Second Sunday in Ordinary Time 'B'

Sunday January 18, 2009

There are many layers to life in grace.

Indeed, life is layered. Today’s first reading from the first Book of Samuel contains a dramatic description of the call of Samuel. He was already serving as a temple priest but God had something more in store for him. The high priest Eli tested Samuel’s discernment and in the end authenticated his prophetic call from God.

It takes a long time to discern a call from God. When I was in seventh grade, I “knew” I wanted to be a priest. Then I went to high school and started dating and “knew” I didn’t want to become a priest. Then I went back and forth for a while until I became convinced that indeed, I might have a call to priesthood. The call was authenticated not by a priest of the temple but by a priest of the parish who had been nudging me in that direction for years. And my cousin, Mary, at the celebration of her 101st birthday, authenticated it recently.

The ‘dating game’ is no different. The first girl or boy rarely turns out to be one’s life-long partner. It takes lots of testing and lots of feedback from family and friends but sooner or later, God speaks and we know “when the right one comes along.” We need to be patient.

Jesus also had to discern his call and career but not until he met up with John the Baptist was his call authenticated. Today’s gospel gives us some insight into how quickly he took hold of his mission and ministry or rather, how quickly his mission and ministry took hold of him. It didn’t take long for people to take to him and discern their call to follow him.

No matter what our foundational call or career, God may also have something more in store but we need to spend time in our prayer chair, we need to get feedback from others and most of all, we need to be faithful one day at a time.

Jack was reared in a devout and well-grounded Irish American Catholic family. He attended Catholic and public schools earned his degree in engineering and settled into a comfortable career with a prestigious engineering firm. He met his life-partner and enjoyed a very loving marriage. Tragedy struck, however, when his wife was struck with a terminal illness that took her life six months after the birth of their sixth child. With the undying support of his family and friends, he was able to continue his career and rear his children amidst the tremendous challenges of a demanding world.

I can’t imagine what that must have been like for Jack, but I do know that he found a great deal of strength in his wonderful family, in his faith and support in his Church.

Some time after the death of his wife, Jack began to hear a voice that seemed so contradictory to everything he had experienced up to that point in his life. He began to think about the possibility of becoming a priest. It seemed at first a wild thought. What about his family? Surely their needs must come first. But the thought of the priesthood kept him awake at night, as it were, until he became convinced that indeed God might be calling him to bring all his ‘fatherly skills’ to a new kind of service as a priest-father.

As a result, he initiated a discernment that lasted until his youngest daughter graduated from college. He spoke at length with his brother and with priests he had come to know over the years in his parish.

Then one day Jack gathered his children together and told them about the voice to which he had been listening. He promised that he would never abandon them nor pursue possibility of a call to the priesthood without their approval. After much deliberation, they gave their consent and four years later at the young age of 60 Jack was ordained a priest in the presence of his mother, sisters, brother and of course, his children.

The people took to him immediately and chuckled at his anecdotal comments about ‘life with father’ followed by ‘life as a single father with six children.’ He was and still is an inspiration to all who know him, young and old.

Laura, a retired nurse to whom I have referred in my homilies over the past several years, was 72 when she received the call to go to Calcutta to work with Mother Theresa. This is what she wrote to her friends and to me on November 28, 1988:

“This time I shall write a little about Calcutta. I wish I had time to write to each one of you individually. My time is so taken up with work that I do not have an extra hour in the day. Never in my life have I worked so hard, but I am happy. I have learned more in three months here than I think I have learned in my whole life. I have seen the suffering Christ. I have seen my crucified Christ, and most of all, I have seen my glorious risen Christ in the eyes of these poor suffering people. How I have learned to love them!”

“My dear Savior is with me all the way. I know that is the reason for the happiness I feel when I am walking. The street people know me now. They call me ‘Auntie.’ You will never know how many babies are put in my arms every day for a blessing and for me to make the sign of the cross on them. It does not matter whether they are Hindus, Moslems, Bengalis or one of the many other religions, so long as they are blessed every day. The smell of the garbage on the street and the sight of small children trying to find some food, even though it is rotten could make me sick but I am fine and working hard. Maybe you now understand what a wonderful life it is to be so loved of God and be loved by all of these poor people. Yes, I am so thankful to everyone for the wonderful opportunity. Yes, I do love my Savior and I shall always serve him. Where he leads me I shall go.”

These are all dramatic vocation stories all of them vocations within a vocation. However, all of us have our own story. For one it might be a called to organize a soup kitchen or simply to serve food on the bread line. Others may be called to bring the Eucharist to the sick and infirm. Still others may be called to lobby in the legislature on behalf of civil rights or advocate for the poor. Permanent deacons surely have proven the validity of a multiple vocation – to marriage and to church ministry. Every story that speaks of God’s call to bring the good news of God’s saving love to others is dramatic.

Unfortunately, our bishops have yet to recognize the prophetic call of the laity and the priestly call of married men and woman. The vocations crisis is far from over. In ways similar to the economic crisis, it was a long time coming and the limitations placed on the call to priesthood such as celibacy and in fact have lessened breath and depth of priestly charisms. They have not worked. Nevertheless, in many ways, God is authenticating their call ‘in the Spirit’ as they pursue their baptismal call as missionaries of Church reform—a reform they believe is close to the heart of Jesus.

“The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see.’”

Indeed, there are many layers to our life in Christ no matter what our age and original call or vocation. God may have more in store for us. We need to be alert to the voice of God’s spirit for she speaks many languages and sings many different songs. We need to go to our prayer chair often. We need to be patient and most of all we need to be faithful one day at a time.

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