A Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
At the mountain of God, Horeb, Elijah came to a cave where he took shelter. Then the LORD said to him, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by.” A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
–1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a–
And taking him aside from the crowd, he put his fingers into the man’s ears…. And his ears were at once opened…
–Mark 7:33, 35–
You might be surprised to learn that, in my younger years, I enjoyed keeping tropical fish. Thus I know that when you fill an aquarium with tap water, the immediate result is rarely a fish tank filled with crystal clear liquid. Dust from the gravel combined with tiny air bubbles in the tap water make the water cloudy. But if you leave the aquarium stand for a day, the dust sinks to the bottom and the air bubbles rise to the surface. What you end up with is a fish tank with beautifully clear water. Add the fish, and you will see them perfectly.
I believe something similar happens when we try to discern the will of God. When our minds are clouded with passions and emotions, we will be unable to see the hand of God in our lives. When, however, we learn to be calm and undisturbed by emotional turmoil, our minds are clear and we are better able to see what God wants of us.
I think this is one lesson from our First Reading, although here the metaphor is not that of seeing but of hearing. Just as the prophet Elijah discovered that the Lord was not in the strong and heavy wind, so we cannot even begin to hear the voice of God when we are buffeted about by all manner of emotional impulses. Likewise, just as the Lord was not in the earthquake, so we cannot hope to hear God’s voice when we are trembling with fear and anxiety. Finally, just as the Lord was not in the fire, so we cannot hear the voice of God when we are burning with passions such as anger or erotic desire.
How, then, do we clear and settle our minds? The best way, I think, is to develop the habit of remaining quiet in the presence of the Lord. Eucharistic adoration is ideal, but taking time for daily Scripture reading, quiet prayer, and the rosary is possible even where there is no Tabernacle. Habitual daily quiet in the presence of the Almighty is the number one way to develop the capacity for listening to the tiny whispering voice of God and discerning His will. I am not talking about some dramatic divine revelation. Usually the best we can hope for is only a thought or even a mere prompting. Here is an illustration from my own experience.
On Sunday, June 10, 2001, I delivered a baccalaureate homily for Bethlehem Catholic High School which contained a brief but strong denunciation of a current evil at the school. Afterwards, a rather irate staff member read me the riot act. “How dare you say what you did!” said this individual. “Who gave you the right to say that?” As a result, I was filled with self-doubt. In my thirteen years of priesthood, no one had ever reprimanded me for anything I had said from the pulpit.
The following morning, after the 6:15 AM Mass at Notre Dame of Bethlehem Church, I sat before the Tabernacle, as I often did in the summer months when school was not in session. I prayed silently: Jesus, was I wrong to preach as I did? Was what I said over the top? Was my homily in any way displeasing to You?
All of a sudden, I felt a strong, unusual urge to get up and take a walk around the block. There was no voice or blinding light. (I am already blind.) It was simply a powerful impulse. Take a walk around the block, the prompting seemed to tell me. People have sometimes told me to take a hike. No one had ever told me to take a walk.
Well, I got up and left the church and started walking. Wouldn’t you know it? As I rounded the corner of Catasauqua Road and Kelchner Road, a car stopped at the light, and its driver rolled down the passenger window and hailed me. “Father,” he said, “I just want you to know that yesterday’s baccalaureate homily was one of the best I have ever heard. Keep up the good work!” Needless to say, my self-doubts vanished.
To this day, I still marvel at the timing of all of that. What a remarkable coincidence! Or was it? Yet as I ponder, I have come to a double realization. First, I have had a number of such remarkable experiences—nothing mystical, simply affirmations or promptings. Second, each of these experiences came about as a result of my spending time praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Wow! Why has it taken me so long to make this connection?
Devoting time to quiet, daily prayer before the Eucharist is the best means I know for obtaining affirmation, inspiration, and direction. When we regularly go “aside from the crowd” to spend time with Jesus in prayer, He will open our ears so that we will hear His call; He will open our eyes so that we will see His Hand at work in our lives; and He will open our mouths so that we will proclaim His Gospel.
Please don’t get me wrong. We should never come to God in prayer with explicit demands for or even expectations of favors. Our primary motive should be that of adoration. Opening our hearts before Jesus in the Eucharist, however, is the best way I know to receive whatever blessings Our Lord has to offer—just as filling a fish tank with clean water is the best starting point for an aquarium teeming with healthy aquatic life.
 The homily is entitled “You Are My Sunshine,” and you can read it on this website: apologyanalogy.com.