LISTENING TO THE INNER VOICE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [1 KGS 19:9.11-16; MATTHEW 5:27-32 ]
In the first reading, we read how Elijah fled from his enemies after slaughtering the false prophets of Baal. Queen Jezebel sent her men after him to kill him. She sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” (1 Kgs 19:2) How could Elijah have become so nervous and fearful of the Queen when he had just demonstrated the power of God by having Him send the fire to burn up the holocausts at the altar of sacrifice? How could he have become so timid when he had just killed 150 false prophets of Baal? In the face of danger, he lost faith in God. He forgot that God was always with him. We, too, who are active in the ministry, also face the dark night as well. We have given so much to the Lord in the service of our family, our church, our community, and our organizations. Often when faced with mounting challenges to our plans, disruption, oppositions and failures, we feel discouraged and give up.
Indeed, what Elijah was fleeing from was not so much his enemies but his inner fears. In the face of evil, instead of fighting, he relented and succumbed to his inner fears for his life. Whilst fleeing far away from Jezebel, he came into the wilderness where no one could find him. There, alone, he felt dejected, disillusioned, and even resentful of God. Sitting “down under a solitary broom tree, He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.'” (1 Kgs 19:4) Do we not all feel that way when we are in his situation? We feel like giving up and wish for an early exit from this earth. Everything we do seems in vain. When that happens, we are listening to the wrong inner voice. This is the inner voice that comes from the human spirit and sometimes from the evil spirit that seeks to discourage us. St Paul urges us, “let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Gal 6:9)
In the gospel, there is another form of fleeing. This is the call to flee from doing evil. One of the most difficult temptations in life is the sin of lust. It is difficult to resist lust because our desire for physical and sexual intimacy is in our DNA. We are not pure spirit but we have a body. We need physical expressions of love, such as hugging, kissing, touching, and sexual intimacy. This is why it is so difficult to resist the temptation to the pleasures of sex. Having sexual intimacy outside of marriage will only create far-reaching consequences for us, in our relationship with the one we sleep with and with our loved ones. Unwanted pregnancies might result and abortion might take place. Infidelity in marriage will cause distrust, suspicions, quarrels, breakdown in marriage life, and destruction of family unity, peace and security. Eventually, the relationship will also break up with everyone wounded. So the sin of lust is more than just a physical act but it has ramifications for our emotional, family, and social life.
For this reason, Jesus tells us to flee from the evil of adultery. He said, it is important that we pay attention not just to the sin itself but at the very onset of the temptation even before it happens. Hence, He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Indeed, before we could even commit a sexual sin, that inner voice from the Evil One will conjure lustful and pleasurable images of the sexual act, arousing our desire until we can no longer control that desire and soon we find opportunities to allow our thoughts to be translated into action. This is why the Lord said that even the thought of adultery itself is a sin. Of course, He was referring to those who nurture, embellish and continue to dwell on that thought of having sex with someone outside of marriage. He is not referring to passing temptations that we just shrug off without further imagination.
Unfortunately, instead of fleeing from the evil of lust, we tend to dwell on the lustful thoughts, which today are strengthened by the widespread availability of pornography, as images of such sexual scenes are deeply embedded in our subconscious. So when stimulated, all the images will surface and tempt us to commit the sin of lust. This is why the Lord in a figurative manner said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.” If He asked us to go to that extreme of cutting off what causes us to sin, it is because of the dire consequences of sexual sins. It is better to do without a limb than to have our entire body and soul cast into hell, and also causing hurt to our loved ones, our spouse, children, parents and the one we had slept with.
How, then, can we flee from evil and not flee from good? We must listen to that inner voice clearly. This inner voice can be from God or from the Evil One. We must cultivate the spirit of discernment, between the weeds and the wheat. (cf Mt 13:24-30) The truth is that temptations present to us something as good, beautiful, and pleasurable. This is fake news. Most of us tend to see the externals and fall for them, believing that they are good for us when these lead us to self-destruction, hurt to our loved ones, and even causing us to lose our job and hinder us from making progress in our career and businesses.
Today, like Elijah, the Lord wants to speak to us in the silence of our hearts. We read in today’s first reading that God did not come as Elijah thought He would, in spectacular ways, as in a mighty wind or an earthquake or in a fire. Instead, He came in a gentle breeze. Only in the silence of our hearts, when our emotions are settled and our desires are tamed, can we then listen clearly to the voice of God. Otherwise, we allow our emotions, desires, and mind to rationalize us into doing evil because we are not hearing the voice of God but the voice of the world and that of the Evil One. There is no substitute for silence when it comes to the question of discernment of the Spirits. Unless we quieten our mind and heart, we cannot hear that inner voice of God prompting us to do the right thing.
Indeed, it was during the silence that God helped Elijah to search and purify his motives. He asked him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I am filled with jealous zeal for the Lord of hosts, because the sons of Israel have deserted you, broken down your altars and put your prophets to the sword. I am the only one left and they want to kill me.” This was the second time the Lord asked him and Elijah replied the same way. Why did the Lord ask him a second time? Because if what Elijah said were true, then he would not have fled from Jezebel. He would have stood to fight against evil until the end. However, the truth was that he was afraid on one hand, and angry with God on the other for allowing him to suffer when he did what was good for the people. Secondly, it was not true that he was the only true prophet left, as Elijah claimed. Obadiah in fact hid the 150 true prophets from Jezebel in a cave. (1 kgs 18:13) Elijah thought he was all alone fighting against the evil queen and idolatry. In fact, he was not alone. He had a presumptuous view of himself. His pride and ego took the better of him.
Again, this is so true for us as well. We too need to search our motives in what we do. We need to search our hearts. This is particularly so when we sleep with someone outside of marriage. We must truly ask whether this is the most loving thing to do by loving the person sexually when it is outside of marriage. Instead of justifying ourselves, we must listen to the Lord speaking to us in the depths of our hearts. When we pray, the Lord will tell us what to do, just as He told Elijah. He renewed the mission of Elijah by sending him back to where he came from, but with clarity of purpose and reinforcement. “‘Go,’ the Lord said ‘go back the same way to the wilderness of Damascus. You are to go and anoint Hazael as king of Aram. You are to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel, and to anoint Elisha son of Shaphat, of Abel Meholah, as prophet to succeed you.'” So too, the Lord will do the same for us.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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