The Gentle Voice Within Us
This last Sunday (11th in ordinary time 6/17/18) a blessed and profound homily was said at St. Joseph's Cathedral downtown by Deacon David Warren. He was kind enough to share it with all of us.
There is a quotation from Greco, the famous Greek born Spanish painter that says, “I said to the almond tree, sister, speak to me about God, and the almond tree blossomed.” You see, the Gospel reading today (Mark 4:26-34), is all about seeds and plants and growth. It's about seeds becoming what God created them to be. But it's really about us, becoming what God created us to be. How can we do that and how can these parables help?
Let's start by asking, how do we find the purpose of our lives? How do we know what God wants us to do? We would like God to yell at us, to tell us clearly what he wants us to do. We’d like for him to write down a list of things he wants us to do each day and then try to check things off that list.
But, that's not how it works.
Elijah was a prophet in the Old Testament, and he was trying to do what God wanted him to do, but he wasn't sure he was doing what was right. So he asked God to speak to him. And in the 19th chapter of first kings this is what the word of the Lord said to him, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.
You see, that's how God speaks to most of us. Not with shouts, not with a list of things that he wants us to do, but with that tiny whispering voice. Listen to what Matthew Kelly says about that voice.
There is a gentle voice within each of us. When we are children, we hear this voice with great clarity and we live by what we hear. So we are immensely happy. As we grow older, we become aware of all the other voices that surround us, the voices of parents, siblings, friends, the television, strangers, and experts.
All these other voices have the strength and confidence of experience, so we become fascinated with them. And as we enter into this fascination with all these other voices, they begin to distract us from the gentle voice within. As we begin to listen to all these other voices, we begin to doubt, question, and ignore the gentle voice within. And gradually, the one true voice grows fainter and fainter. Finally, when the gentle voice within us has become so faint that we can hardly hear it, in the midst of our daily activities,
we are told that we have grown up, that we are adults, and that we are now ready for life.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The gentle voice within is our truest guide. It has absolutely no self interest. That is what sets it apart from every other voice in your life. The gentle voice within you is interested in only one thing, helping you to become the person God created you to be. Whether you call it “conscience” or give it some other name, we all have this gentle voice within us. It is God, directing us towards our essential purpose.
Take a moment to think about it. When was the last time you obeyed that gentle voice within you and it made you miserable? When was the last time the gentle voice within lead you to become a person you didn't want to be? It may lead you to the pain of discipline and self sacrifice, but always in the quest, to help you embrace, more fully, the person God created you to be.
It is only when we ignore the gentle voice within, that we find ourselves in places of misery and quiet desperation. What we must do above all else is to learn once again to listen to the gentle voice within us. Only then will we have the peace that we all seek, but that only a rare few ever find. And that brings us to our gospel readings today. Today's gospel is all about seeds. But first, listen to this story about
A man had a dream. He saw himself walking on the streets of the city. He was moved to tears and disgust when he saw so many people living in poverty and destitution. He longed to help them, but he did not know how. As he walked further, he saw a big store. He walked towards it and entered it's large doors. To his pleasant surprise, he saw Jesus behind the counter. The Lord gave him a wide and warm smile and said,
welcome to my store! This is where you will find whatever you need. You may look around now, and just put down whatever you want. Everything is free. When you finish, hand me your list. The man looked around the store and true enough, all the things needed to solve the problems of the world were there. Food, that could put an end to hunger. Jobs that could end poverty. Justice for all, medicine to heal all diseases, peace for the world, and many more. He hurried back to the counter with his list. Jesus looked at it, and pulled out small packets from the large drawers at the back of the counter. Here, he said, take these with you. What are these? Ask the man. Jesus explained, my store is different. I do not offer finish products here. These packets contain the seeds of everything on your list. You just have to plant the seeds and make sure to nurture them until they grow and bear fruit.
In the gospel today, Jesus uses seeds in his two parables. Why did Jesus use the image of seeds in those parables? He uses seeds, because they show us qualities, that will help us understand the mystery, of the kingdom of God.
First, the seed is small and in the eyes of most people, insignificant. In the parable of the sewer, Jesus pictured God as the farmer who sewed the seeds on the ground. And that is precisely how God works. Always from humble and small beginnings. From the manger in Bethlehem, to the carpenter shop in Nazareth, to the cross at Calvary. This teaches us a lesson on humility and littleness. Fallen human nature tends to seek recognition and appreciation. Hence, people aspire to become rich and famous and powerful. But experience tells us that this is not the way to greatness and happiness. The seed is a reminder that being little does not mean being powerless or insignificant. In fact, as shown by the example of God, it is the way to true greatness. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said,
"a great man is always willing to be little."
Second, the seed grows slowly. It follows the process of nature, which is gradually and slow. This is the way the kingdom of God unfolds. Unfortunately, many people now days do not subscribe to this truth. Being used to the comfort and convenience, in this age of technology, they think that success should be achieved quickly and easily. Everyone is in a hurry and impatient. They hate to wait. But the seed teaches us that the way to greatness and success is a long and painstaking process. Again, this is clearly illustrated in the life of Jesus. He came to save the world. But he had to undergo the complete process of birth, growth and maturity. He had to patiently wait for 33 years before he stretched his hands on the cross, to fulfill his mission.
So what does God want you to start doing today? First, slow down! You are not going to hear that small whispering voice, if you are constantly busy. You have to slow down, you have to set aside time, and get to places where it's quiet. Next, don't expect to change overnight. Growth is a slow process, don't get discouraged, just keep listening. And finally, listen to the wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi. This is the secret he shared with his brothers and sisters. First, do what is necessary. Then do what is possible. And before you know it, you will be doing the impossible!
Deacon David Warren is serves our Lord at St. Joseph's Cathedral in downtown San Diego. This is a beautiful parish with so much to offer in prayer. Please visit and invite other to join in a quiet, slow moment with God.