In prayer we not only speak to the Lord, but we listen as well. Particularly in times of difficulty or discernment, we want to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts and decisions. But how can we hear the voice of the Spirit? And if we do hear something in prayer how do we know if it is God or just our own voice?
Fr. Paul Cannariato, a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark, stopped by Morning Air® this week to offer some insights into how we can better hear the voice of the Spirit in prayer.
When we talk about hearing the voice of God, it’s usually not something you hear with your ears, Fr. Cannariato explained. “It’s an inner knowing within. You have to make a distinction, first of all, between your own voice and the voice of God, the voice of the Spirit. We have to actually discern. Is this the Holy Spirit? Or is this myself? Or is this voice not coming from God? And I think there are distinctions.”
Being able to identify the voice of the Spirit comes from prayer. Just as you know the voice of your mother or spouse because you have spoken with them so often, prayer allows us the familiarity with God to be able to recognize His voice.
“The basic orientation of your life is toward the Lord and seeking Him with all your heart,” Fr. Cannariato said. “And your basic orientation of life is Gospel-centered and Christ-centered and trying to live a holy life. Then there’s an openness to the Holy Spirit and a willingness to hear the voice of God.”
Sharing his own experience of listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, Fr. Cannariato said, “When God speaks to us, first of all, there is an inner peace and inner harmony. There is a great inner peace within and a great sense that this is truth being spoken to us. I know in my own discernment that’s how I distinguish the voice of the Holy Spirit. I know it’s truth because it completes me. It’s an inner conviction that I get within myself, that I know this is from God and this is for my best interests. It’s not going against me, it’s for me and it’s growth.”
Another way of knowing whether that inner voice is our own or the voice of the Spirit is to look to what the Holy Spirit has already revealed through Scripture and Church teaching. God would not lead us away from the truth and communion found in His Church, so we can gain better clarity in prayer by diving into the Scriptures and teachings of the Church to inspire and inform us.
“If all of these things that we’re trying to discern are in line with the Scriptures and in line with what the Church teaches, you’re tapped in to the truth, the truth that sets us free,” Fr. Cannariato said. “The discernment is listening and getting a sense that this is of God. And I think we can use the Scriptures, we can use the teachings of the Church at our disposal. We have so much at our disposal to help us as Catholic, and those are the great things we can use in the process.”
Fr. Cannariato also pointed out that a crucial tool in listening to the voice of the Spirit is silence. With all the noise of the world and even our own interior clamor, it can be difficult to hear the still, small whisper of the Spirit if we don’t seek out silence.
“The Spirit of God leads us to all truth, and to hear the truth we have to be silent,” he explained. “We have to quiet the inner chatter. And we have to just listen to the voice of the Spirit. And we know it’s the Holy Spirit because the fruits of the Holy Spirit will be present. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. That’s the truth. That’s born of a listening heart. And as we listen to the Spirit, in silence, we can get what we call consolation. And consolation is not just feeling good. It’s a sense that this is of God.”
If it seems like you can’t find silence anywhere in your life, you may find that the church building is the perfect place for prayer. Many parishes even have adoration chapels where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. These are ideal spaces to find silence and spiritual communion with God.
“We listen in silence in the adoration chapel, and we can get a sense that it is of God,” Fr. Cannariato said. “And just being silent and listening to the Holy Spirit, and being able to recognize that inner harmony within. That beautiful harmony that’s created between you and the Lord when you sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament. There’s nothing like that. That’s the most wonderful thing on earth. It’s a touch of heaven. And in those moments we can really allow the Lord in prayer to invite us to know the truth that will set us free.”
Listen to the full conversation below: