“If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.”
The first time I sat down to work on this reflection, I read the readings and began to pray but was distracted by a text from my neighbor who wanted to let me know that her beloved uncle, whom we had been praying for since he contracted COVID, had passed away. I offered to make dinner for her family as I know such mourning makes even the most ordinary of tasks disjointed and cumbersome. So, my daughter and I set about making a meal. As I was pressing the cookies, Pizzelles - our Italian specialty, I remembered that my Noni taught us that when you close the press, you say two Hail Mary’s. That’s how you time when they are done. So, I prayed the Hail Mary’s as I baked the cookies and held my neighbor, her uncle and their family in prayer. The aroma of those delicate lace cookies along with Italian red sauce and pasta wisping through the air turned a grey afternoon into a factory of hope and eucharistic nourishment; weaving together four generations and a neighborhood with the scent of comfort food.
Later that day I got back to working on this reflection and read the readings again and found myself asking, what counts as a distraction? Paul claims that if you are married you are distracted by the stuff of this world, but I wondered just what was the distraction that day. Even though I had been trying to be in tune to God in reading the Scriptures and in prayer, was the text that came a distraction, or was it a clear invitation from God to nourish a family in need?
Our psalm says, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” which invites us to consider two questions – That question of “If” – what does it take to hear God’s voice today? And how do you make sure you don’t harden your heart when you do hear it? I would argue that some of the things we might count as distractions, are really ways of God trying to break in and invite us close. But not just to a silent sanctuary filled with the scent of burning candles, but God is also inviting us to get into the mess of life: to comfort those who are mourning, to heal the sick, to feed the hungry. To “smell like the sheep” as Pope Francis would say. These are all “distractions” yet, they are also ways God is calling us to reexamine and reimagine the incarnation. Just who is it that can give witness to God in our midst?
I can imagine the Israelites in the first reading. They had already let God know that they were scared of the pillar of fire and cloud that guided them in the desert. They wanted something a little less terrifying. So, God raised up one of their own as a prophet. I’m sure there were many times as they wandered the desert that they saw Moses’ reprimands as annoying or too much work - as distractions. And yet, distractions break through our complacency and remind us to refocus again on God. Here at the end of Moses’ life, they are asking again that there be a prophet in their midst someone who can help them understand what God wants of them.
We don’t have designated prophets today; we have to try to figure out for ourselves who amplifies the voice of God for us. Oh, there are the obvious prophets who point us in the right directions: Pope Francis and his Fratelli Tutti calling all of us to fraternal love for one another. But there are more subtle prophets too, those raised from among our own kin: protesters kneeling as they call for an end to racial discrimination, nurses and doctors simultaneously healing our very sick and speaking on the news encouraging others to not take chances. Even text messages that if we read between the lines, we hear God’s whisper of an invitation to pray Good News to life. The prophets in our midst distract us from our complacency and point us to Grace and hope.
I think if we tried, we would realize that not only can we hear God’s voice today, but we hear it everywhere we turn. That is our sacramental perspective. We hear God’s voice in cries of sorrow and cries of joy, in whispers of fear and shouts for change. We can smell it too! Hope and comfort wisping through a shared meal, the scent of burning candles clustered around a street memorial or fresh baked cookies delivered to first responders working through the night. All of it akin to the sweet smell of Chrism from our baptism reminding us that we too are anointed to be prophets. Yes, we can sense God everywhere, if we try. The real task is to harden not our hearts when we do.
Elizabeth Barret Browning wrote, “Life’s crammed with heaven and every common bush aflame with God. Those who can see take off their shoes, the rest of us sit around and pluck blackberries and daub our natural faces unaware.”
Challenging our hearts to notice God in the other means having the humility to take off our shoes. It means looking for not only the ones we find easy to love, but the ones we disagree with or the ones we see as foolish too. Even the unclean spirits in the Gospel heard Jesus’ voice and knew who he was. Softening our hearts to the voice of God involves noticing God in the faces of the other, not being distracted by what they say or do, or how they smell, but seeing that distraction as an invitation to recognize our own brokenness and imperfections as well. In this shared vulnerability, in recognizing our shared humanity, God blesses us with an abundant love.
Life is messy, yet that is exactly what we need: to be engaged in the stuff of this world - the sights, the tastes, the smells - distracted by all of it, because all of it is God!
Our sacramental perspective claims that these are the ways God breaks through with hope. These are the ways we transform our hearts of stone into hearts made for love. Just like the messiness of a good Italian meal, we’re left with dishes to be cleaned; transformation set into motion. Let us get to work, so we are prepared for the next distraction.
Christina R. Zaker, D. Min
Christina R. Zaker, D. Min
Dr. Christina R. Zaker is the Director of Field Education and teaches in the Spirituality and Pastoral Ministry department at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. As a practical theologian, she focuses on theological reflection as it intersects with justice and family spirituality. Her work as the director of field education draws from her many years in ministry on college campuses, in parishes and as the Executive Director of Amate House, the young adult volunteer program for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Christina received her Master’s degree from the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University, Chicago and her Doctorate in Ministry from Catholic Theological Union. She is a frequent speaker and retreat director, has written numerous articles in both scholarly journals and mainstream magazines and has recently published her book, Surprised by God: Teaching Reflection through the Parables (Rowman & Littlefield 2020).
Christina lives with her husband, Christopher, and their four children in Chicago.
2020 Publications include:
Surprised by God: Teaching Reflection through the Parables (Rowman & Littlefield 2020). https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781538143902/Surprised-by-God-Teaching-Reflection-through-the-Parables
“Catholic Theological Education at the Margins” in Reflective Practice: Formation and Supervision in Ministry, 40, no. 1 (2020): 130-142. also: https://journals.sfu.ca/rpfs/index.php/rpfs/article/view/739/695
“Excellence in Supervision: Training Site Supervisor Mentors” with Tanya Lynn Bennet, Thomas Elliot and Tamara Wilden in Reflective Practice: Formation and Supervision in Ministry, 40, no. 1 (2020): 174-183. also: https://journals.sfu.ca/rpfs/index.php/rpfs/article/view/749/701
Finding Hope In Family During COVID-19. People of Hope Series - Bernardin Center May 12, 2020 https://learn.ctu.edu/a-people-of-hope-finding-hope-in-family-during-covid-19/
Sunday Scripture Reflections – Learn@CTU – Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 9, 2020.https://learn.ctu.edu/thirty-third-sunday-in-ordinary-time-2/
US Catholic Sunday Reflections: https://uscatholic.org/articles/202101/a-reflection-for-the-second-sunday-of-ordinary-time/