The Church encourages us to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life and we certainly should. I wish, however, we prayed more often that every baptized person discern and respond to the vocation or vocations to which God is calling him or her.
Today’s readings challenge us to embrace every dimension of the vocation to which God is calling or has called us.
John’s account of the calling of Andrew and Peter is similar to that of the other evangelists. Jesus invites the two brothers to discipleship, and they immediately respond, giving up everything: livelihood, family, and at least in the case of Simon Peter, a wife.
Vocation demands decision and action. In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus tells those who wish to become His disciples that there is no time to say good-bye to families or even to bury one’s father. A disciple cannot be encumbered by wealth or any other obstacle, as the rich young man learns who walks away sadly from Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.
The demand for an immediate response to vocation is certainly an important challenge to contemporary culture, in which lifelong commitment is long delayed in order that a person be more confident of his or her maturity and ability to fulfill the role. There is an urgency with vocation that simply doesn’t allow a person to keep his or her options open eternally. When one says, “Yes,” some doors naturally close and one must trust in Divine Providence. And no one should be afraid to say “Yes.”
The Gospels do not give us many details about the vocational discernment of the Apostles or their lives prior to their three years with Jesus. Perhaps the Holy Spirit deliberately omitted these details in order that we inject ourselves into the Gospel story and hear the calling of Jesus ourselves. However, the first reading, the calling of the prophet Samuel, is part of a fascinating biography of a vocation inspired by parents of faith.
Like a number of male births in the Old Testament, Samuel’s was a miraculous conception. A barren married woman, Hannah, prayed fervently for a child, pouring out her heart to God daily for years. Finally, God granted her a son, Samuel. But after she weaned him, she did something extraordinary. She gave him to the temple priest, Eli, to raise him up in the service of God. It was strange for a mother to give away so quickly the child that she desired for so long. But somehow Hannah’s action reflects the calling of all parents of faith to some level of spiritual detachment and to recognize that the child’s life with whom they bond so deeply is ultimately not their own. The child belongs to God and the role of a parent is to enable that child to heed the voice of God.
The incident in the first reading depicts Eli as a foster father very much akin to Samuel’s birth mother in his dedication of the child to God. The child Samuel keeps hearing in his sleep what he thinks is the voice of Eli and awakens his foster father twice. Finally, Eli realizes it is the voice of God that Samuel is hearing.
The similarity between the voices of God and of Eli in the ears of Samuel is striking; it is testimony of the way in which God speaks through the parent in the home. With humility, however, Eli tells the boy that he is not hearing the voice of his foster father, but rather the voice of God.
The prophetic ministry of Samuel begins when he follows Eli’s instructions and says to God, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Samuel’s prophetic vocation was nurtured no doubt by faith-filled parenting. The story reminds us that the Church relies on the Catholic home to be the ecclesia domestica where children are taught by the word and example of their parents to seek to do the will of God.
Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians to live the chastity of Christian baptism also raises an important dimension of any vocation – the call to be chaste. Corinthian Christians were overwhelmed by the sexual mores of the pagan culture in which they lived. So are many of us by the secular culture that surrounds us. Living a chaste life was never easy for married persons or celibates in any age, but it is perhaps more challenging in our era when many do not see sexuality as a sacred expression of permanent commitment and of openness to new life but as a matter of personal choice.
The calling to marriage is hard to hear when one limps into marriage through years of quasi-commitment. The calling to celibacy is difficult to accept when it is falsely and universally portrayed as unnatural. The voice of God can only be discerned by those who seek to hear Him above the secular world’s noise.
These Scriptures assure us that fidelity to God’s calling is worthwhile. One’s life is a generous gift from God that should be given back joyfully to Him. The choices made in life should be in accord with God’s will. By freely choosing the vocation that God wills, a faithful person experiences great happiness.
Readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Samuel 3: 3B-10, 19
Psalm 40: 2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
1 Corinthians 6: 13C-15A, 17-20
John 1: 35-42
Father Robert M. Powers is the pastor of St. Patrick’s Church, Long Island City, and serves as the Catholic chaplain at LaGuardia Community College.