There exist such fascinating people as blind skiers. We can see them at the Winter Paralympics. They rocket down the slope with the confidence of a sighted skier at nearly 75 miles per hour. The skier can only do so with a guide whose crucial role is to go in front of him as his eyes. The guide’s most important task is giving out, via the radio in his helmet, short commands and warnings of the jumps, bumps and turns.

Often such partnership takes years and countless miles of skiing together to develop trust and to be in sync with one another. Any chance for victory requires the blind skier to trust and to listen carefully.

As you and I rocket down the slopes of life, are we really listening to Christ, our Guide? What a vivid comparison of our spiritual life!

A clergyman is seen during the XXII Polish Championships of the Priests and Clerics in Alpine Skiing in Wisla Feb. 2, 2019. (CNS photo/Agencja Gazeta, Kamila Kotusz via Reuters)

St. Paul compared the spiritual life to running a race: “Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one” (1 Cor 9:24-25). In any normal race, only one competitor wins. But, in this “Christian” race, we are not competing against one another but against the physical and spiritual obstacles that stand in the way of holiness. In this spiritual race, the most crucial aspect is to train oneself to hear and heed the voice of Christ and be led by Him to victory. But that is a challenge.

Jesus offers us His Voice as our Guide

The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese’s 1.1 million Catholics.

We live in a time when listening’s value has declined. Our world is noisy, with many voices clamoring for our attention. How can we keep on the right course in life when we are surrounded by contradictory opinions? Many loud voices compete for our attention, and often it’s difficult to discern the voice of Jesus and to know what is true and good. But, only the voice of Christ can give meaning to our lives. Only His voice brings the peace and forgiveness for which we yearn. Above the competing crowd clamoring for our attention, there is always the voice of God inviting us to listen.

Sheep make their way in front of Hochjochferner glacier near Tyrol, Austria, June 9, 2018. (CNS photo/Lisi Niesner, Reuters)

Many find themselves lost in life, not knowing where to go, wandering through a valley of darkness with no clear sense of direction, zooming blindly down the slopes of life. To all these, Jesus says: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn 14:6).

Many others are stumped by life’s biggest questions, searching for answers and meaning, not knowing what to believe or whom to trust. And countless others are desperate to find hope as they seek happiness and fulfillment in the wrong places. To these struggling souls Jesus draws near and speaks. Are we listening?

St. Thomas Aquinas said “counsel” is the gift that allows us to be directed by God, particularly in those areas of life that pertain to our salvation.

The Voice that gives Life

Every Christmas season reminds us of God’s greatest gift to humankind: His only begotten Son. God spoke to us in the past through nature, reason and the prophets. But in the fullness of time, He spoke to us through His Son. Through Christ’s words and deeds, His Passion and Resurrection, God answers our longings more thoroughly than we could ever imagine. St. John of the Cross reminds us that Jesus is the only voice we need to heed: “In giving us His Son, His only Word (for He possesses no other), He spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word — and He has no more to say … because what He spoke before to the prophets in parts, He has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son” (Ascent of Mount Carmel 2, 22, 3-5).

Pope Francis holds up a Bible as he promotes reading of the Bible during his Angelus delivered from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 5, 2014. To help the church grow in love and faithful witness to God, Pope Francis has declared the third Sunday in ordinary time to be dedicated to the word of God. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

To be clear, the voice of Christ is not one voice among many, but rather a unique expression of the Eternal Word of God. It is a voice that accomplishes what it speaks and compels us to act and be transformed. Only Christ’s voice gives us eternal life: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life” (Jn 5:24). The person who listens and responds appropriately to Jesus’ word experiences life everlasting.

The power of Christ’s voice is illustrated dramatically in St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. In his first encounter with the Risen Christ, sight had nothing to do with it (for he was struck blind). Sound was the key factor in that interchange with the Lord. The Sacred Scriptures tell us that Paul never even had a glimpse of Jesus. He only heard His voice; and yet, that voice was enough to change Paul’s life for all eternity. Paul listened.

Listening with your Heart

In Christ, God enters our earthly routines, dwelling among us each day of our lives. This beautiful and comforting truth has very real consequences for us all. If we truly believe that God is all-powerful and all-loving, that He is the Lord of the Universe and a merciful Father who cares for us, we are inspired to courageously open our hearts to His voice. To listen to Christ’s voice expressed in the Scriptures, in our conscience and in the Church’s teaching is to put ourselves in good hands that will ensure that we reach the finish line.

After the Resurrection the disciples learned to recognize the Risen Christ, not by His physical appearance, but by His voice. They learned to see Him, not with their physical eyes, but with the eyes of their souls; and this remains our opportunity and our challenge today. St. Ignatius of Loyola says: “It is true that the voice of God, having once penetrated the heart, becomes strong as the tempest and loud as the thunder. But before reaching the heart it is as weak as a light breath that scarcely agitates the air. It shrinks from noise and is silent amid agitation” (Spiritual Exercises). Thus, in order to perceive the voice of Jesus, we need to learn how to tune out the noise of everyday life and to tune in the voice of the Lord.

When we let ourselves hear His voice, we can receive it with an open and grateful heart. Will we be listening?

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted

Christ is ever-present with us, and He continues to speak to our hearts: through the voice of our conscience, the Scriptures, the teachings of the Church, the Sacraments and the exemplary lives of the Saints. These are all voices of the Risen Lord reaching out to us, helping us to navigate the many obstacles and turns of life so that with Him we may, like St. Paul, succeed in winning the race.

In this new series of articles, which I begin today, we will examine the different ways in which Christ speaks to us in daily life. He says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). When we let ourselves hear His voice, we can receive it with an open and grateful heart. Will we be listening?