“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” ~ Mt. 7:21
When we pray, we usually begin by calling on the name of God. We situate ourselves in a quiet place, settle our souls, and say, “Lord, Lord.” But that is only the beginning of the process of prayer: as today’s Gospel teaches, the way to the kingdom of God is not through talking, but through listening, carefully, to what Christ calls “these words of mine,” and acting upon them.
The biblical languages help us here: in both Hebrew and Greek, the verb “to hear” also means “to obey.” How do we hear what God is telling us? We may get the message literally, by reading a passage from the Bible and pondering its application to our lives. Other times, through the quiet of personal prayer, the divine word may come interiorly, wordlessly. Gradually, without exactly knowing how we have attained the insight, we see what we must do.
The challenge then is to carry it out, especially if it is distasteful, burdensome or not to our liking. Because in our lives today, the linguistic link between hearing and obedience is more often than not broken. If we are honest, to hear is to disobey, particularly if God’s words do not comport with our own plans. We are conflicted: as Thomas Merton wrote, “There’s always a yes and no in everything that we do. . .We would like to be united with God, and we would like not to be united with God” Through our attention to prayer, may we strive to resolve that conflict in favor of God’s will, not ours.
Lord, help me draw your words and your will into my heart and be obedient to the message I hear in prayer. Amen.
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Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill is an author, lecturer and Biblical scholar. She is the co-author, with Joseph Papp, of Shakespeare Alive! (Bantam Books), and is a contributor to Commonweal and America.