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'The call' - ancient and ever new.

Rev. David J. Erickson
 

Homily delivered January 1, 2012,

Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Lander, Wyoming.

"The Lord called to Samuel, who answered, 'Here I am.'" The Psalmist says, "Here I am Lord, I have come to do your will." John the Baptist points to Jesus: "Behold the Lamb of God." Andrew follows and asks, "Where are you staying?" Jesus says, "Come, and you will see." This day concludes the National Vocation Awareness Week. These are insightful readings as to how God calls someone to a religious vocation. The word vocation comes from the Latin 'vocare' which means 'to call.' Each of us have the call to live holy lives. Most are called to marriage. Some are called to the priesthood and religious life. Very few choose the latter. So I like to share with you some insights toward a religious vocation; 'the call' from Almighty God upon a person's life. 

Let's turn first to Scripture. The call of God to Samuel is ancient and ever new. Samuel is but a boy, who fell asleep in the Temple of the Lord. He was before the Ark of the Covenant which, to the Jewish mind, meant the presence of God on earth. As is always the case, young Samuel had a mentor in Eli. Four times the Lord called out to Samuel, and the last time he heeded his mentor's advice: "Speak, for your servant is listening." Scripture does not give any more details of the event, other than to say "Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect." We do know that Samuel became a great prophet of Israel, essential in the call God placed on another young man named David -- who changed the course of salvation history, restored the Ark of the Covenant to Israel, and from whose house came Jesus.

God is constantly calling out to us; once, twice, three times, and four. When God calls a young man to the priesthood, or men and woman to religious life, he is persistent. Persistent, yet gentle he calls out to you. Trouble is we often do not listen. Our hearts may be closed at this and that point in time. Good mentors may be lacking. Parents, especially, may be more concerned about their child's worldly success and having grandchildren to carry on their family's legacy. Siblings can be worlds apart in their own natural desires and find it, well, kind of weird that their brother or sister would even consider a religious vocation. All quite natural, I suppose, but what is needed above all else is seeking God's will for our lives, quieting ourselves from the cacophony of voices, and prayerfully listening to the one voice behind the call. Only then comes one's free response, "Here I am Lord, I have come to do your will." But that is only the beginning - and a topic of another homily altogether.

'The call,' my friends, is highly mysterious, deeply personal, and often beyond words. As some of you know, I was out of town last week visiting my brother's family. He and his wife have 12 children, three of them already in heaven. All were reared with Catholic faith, devotion, and practice. I was surprised on my visit when the second eldest son announced to the family that he was going to enter the seminary. His name is Joshua. Let me tell you about Josh and give you some more insights into 'the call.'

When I was in seminary I visited their family. There were only three kids then and Josh was all but four years old. We all went to a simple daily Mass. I walked up to receive Holy Communion, carrying Josh in my arms. I returned to the pew, knelt down, placed little Josh on the pew in front of me, with my head resting on his chest, and prayed. There before the Tabernacle, the Presence of God on earth, I silently prayed that if it be God's will, please call Joshua to be his priest. No sooner did I offer that prayer that Josh said, "Uncle Dave, I want to be a priest just like you." You may think that is coincidence if you want, but I tell you, in that moment I knew God was calling this young boy to the priesthood.

As the years went by and the family grew, Joshua's proposed vocation kind of became a family joke. "What are you going to do when you grow-up Josh?" I would often ask. I heard it all through the years. Policeman, fireman, Navy Seals, lawyer, teacher, computer geek, and of course, "Uncle Dave, I'm going to get married." I'd just smile. I never pressured the boy, the teenager, the young man. Freedom, my friends, is absolutely essential to a religious vocation. One must be free to wrestle with the call. Why? Because it is a call not of this world; a call that in many ways is diametrically opposed to the world's way of thinking; and a call that demands everything. One must be free to wrestle with the call.

Joshua is now all grown-up. At twenty two years-old, he will graduate from college this Spring. About a year ago, Josh went to a simple daily Mass. It was the same church we attended some 18 years ago. He decided to go to confession with this young priest and perhaps ask him why he decided to become a priest. He stood in a long confession line waiting, thinking, praying. Josh was next in line when all of a sudden someone cut in front of him. "That's it," he thought, "I'm leaving." He turned to walk out of the church, but across the way spotted an old priest sitting in the confessional with no one in line. Josh went to confession and afterwards asks, "Why did you become a priest?" The old priest quickly responds, "Because of my uncle." You may think its coincidence, but in that moment Joshua knew that God was calling him to the priesthood. But he had not yet come to the point of saying 'Yes.' That would occur last semester as he completed his studies in Europe. With a trip to the Eternal City of Rome, at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope's Cathedral, while serving Mass - in a moment of clarity - Josh made his decision: "Here I am Lord, I have come to do your will." He announced it to his family this past week.

Obviously the old priest informed Josh that it is Jesus who calls a priest to serve the People of God through His Church. I may have been mentor but I am not the cause of Joshua's vocation. His parents are the primary mentors, but here too, "You did not choose me, I chose you," says Jesus. It is His call -- that the Church herself discerns and finally affirms at ordination or final vows.

So much more can be said, but time prohibits. I just want our youth to know that God may be calling you to the priesthood or religious life. It is a beautiful life, one filled with grace upon grace, one sought in true freedom, and one that brings a joy that world does not know and cannot give. It is a call to be in the world but not of the world. The world, as we know, can be a messy place. Satan is alive and active trying to rip apart families from which vocations are borne. Satan will attack those who respond to God's call with all sorts of negativity, confusion, and temptation. That is why it is so important for one to quiet themselves and pray with focus, purpose, and seek the one voice behind the call. Parents, especially, must be attuned to this reality and reverence 'the call;' encouraging their children's freedom to pursue God's will for their lives. All of us must recognize as well that the youth are not attracted by compromise; the youth are repelled by hypocrisy and insincerity. What attracts youth to the priesthood and religious life above all else is authenticity -- with the sacrifice, the demands, and the great need for 'the call' to serve God's people in a broken and often messy world.

"The Lord called to Samuel, who answered, 'Here I am.'" Eli helped him figure it out.  Jesus calls Andrew to be his priest saying, "Come, and you will see." John the Baptist helped him figure it out. Encourage our youth, mentor them by example with your own call to holiness of life. Remember, it's the Lord's call - mysterious, deeply personal, ancient and ever new. Please pray for Joshua - and all whom God calls to sanctify this broken world.

 

 

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