When we pay attention to how God has spoken to others in the Bible and in history, we can grow in our understanding of how He can and will speak to us. One such famous encounter with God occurred in the 5th century with a prominent figure who wrote:
“I heard from a neighboring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating,’Take up and read; Take up and read.‘ Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like.
So checking the torrent of my tears, I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find. For I had heard of Antony, that coming in during the reading of the Gospel, he received the admonition, as if what was being read was spoken to him: Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me: and by such oracle he was forthwith converted unto Thee.
Eagerly then I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle when I arose thence. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence. No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away. Confessions>
The quotation above is from the tremendous autobiographical story of the conversion of St. Augustine. In it he relays the story of when he, in a moment of anguish, hears a message from God through the voice of a child singing. The song came from a neighboring house and instructed him to “take up and read”. He reasoned that this was a command from God to open the Bible and, in imitation of St. Anthony of the Desert, read the first passage his eyes fell upon.
The passage that St. Augustine read advised him to give up his life of hedonism to turn to God with a pure heart. We know the rest of the story as he became one of the greatest saints and teachers of his time and an amazing figure for the Church. Thankfully, he recounted this tale so that we may not only be able to hear the story of how he converted, but also see how God spoke to him.
Whatever the source of the words, “take up and read” he saw a deeper significance in them. He then did what we hope to do, he looked at how God spoke to a saint and sought to imitate him. God spoke to both St. Anthony and St. Augustine through the reading of the Gospel. A pattern has been set for us to follow.
We see in this story two ways in which God can speak to us: through the voice of others and in the words of the Bible. Furthermore, in the Bible we can read of another pattern, that God can speak to us directly. This occurred with Abraham, Moses, David, and many others. We also see something more interesting with how God can speak to us with St. Peter in Matthew 16:13-19.
When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” After silence from the other Apostles, St. Peter famously responds with: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus then explains Peter did not come up with these words on his own, but received it directly from the Holy Spirit. No sounds were audibly recorded during times when Jesus would hear from God, so we can reasonably recognize that Peter received this information within. This is another pattern that we too can follow, to look for God speaking to us and guiding us from within us.
This fits with the words of St. Therese of Lisieux that we have shared in last week’s blog post as well.
Furthermore, if we read the Bible with this manner of hearing from God in mind, we begin to realize that it may have been how many of the prominent figures of Scripture communicated with Him. In their minds and hearts, God sent them messages of love and affirmation, He directed their desires and thoughts to grow and accomplish the many miraculous events recorded. While we know that God spoke audibly to many as well, this is still a good lesson for us to take into our own communication with God.
Other notable figures who have heard from God in tremendous ways include:
Blessed Bartolo Longo: A former satanic priest who returned to Faith after many years living at odds with the church. When he was considering his former life, he despaired thinking it would be impossible for him to go to heaven. He heard a voice remind him of the promise of Mary who stated that anyone who taught others to pray the rosary would surely go to heaven. He went on dedicating his life to doing just that, while experiencing miracles and healing through his work.
St. Ignatius of Loyola: A 16th century Spanish priest and founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius has many writings and recorded teachings in which he instructs us how we can hear from God. We can conclude that for him to be able to teach about this, he must have been hearing from God as well. In one such instruction, he noted the peace coming with the inner voice of God. He says in his spiritual exercises that one way we can know it is God when He speaks to us is that His message comes with inner peace. He says “it is proper to God and to His Angels in their movements to give true spiritual gladness and joy, taking away all sadness and disturbance which the enemy brings on.”
Mother Angelica: A holy nun of the 20th century and foundress of the EWTN media conglomerate. Interestingly enough, she converted more strongly to the Faith as a teenager after she had a serious stomach ailment healed by a mystic in Ohio. She would hear from God in her prayers often and notably, when she was seeking direction from Him in her work to start her television network, she heard Him tell her to simply “take the next step” and not worry.
She did just that and was able to successfully raise millions of dollars, and establish the most popular and successful Catholic media company the world has ever known.