Co-host of “The View” Joy Behar stirred up controversy when she suggested that Vice President Michael Pence had a “mental illness” because he claims to talk to Jesus. To my knowledge, the Vice President has never publicly asserted that he converses with Christ. I’m sure he prays to God like most Christians do, but that’s not what “The View” was discussing. They were responding to comments made about the Vice President by a TV reality show contestant. So, there’s no need to make anything more out of this incident than what it was. This was not a condemnation of the spiritual practice of communing with God. And it wasn’t an in-depth theological discussion on the presence of the divine in the lives of believers. No, Ms. Behar obviously dislikes the Vice President and his politics, and simply couldn’t resist taking a shot at him. This is more about ratings than it is religion. However, it does raise an interesting question. Does God talk to us?
The practice of communing with God is inherent in all the great religions of the world. Contemplation, meditation and prayer, the idea that we can open our hearts and minds to the Divine has been an integral part of the Christian tradition since its inception.
In 1205, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone was praying in the Church of San Damiano when a vision of Jesus appeared to him and said, “Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” Inspired by the voice, Francis of Assisi renounced his life of wealth and privilege, took a vow of poverty and formed the Franciscan Order, which was instrumental in reforming and revitalizing the Catholic Church during the 13th century.
Between September 1946 and December 1947, Jesus appeared to a Missionary Sister teaching at a Loreto convent school in India. In what she described as a “call within a call,” he instructed her to go out into the streets, live among the poorest of the poor, and attend to their physical and spiritual needs. Mother Teresa of Calcutta formed the Missionaries of Charity, which today has more than 4,000 sisters and 100,000 lay volunteers, operates 610 missions in 123 countries, including; hospices and homes for people with HIV, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children’s and family counseling programs, orphanages, and schools.
Perhaps the most unlikely but important conversation with Jesus occurred on a dusty road just outside of Damascus. Saul of Tarsus, a Jewish Pharisee and the sworn enemy of the followers of an obscure rabbi from Galilee, was on his way to the city to arrest several of the heretics and return them to Jerusalem for execution, when he was knocked to the ground by a flash of light, and heard a voice saying,
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The conversion of Saint Paul was perhaps the most pivotal event within the life of the infant church, because it was Paul, who brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the non-Jewish world. Had it not been for Paul, Christianity would most likely have died out as an obscure sect of Judaism.
Over the centuries, there have been other apparitions of Jesus, but they are extremely rare. Which begs the question, why doesn’t Jesus appear to people more often? If he did, maybe more people would believe. Probably because those to whom Jesus has appeared are either Venerated, Blessed or Saints. In other words, they have achieved a level of spirituality and holiness that the rest of us will never attain. Also, I think God understands just how fragile we are, because a face to face encounter with Jesus would be absolutely terrifying. However, the fact that most of us will never attain sainthood doesn’t mean we can’t commune with God, because we can.
God is always polite; he’ll never talk over or interrupt you. If you want to hear God, you need to learn how to be silent. Not just stop talking, but you need to silence your own voice inside your head. Empty yourself of your own thoughts, your own ideas, of the things that you think you know, and listen. God speaks in a whisper. You’ll never hear him if you’re too busy talking to yourself. If you can learn how to be silent and seek out God’s truth with an honest and sincere heart, you’ll hear him.
But how will you know that the voice you hear is God’s, and not just your own? You’ll know because it will tell you things that you don’t want to hear. It will tell you to be more compassionate, forgiving and loving than you want to be. It will compel you to look at yourself in a way that will make you uncomfortable and ashamed, and it will present you with the truth about yourself that’s much too difficult to accept. However, the truth is always accompanied with the grace needed to accept it.
Grace is the flip side of a coin shared with truth, and for the truth to have any value, it needs to be accepted with the grace that accompanies it. But grace is a gift, something that we’re free to either accept or reject. If we try to accept the truth without grace, it will never be anything more than an intellectualized abstract concept. However, if we’re willing to accept both sides of the coin everything changes. This is the conversion of the heart.
The problem with most of us is that we want the truth but are unwilling to accept the grace needed to make it incarnate. This is why the world never seems to change, and why there will always be infinitely more sinners than saints.