How to Listen in Prayer & Know if God is Speaking to Us – Advent 2023


God often speaks to us in the gentle promptings of our hearts. We can test whether God is actually speaking to us through silence, through time, and through joy.

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Reflective Study Guide Questions

“Be still and know that I am God,”

Ps. 46:11

1. Fr. Gale emphasizes the importance of silence as we try to know if God is speaking to us, but he acknowledges that many things in our life can interfere with practicing silence. What interferes with the practice of silence in your life? How can you work on implementing silence more often and more effectively?  

2. One way to test whether God is speaking to us is to test it over time. If He is calling us to do something, He will ask us again and again. How can you work on the patience and attentiveness you need to test over time whether God is speaking to you?

3. God usually speaks to us in gentle promptings of the heart, rather than through large obvious signs. Have you ever felt God’s gentle promptings in your heart in the past? Where did they lead?

4.  We often have a tendency to be fearful when we think that God is calling us to do something, but Fr. Gale attests that joy will be stronger on the path God is actually calling us to follow. Have you ever felt fear when you thought God was calling you to do something? When have you felt joy in the path God was calling you to follow?

Text: How to Listen in Prayer & Know if God is Speaking to Us.

My name is Father Gale Hammerschmidt, I’m the Chaplain and Pastor of Saint Isidore’s Catholic Student Center, the campus of Kansas State University.

Opening Prayer

Heavenly Father, we ask you to send your Spirit upon us during this season of Advent. We ask you to instruct us so we know how to pray, so that we know how to hear your voice. For we know that you are the giver of all good things, and so, therefore, we praise you and we bless you. And we ask for you to show us your path, and we ask for you to give us the strength to follow, amen. In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Be Quiet During Prayer

For today’s topic, how to listen in prayer, what to listen for. How do we know, how do we know if God is speaking to us? Shh. Shh, right? Like, legitimately, I think if I had one tip for you for in prayer, when people come to me and say, “Father, any tips for praying?” I’ll say, “Yes, one, shh, be quiet, be quiet.”

At a time when I was visiting my spiritual director, Father Raymond Geronski, and he was on his death bed, after 10 years of being together, him being my spiritual director, he said to me, our very last conversation before I left the hospital, and he ended up dying the next day. He says to me, he says, “Gale, three things.” “I want you to be good, I want you to be strong, and I want you to be quiet.” And then he paused and he said, “Being good and being strong, well, that comes naturally to you.” And then he kind of smiled and he said, “So be quiet.”

He knows, he gets me. He gets all of us, really, most of us, because we’re not great at being quiet. And so, let us pray that we have what it takes to quiet our soul, to quiet our heart, to listen to God, for that is necessary.

1 Kings 19

We turn to the scriptures in 1 Kings 19, the Lord says to Elijah, “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.” “And after the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.” “After the fire, there was a tiny whispering sound.” And in the tiny whispering sound, Elijah knew that it was the Lord.

How do we know if the Lord is speaking to us? I would say in three ways. First, we test it in silence. And if there’s no silence, then we’re probably not able to hear the voice of God. Also, we test it over time. The voice of God does not just come to us once, and then leave us forever. In fact, the voice of God will return again and again and again. If He’s calling us to something, if He’s speaking to us, He’s not going to leave easily. He’ll keep showing up, and inviting us into that which He is asking of us. And then the last thing that I think is important is that He comes not in the form of an earthquake or a strong wind, but He comes in the gentle promptings of the heart, a tiny whisper. In fact, He comes in joy, in giving us something that we can rejoice. And even maybe at times when we feel fear, we recognize that the joy rises above the fear.

Father Gale’s Vocation Story

Tell you maybe just a story of a time when I was wondering, am I called to be a priest? I had the sense, and I’m a bit of a late vocation, I was 33 when I entered the seminary. And I was one day shy of my 40th birthday before I became a priest. I would say, much like many, I was ordained in my 30s. It was the very last day of my 30s. To others, I would say, “Well, a midlife crisis, right?” Some people go off and buy a Lamborghini, I instead became a priest, nonetheless.

I was a school teacher, and I would wake up every morning prior to going to the seminary for, really, months and months. And I would say this, I would say, Lord, if you want me to go to the seminary, make it abundantly clear. Give me that sign, indicate that you want me to go to the seminary, and I’ll follow. Give me that sign, Lord, make it abundantly clear. And the day would pass and I’d go to sleep, and I’d wake up the next morning and I’d say, Lord, if you want me to go to the seminary, I’m here, you just, you let me know God, please make it abundantly clear. And I did this day after day after day, until one day I woke up, and I still remember this day.

It was December, the year before I actually entered the seminary and it hit me, okay, I keep asking for a sign, but what about the fact that every morning I wake up with the same thought on my mind? Lord, if you want me to do this, I’ll do it, make it abundantly clear. And what I recognized in that is that He was indeed making it abundantly clear by continuing to show up, to put the idea on my heart, in my head. And even over time, He was giving me joy at the thought of it through gentle promptings. You see, He doesn’t speak to us in fear. He speaks to us when we quiet ourselves, when we listen gently and over time.

Finding A Place of Silence for Prayer

Now, you might say to me, “Father, but here’s the reality, I can’t find silence.” Maybe you have a good number of children running around your house right now, even now. Maybe this is why you’re doing an online retreat here with Pray More, because you can’t get away for three days or four days to do a retreat because of your responsibilities. I’m sure that you have a lot going on in your life. And so you say, “Father, I can’t make it to the church to pray in adoration.” Maybe your parish doesn’t even have adoration. Or perhaps you live in a place where your church doors are locked through the day, and you can’t make it to the church.

So what do you do? Well, you rejoice because the Lord is not limited to speaking only in a church. And you can find silence wherever you are, even if it’s a gentle drive that you turn the radio off. Perhaps you find a particular space in your home, a prayer corner. I remember at one of my previous parishes, it was very difficult for me to go into the church to pray. Whenever I would go into the church to pray, there were a few of the church ladies. You know what I’m talking about, the church ladies, the ladies that are always in the church. They were in there praying, or they were setting something up in the church, they were changing out the candles. Who knows what it might be? But as soon as old father showed up in the church to pray, well, it wasn’t super peaceful. Maybe they were just making too much fuss for me to concentrate. Maybe it’s just I wasn’t very good at quieting my heart in that space. Maybe they were even just tapping me on the shoulder, they had a question, “Father, tell me about this.” “Is it okay if I do this?”

And I decided while being a priest at that parish, that it was better for me to create a beautiful space even within my own home, a crucifix and image of our Blessed Mother. A nice comfortable chair, not too comfortable, we don’t want you to fall asleep, but a comfortable chair where you can pray.

It’s interesting what five minutes, even five minutes of silence can do, five minutes of just taking some breaths, letting your heart slow down and saying, Lord, I’m here, speak to me, speak to me. And I think that we can start to hear His voice in doing that, even five minutes a day. I really believe that to be true.

The Lord Never Speaks To Us Through Fear

And another thing that’s important, our Lord, He doesn’t speak to us through fear. It’s never a fearful thing that overrides all else. If you don’t do this, I will smite you, that kind of, I think that’s not our God. I’ll tell a story.

I was vocation director for the diocese where I live, and I was really excited, one day and I made about a two hour drive to visit a young man who said, “I think I’m called to the seminary.” And so we sat down over a meal and we began speaking, and I asked a question that I like to ask very regularly when I’m first encountering a seminarian candidate, somebody who might one day become a priest. I asked him this question, I said, “What excites you about the thought of being a priest?” “And when you think of being a priest, what is it that excites you the most?”

That’s what I asked him, and he said, “Well, to be honest with you father, nothing excites me about it.” Wait a second here, I just drove two hours for you to tell me that, that nothing excites you about the thought of going to the seminary and being a priest. I said, “Well, then why do you think that you’re called to go to the seminary?” He said, “Because I want to be the best man that I can be, and I know, father, that being a priest is a very high calling.” “And so that, if it’s a high calling, then I want to be a priest.” I said, “But wait, wait, you think about being a priest, does it give you joy whatsoever?” “No, no, no. it only causes fear in my heart,” he tells me. “No joy whatsoever, not really, just fear.” “Sadness, some sadness as well.” I was like, “What are you talking about?” “Tell me about the sadness.”

And he said, “Well, about four months ago, I broke up with my girlfriend because I recognized that this was a higher calling and I’ve been sad and fearful, not joyful, fearful and sad.” And I said to the waiter, “Check, please.” That’s not true, I finished the meal and we had a nice talk. I asked him about his girlfriend, his eyes lit up. I said, “Well, is she dating somebody else?” He said, “No, father, she’s not, she’s pretty sad as well.” And he was at home, he was in Kansas where I live, and he was at home, but returning back to work after the particular break that we were on. He had about a eight hour drive to get home. And about seven hours into his drive, he would be passing by his ex-girlfriend’s place. And I said, “I want you to do me a favor, call her up on your way home, stop by her house.” You could just see the joy reentering his life, the light in his eyes, “Really, father?” And I gave him permission to follow the joy that was in his heart at the thought of dating this girl.

About a year later, I was invited to their wedding. You see, that’s how God works. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I don’t know if he wasn’t spending the time in silence that he needed. I don’t know if he just mistook this whole idea of the will of God. Not everybody on earth can be a priest, that would be the end of the world as we know it, right?

The Lord calls people to all sorts of things. And so, what a joy it was for me to be with him as joy reentered his life. And that’s the way it will work with you as well, as well. Now, it might be scary, I’m sure that him giving that girl a call and saying, “I’m going to come by,” he was probably nervous. There were many nerves that went into that. Going to the seminary, yeah, it can be a touch of a scary time, but I can promise you that the joy will rise above the fear.

I remember when I used to go to adoration chapel, many times thinking about the very thought of going to the seminary. My heart would be beating so fast, because how am I going to tell everybody at the school that I’m teaching at that I’m leaving, that I’m going to go on this wild ride of maybe becoming a Catholic priest? That’s frightening, but yet, the joy rose so much above the fear. And it was the gentle promptings that continued to come time after time, day after day.

St Therese’s Definition of Prayer

I think I’ll maybe close with this, with this, if you open up your Catechism of the Catholic Church to the fourth section, the section on prayer, Saint Therese is quoted right at the start, right at the very start of that section. Here’s what Saint Therese says about prayer. She says, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart.” “It’s a simple look turned toward heaven.” “It’s a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

Test Saint Therese’s definition of prayer to the three things that I’ve pointed out already, to these three items that I think are necessary. It says “A surge of the heart, a simple look towards heaven, a cry of recognition of love, even in the midst of trial, and clearly of joy.” It’s quiet, isn’t it? A surge of the heart, generally quiet, not necessarily, not necessarily. You have seven kids running around and they’re all crazy, and you see Junior of five years old helping out your, whatever, other child, Francis, who is three years old. And it might be crazy, but a simple surge of the heart going up to heaven, rejoicing at what you’ve seen, that’s prayer, a recognition of the love that God has for us. When we’re in that space, then we can listen to the voice in our heart and in our head.

We know that Saint Ignatius of Loyola speaks of this a lot. When in consolation, when we can recognize the love of the Lord, then we can listen to ourselves. When in desolation, hey, make no changes. Maybe don’t trust those voices in your heart and your head when you’re in deep desolation. But when you have that simple look toward heaven, you feel that love, whether there’s trials going on or not, then, my friends, you can trust the Lord. Let us pray.

Closing Prayer

In the name of the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit, Amen. God, you are so good to us, and you do indeed speak to our hearts. We praise you, we bless you, we thank you, Amen. In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. God bless you all.

About Fr. Gale Hammerschmidt

Fr. Gale Hammerschmidt was born and raised in Hays, Kansas and graduated from Thomas More Prep/Marian High School. He then attended Kansas State University where he received a degree in secondary education. Fr. Gale spent nine years in Manhattan, KS at Msgr. Luckey Jr. High School as a history teacher and football, basketball, and track coach.

From 2005-2012, Fr. Gale studied at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, CO. In 2012, Fr. Gale was ordained a priest and is currently the pastor of St. Isidore’s Catholic Student Center at Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS. Prior to this assignment, he served as a priest in Junction City, KS, and at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Salina, KS.  Fr. Gale has served as a high school chaplain and vocation director for the Diocese of Salina. He is also the founder of the Prayer and Action summer mission program that has now spread to numerous dioceses throughout the country.

You can find Fr. Gale: on his Facebook pageInstagram, and through his Church’s website.