Saturday, January 14, 2012

"What are you looking for?"

After his car broke down, a man walked along until he came to monastery where he asked for a ride into town. Since it was dinner time, the monks insisted that he stay and the man was treated to the best fish and chips he's ever had. After dinner, he went into the kitchen to thank the cooks and was met by two of the monks, Brother Michael and Brother Francis. "I want to thank you for a wonderful dinner,” the man said. “The fish and chips were the best I've ever tasted. Out of curiosity, who cooked what?" Brother Michael replied, "Well, I'm the fish friar." And Brother Francis shook his head, sighed and said, “And I guess that makes me the chip monk."

In our Gospel passage today, Jesus asks a very poignant question to the disciples following Him, “What are you looking for?” Of all the things that Jesus says throughout the Gospels, this might be perhaps the most important of them all – at least in as much as it is the very foundational question that every follower of Jesus has got to ask at some point in their journey with the Lord. What are you looking for? It’s also an appropriate question as we bring to a close National Vocation Awareness Week – a week that asks us all to answer that question with possibility that God is calling us to a life of service in the Church as a priest, deacon or religious man or woman.

Our readings today are full of this theme of calling. Certainly true for the disciples in the Gospel, but also from our first reading as we hear of the calling of the prophet Samuel. Now, we’ve all gotten calls at different moments that can change our lives. Maybe it’s a call that tells us we got the job we had hoped to get. Maybe we received a call to say that we were accepted into the school we had applied to. Maybe we got a call to say we won the prize we bought a raffle for. There are also calls that can bring sadness with them letting us know that someone was ill or had passed away. I know growing up in an Irish household, we always believed that a phone call after 10 p.m. must mean that someone had died.

As we heard in our First Reading, Samuel received a call in the middle of the night. But, his call was not bad news. In fact, it would change the course of his life and the course of Israel for generations since it was through the prophetic mission of Samuel that God would establish a monarchy and Samuel would anoint Israel’s first two kings – Saul and then David. Andrew and another disciple heard Jesus call and they responded to His invitation to “come and see.” The next day Peter received his brother Andrew’s call to meet Jesus. Martin Luther King Jr., who we remember this weekend, also received a call to to lead a non-violent movement for justice and civil rights in our country. Most of these calls were not as dramatic as was Samuel’s.

In fact, it is seldom that God calls out our name in the middle of the night. More typically, He speaks to us through prayer and through others – through religious people in our lives, through relatives, friends, even strangers. But what is similar is that if we have the courage to answer when God calls; however God calls – our lives will never be the same. In my homily for Christmas, I shared a time in my own discernment of God’s call more than 20 years ago when I was praying about my vocation to the priesthood. I was trying to decide if God was really calling me. I would often hear other young men talk about how God had told them this, or how they received a sign for that, sort of like the drama of Samuel’s call. I went to church one day to pray and I was a little angry with God, demanding a sign. I prayed, “God, why can’t you give me a sign? Is that too much to ask for?” After leaving the Church, I was driving home when all of a sudden I passed a billboard that said, “Are you looking for a sign from God?” Now, the rest of that sign read, “Join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” I didn’t take that sign literally to mean I should become a Mormon, but rather to stop asking for such things from God because He’s already given to each of us the greatest sign possible – His Son. God’s call was all around me – if I allowed myself to be open to see it and hear it; and more importantly had the courage to follow it. And 20 years later, I am so glad that I did.

Jesus invites many, many to “come and see” but too often, when it comes to ministry in the Church, we are afraid of where He will lead. We have become so enamored of what the world offers – fame and fortune – that we can’t imagine the life that God is calling us to. We often talk about the “vocation crisis” in the Church, but I am a firm believer that there is no vocation crisis. To say there is one is to blame God – it is to say that God stopped calling enough men and women to serve Him in the Church. Of course, God always calls in abundance. So the crisis is on our part – it is a crisis of vocation awareness and acceptance.

So, I invite all of us to do a few things to help alleviate this crisis. For the young men and women in our midst, be open to what God has in store for you. It is often said that we plan, God laughs. God’s plan for our lives is always the best. Consider making a radical choice for Christ and His Church. Consider a life that makes a real difference in our world and in the lives of countless people as a priest, deacon or religious. Take the time to listen as Samuel did and have the courage to respond with the simplicity of his heart to “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

And for those of us who are older and have perhaps found our place in God’s great plan, pray for vocations, pray for these young people. Pray that God will send workers into His vineyard. Let me ask you, by a show of hands, have you ever had the thought about someone that they would make a good priest or religious? And how many of you told that person? My challenge to all of you is tell them. Simply say, “I think you’d make a good priest,” or “Have you ever thought about religious life?” And, let God do the rest.

As we gather today, Christ is with us. He is here in Word, in Sacrament and in His people gathered in His name. And He poses the same question to us today, “What are you looking for?” Let us all listen for His voice. Let us all discover His call. Let us all “come and see” what He wishes us to be. There can be nothing greater in this life. Speak Lord, your servants are listening!

May the Lord give you peace.

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