This is the 2nd day since we heard the words, “Habemus Papam”, We have a Pope. Already we are seeing in him something different, something unexpected, something beautiful. He has taken the name of Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis was noted for his humility, his holiness and (maybe strangely to our “sophisticated” minds) talking to animals, and birds. Pope Francis has shown already, through his demeanor, that he will manifest these qualities as well.

What does this have to do with today’s post entitled: ‘Listening to God’, you may very well ask? When we think of prayer, we usually see ourselves asking for this to go away, or that to happen, or whatever… And so our image of prayer becomes one of action, of asking, of promising. But there is another side of prayer. There is the side of listening. We define prayer as the lifting up of the mind and heart to God. But God doesn’t speak to us with words for our ears and minds. We must listen to God, in what He says in our heart, in the depths of our soul, through the persons we meet, through what we observe. All could be His silent whispers to us. We need to listen, to observe, to be attentive. It is easy to ask, but it is much more difficult to hear the response.

Our faith has much to do with prayer. Do we really believe God listens to us? Do we really believe He cares? Does God love us so much, that He will respond to us? If we don’t believe that He cares, that He listens, then we really can’t carry on a conversation with Him. A conversation implies both a speaking and a listening by both parties.

Shortly before the Cardinals entered into the Conclave to elect a pope, builders had the task of erecting the fire pit and chimney pipe. It would be through this mechanism that the cardinals would announce that a pope had been elected. After the election, their handiwork is dismantled, until the next pope needs to be voted in. So this is a very temporary structure.

Shortly before the white smoke billowed out of that pipe, a sea gull sat on that very same pipe for over a half an hour. You could not say that it was its normal resting place, because the chimney pipe had only just been built. And yet, there it was, on top of the building in which the cardinals were electing the new pope. “So what”, you ask?

Over a hundred thousand people in St. Peter’s square, and how many millions of Catholics around the world are praying to God, are asking Him that He give them a good pope, one to reconcile the many troubles of the world, and of the Church. And while this is going on, a sea gull perches on a chimney pipe. It sits for a half an hour or so. Shortly before the white smoke billows out of that same pipe, the bird decides to fly away. God heard the prayers and answered them, with a sea gull. He does not speak to us in words, for our ears. He speaks to us in our minds and hearts. So, we listen with our mind, and our heart, to what happens around us, to what we observe.

The new pope has taken the name of St. Francis. What better way for God to answer our prayers and tell us He heard us than by sending a sea gull on top of that pipe. It is like God is saying to us, “Do not be afraid, I will watch over Francis, just as I did with the one from Assisi”. “Coincidence, coincidence”, I can hear your thoughts. With God there are no coincidences. My heart, my soul, my faith tells me that God heard our prayers and spoke to us.