Today’s reflection is by Michaelangelo Allocca, whose brief bio can be found by clicking here.
Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.
“If today you hear God’s voice …”
That is one big “IF” in today’s Psalm’s refrain. Why doesn’t God doesn’t speak to us more clearly and frequently? Why do we so rarely hear God’s voice reaching out to us?
Today’s scriptures turn the question around and present it as a direct challenge to us:, “God does in fact speak to us far more often than we realize, BUT how do we respond when we hear God’s voice?”
Each reading describes a slightly different form of response, but all invite us to ponder whether the problem is not God’s lack of speaking, but our refusal to accept God’s message..
Psalm 95 speaks of “hardening [our] hearts,” a deliberate refusal to respond. The image refers to “the day of Meribah and Massah in the desert,” when the Israelites quarreled with God during the exodus, one of many reasons Moses called them “this stiff-necked people.” The diagnosis is clear: it’s not that we don’t hear God, it’s that we stubbornly resist what we hear. A friend once said, “My dad’s not hard of hearing — he’s hard of listening.”
In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses tells his gathered people that God will be sending them a prophet, specifically because they asked God not to speak to them directly again. “‘Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God,” they proclaimed earlier in the exodus story.
In the gospel reading it is demons, not humans, who recoil from contact. They recognize Jesus for who He truly is, “the Holy One of God,” but rebuff Him, saying, “What have you to do with us?” Being demons, naturally they want nothing to do with him, but we would never react that way, would we?
Well, would we? These readings urge me to ask, “If I hear God’s voice, do I harden my heart? If I imagine God speaking directly to me in God’s own voice, do I say, ‘a bit scary — I’d rather not’? If I were face to face with Jesus and fully recognized him, would my reaction be ‘what have you to do with me?’”
Upon reflection, I realized several ways how I harden my heart to God speaking through my suffering brothers and sisters. Of course, I care about systemic racism, and abuse of immigrants: but what have I actually done to counter white supremacy, or to ensure a welcome for refugees?
As my meditation moved closer to home, it got more uncomfortable: what about when God speaks through members of my own community, and I resist? As a gay man, I like to tell myself that I fully support all my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ+ community … but it’s not true. Like many well-meaning but hesitant straight allies, I’ve been guilty of the “Pride Parade” sneer: “Sure, we should celebrate our sexuality and gender diversity, but some of the more outrageous [drag queens, leathermen, dykes on bikes: insert chosen more-’in-your-face’-than-I representatives] — do they have to flaunt it so?”
Further, I confess that I have much to learn about the experience of my trans and nonbinary siblings. Many years ago, I noticed my gut response was, “I have nothing against them, but I just plain don’t get it.” In the subsequent years, I have done almost nothing towards achieving greater understanding, and becoming more supportive. God’s voice has spoken to me through them, and I’ve answered “what have you to do with me?”
Some of these reactions were no doubt spurred by my years of closeted life. While pondering these “if today’s, I read a news story about a photography exhibit featuring older lesbians and gay men, which includes their reflections on the pain and losses resulting from many years in the closet. This moved me to ask, “Wasn’t God’s voice speaking to my adolescent self in the messages telling met hat I was attracted to boys?” In my youth, the fear of that truth led me to ignore this voice and try to create a false self. Was my rejection of those messages at least in part hardening my heart, or asking God to stop talking to me like that, because it frightened and disturbed me?”
Let me be clear that this meditation does NOT lead me to blame myself for a world (and more sadly, a Church) hostile to our queer identity. I did not make that world, and I do not fault myself for its existence. The conclusion is, instead, a positive one: without any doubt it is, in fact God who says, “my child, this is exactly how I made you, and I love you completely as you are, and so you should never let anyone make you ashamed or afraid of your true self.”
And rather than regretting what can’t be changed, I resolve henceforth to listen when I hear God speak to me, either about myself or about any of my fellow children of God,. I will strive not to harden my heart. I pray that we all may be called by these scriptures to do the same.
—Michaelangelo Allocca, January 31, 2021