1 Samuel 3:3-10.19; 1 Corinthians 6:13-15.17-20; John 1:35-42
Life is full of arrivals and departures. No sooner do we reach our end than we’re summoned to set out anew, perpetual travellers, seeking the promised land of this or that friendship, the ideal job, a longed for promotion, the perfect spouse, a house of our own, the first child or, even, retirement. And, of course, there are those among us whose ‘home’ button on their spiritual GPS is firmly set to heaven.
To find one’s vocation in life is no small ‘arrival’. How many young men and women out there are wondering, sometimes with a nagging anxiety, whether they will ever find their purpose in life? Youth can be a very trying time.
To experience a particular call from God, a vocation, is to experience one of God’s greatest blessings. A religious vocation is primarily a call to adventure, and the image of journeying to the promised land is not altogether inappropriate.
I used to wonder a great deal about the infinitely patient and subtle way God has of calling some individuals to such a life, but with a listening, humble ear the message usually finds its target.
In my own case I used to ask God, as I struggled with the ‘call’ I imagined came from him, why he didn’t just come out and ask. Why not just somehow make the call once and for all, clear as a bell?
Strangely I found the Lord’s words in Exodus 23:30 very helpful. God was giving instructions and promises with respect to how the Israelites were to enter the Promised Land. At one point, referring to the warlike occupants of the land he tells the people: I shall not drive them out before you in a single year, or the land would become a desert where, to your cost, the wild beasts would multiply. Little by little I will drive them out before you until your numbers grow and you come into possession of the land.
Yes, of course, little by little, one yes followed by another yes, until knowledge and strength and confidence and faith and trust in the Lord grow to a point where we can have the courage to accept that we are being called and then, what we are being called to.
Naturally enough, in every vocational call God always ‘arrives’ first. Young Samuel, in the first reading, is lying down in the sanctuary of the Lord. Jesus, in the gospel, is very conveniently passing by the place where John and the disciples are standing. God always makes the first move. The next is ours; we must say Yes! Jesus waits for our response before he makes the next move, just as the Israelites had to capture the each town, before they could move on to the next.
Samuel answers the voice which calls him. He not only says: Here I am; but he gets up and runs to Eli. No wonder he deserves a second and then a third summons from the Lord. Eli eventually understands what is going on and points the way forward for Samuel.
John the Baptist too, points out the Lord for his disciples: Look, there is the lamb of God.
Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus; and because they responded the Lord was able to make the next move:
What do you want?
Rabbi, … where do you live?
Come and see.
So they went and saw .. and stayed with him the rest of that day.
Invitation – response – new invitation – new response, and so on, and so on … ‘til the promised land is reached.
Note also how the Lord uses others in helping both Samuel and the two future apostles on their journey. It’s a lesson for us too. We should not be slow to accept the advice of discerning and proven spiritual guides if it promises to lead us to the Lord. That is why we read the sacred Scriptures in all our sacramental celebrations.
Just listen, for example, to the wise and holy advice of St Paul in the second reading: Keep away from sex outside marriage…you should use your body for the glory of God. St Paul is speaking God’s words; words which seek our response. Perhaps for those whom the Lord is calling to a vocation as priest or religious – the adventure begins here.