voice’ allows us to choose the right path forward, which is not always the most obvious, and to avoid making decisions while trapped in past hurts or in fears of the future that risk immobilizing us” (p.62). As good custodians of the inner life let us heed this final evocation of Pope Francis.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess