It is safe to say that most Christians would readily admit that they would like to improve their prayer life. These improvements are likely as variant as the Christians themselves. However, I believe this Sunday’s first reading, coupled with some wisdom from Archbishop Fulton Sheen, offers valuable insight for all those looking to grow in their spiritual lives.
In reference to how we sometimes approach God in our prayer, Archbishop Sheen once wrote that we have a tendency to change “the words of Scripture from ‘Speak, Lord for your servant is listening’ to ‘Listen, Lord, your servant speaks.’ God has things to tell us that will enlighten us — we must wait for him to speak.” This is a sage reminder from one of the greatest Catholic prophets of the 20th century. Among other things, Archbishop Sheen was a master communicator. So, it is especially poignant that he reminds us of the importance of listening when we pray.
One of the most beautiful truths of Fulton Sheen’s life is that as a seminarian he began the practice of a daily holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. On the day of his ordination, he promised himself that he would maintain this practice throughout his priesthood; and, indeed, he never broke this commitment over the remaining 60 years of his life. And he always began his holy hour with the words of this Sunday’s first reading, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9). Throughout his life, Archbishop Sheen credited his intentional listening to the Lord during his daily holy hour as the driving force behind his ministry.
This Sunday, we will listen to the familiar story of young Samuel being awakened repeatedly from his sleep “in the Temple of the Lord where the ark of God was” (3:3). Each time, he is awakened, Samuel runs to Eli and responds, “Here I am. You called me” (3:5,6,8). After the third call and response, Samuel instructs his apprentice to respond to the Lord with the necessary docility, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Like Archbishop Sheen many centuries later, Samuel’s disposition before the Lord prepares him to receive the message the God is willing to offer him.
If we are honest with ourselves, much of our prayer is spent telling the Lord what we believe we need him to do in our lives. Although it is certainly important to go before God with our petitions, petitionary prayer should not be the only way we communicate. Thus, as we begin this new year and continue to open ourselves to growing in the spiritual life, we are invited to echo the words of Samuel and Sheen, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
Fr. Brennan, vocation director at St. Norbert Abbey, De Pere, earned master of divinity and theology degrees from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.