“God has created me for some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have a mission. I may never know exactly what that mission is in this life. I shall be told it in the next. I have a part in a great work. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for nothing. I shall do good. I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, even if I do not realize what I am doing. But, if I keep His commandments, I will serve Him in my calling.”
These are not my words, although I wish they were. They are the words of John Henry Cardinal Newman who was an intellectual who lived in England from 1801-1890. His study and thought led him to convert from the Anglican Church to Catholicism. He entered the priesthood and later became a Cardinal. He has been beatified by Pope Benedict.
I have to think that the words of our Scripture passages this weekend were close to his mind and heart when he penned this quote, but even if that is not the case it certainly is true that his words are close to my mind and heart as I ponder these passages.
Like Newman’s words, the words of the readings make it clear that we are all called by the Lord and that we have an innate need to stay connected to Him and that the only way for us to experience true fulfillment is for us to find and carry out the specific purpose for which we were created.
We all have general callings and specific callings. All of us in this parish are called to serve God. But our individual calling is more specific than simply a general call to serve the Lord. We are called to serve Him in the specific vocations to which he leads us. There are young men here at St. Aloysius who are called to serve the Lord as priests or religious. There are young women here who are called to serve the Lord as religious sisters. There are many who are called to serve the Lord by faithfully living out a vocation to the married life and there are some who are called to joyfully serve the Lord in the single life.
But His call does not stop there. It’s not as if once we discern our vocations the story is over and we live happily ever after. That is just the beginning. Besides, happily ever after is so very boring. We are not finished discerning God’s will simply because we have determined that we are called to the consecrated life, the married life or the single life. We are still very much discerning the specific purpose that God has for us and pray that we are on the right track to fulfilling it.
During my father’s funeral Mass it struck me that perhaps God’s specific purpose for me was actually to gift my dad with a priest son to celebrate his passing from this life to the next. The more I thought about it I thought maybe that could actually be the case. Who’s to say what is in the mind of God? However, while I obviously don’t know for sure, I wonder if that is still the case, simply because I am still walking around on this earth. Although, I can’t say this for, sure my guess is that once we have fulfilled our purpose in life, He takes us home, but then again, what do I know? I’m just trying to continue my discernment like every one else.
So how do we discern God’s calls- from the general to the specific? I think we can take some clues from our readings and from Cardinal Newman’s words. We have to stay connected to the Lord on a very regular basis. We need to stay with Him. Remember, Samuel was sleeping in the Temple of the Lord. The two disciples stayed with the Lord that day and then stayed with Him as he walked the earth for the next three years. Because they stayed with Him their lives were changed forever. If we look at our own lives just a little bit we can see that we have a great need and desire to stay connected with our peers and with the world around us. We don’t want to miss anything. How much time do we spend on facebook, or sending and receiving text messages or checking scores etc? How hard is it for some of us to even imagine the thought of missing some game or TV show or some social event? We have a vested interest in staying super-connected. It’s as if modern means of communication have become our lifeblood.
The same needs to be true of our relationship with God. The need we have to stay connected is only a sign that points to our deep spiritual need to stay connected with God. He will not impose Himself on us but He so desires for us to bring ourselves to Him continually so that He can reveal Himself ever more deeply to us. He has so much to show to us and He doesn’t want us to miss a thing, and He knows that that is what we so much need in our lives so that we can experience fulfillment.
In addition to staying connected with the Lord through prayer, we need to study, listen to and reflect on His word in the Scriptures. The Scriptures help us to hear His words in our prayer time with Him. We also need other people to help us in our discernment. Discernment is not something that we can do on our own. While our peers and friends can be of value in this area, we do need to go beyond them and seek guidance from trusted folks who just might be a little bit more experienced in the spiritual life. The two disciples in the Gospel had John the Baptist; the boy Samuel had Eli. John the Baptist literally pointed Jesus out to the disciples; Eli told Samuel what to say when the Lord called.
“Speak, Lord for your servant is listening.” These of course, are the words that Eli gave to Samuel, but they signify much more than just words. They point to a whole disposition of openness and listening to the Lord. We can’t just simply at some arbitrary point decide that we are going to pull ourselves away from our frantic lives, shut off our ipods, smart phones or whatever, quiet ourselves down and say, “Ok, Lord, you can speak now; I’m listening.” As a matter of fact, I would daresay that when we do make time for prayer, it’s usually more like we’re saying, “Listen, Lord, for your servant is speaking,” rather than the other way around. When we pray we so often are very rushed and feel like we have to voice every need and concern and petition to Him and before you know it we’re off and on our way and God never had a chance to get a word in edgewise. And besides, God doesn’t work that way any way. He’s going to speak softly, in His time, in such a way that can only truly be heard in the context of a well nurtured relationship.
After consistently spending truly quiet time with Him for an extended period of time, we start to discover that we do in fact have a relationship with Him. We don’t so much feel the need to dominate our time with Him with our voiced prayers and petitions because we begin to realize that He knows what we need even more than we do ourselves and that He is always there for us. We gradually begin to want to simply “be” there with Him and even for Him. We start to understand that He pretty much always has a little something for us and we don’t want to miss it, we realize that He is ever so gradually inviting us into the depth of His plan for us. Eventually our disposition changes and more and more we want to serve Him because we know that is how we find our peace. Finally we find ourselves disposed like the psalmist to say “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will,” or as Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord for your servant is listening,” as a way of inviting, not commanding the Lord to reveal Himself to us.
All of this takes a great deal of time and effort, just like it takes time and effort to keep up with all of our peers etc, but we do so, because staying connected is so important to us and we don’t want to miss anything. The Lord invites us as into a life long relationship which leads us to discovering the very purpose of our creation and fulfillment in this life. And we can be sure that this is not something that we want to miss.