How do I hear God’s call?
One of the most common questions people used to ask me when they found out I was going to be a priest, was:
“How did you know God was calling you?”
It’s a question a lot of people wonder about – whether you’re wondering for yourself, or just curious. I find most people have a kind of “magical” way of thinking about this question, though. They think you have to hear a voice or see a vision, or have some kind of supernatural dramatic experience where God directly tells you what you are supposed to do with your life. But even if you did experience this, how do you know it’s from God? And how do you know you’re interpreting it correctly? St. Paul warns us: “…even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” [2 Corinthians 11:14]
I remember when someone first asked me at the age of 17 whether I had ever thought about becoming a priest, my answer was a hard “NO!” But then I thought, I had never honestly even considered the question, and what if God was calling me to be a priest? It wouldn’t be right to just say “NO!” would it?
And so I remember praying, and praying, and praying. “God, just give me a sign!” “God, just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it!” And I was looking, I was hoping for some kind of voice, or vision, or dramatic supernatural experience that would answer my question. And what did I receive?
But silence is not “nothing”. “The sound of sheer silence” [1 Kings 19:12] was certainly not “nothing” to Elijah on Mount Horeb. Although God did not speak to me with an audible voice, or give me a vision or some other supernatural experience, God was working many things in my life, and during that time, the most important thing that happened, even though I was so focused at first on hearing a voice, seeing a vision, or receiving some kind of experience – the most important thing that happened was I grew in my relationship with God. And it was from that relationship that it became abundantly clear what was next for me.
God does not want us to merely “do” things for Him. God simply wants us. This is what this Sunday’s Gospel is about: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… …and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Jesus is speaking there of a kind of relationship, a personal kind of knowing that is deeper than any one time dramatic experience can ever be. And it is from this relationship alone that we reliably hear God’s call.