Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – January 18, 2009 – Blessed Sacrament
We have heard, in our first reading and in the Gospel, two accounts of vocations, of callings, that of Samuel the prophet and that of two disciples of John. Two statements in them may be said to sum up important features of our relationship to God, and might serve as ready reminders of how we might hear the call of God.
Think first of the case of the disciples. It was once possible literally to bump into Jesus of Nazareth on the dusty roads of Palestine, to encounter him in the course of an ordinary day, while engaged in one’s ordinary work. As Jesus walks by one day, John the Baptist points to him: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Two of his disciples are intrigued enough to start following after Jesus, only to have him turn and ask them: “What are you looking for? What are you seeking?” This is not, in John’s Gospel, the innocent question that it could appear to be. Exchanges between Jesus and others in the Fourth Gospel often operate at two levels. Jesus wants to know what the desire of these men is, what search defines them. “Where are you staying?” they ask in turn, using the verb that will recur often in later pages of the Gospel to refer to the Son’s dwelling in the Father and the Father in the Son, to our dwelling in Christ and his Word, to God’s dwelling in us. And they are invited to “Come and see,” which is what the Evangelist, in this first chapter of his Gospel, is inviting his readers to do: “Come and see.”
We no longer can bump into Jesus on the ancient dusty roads. But this same encounter can occur when we listen to the Scriptures that speak of him each time we come to Mass. Each time a Gospel is read, Christ is inviting us to “Come and see.” If we take the invitation seriously, we are likely to find that explicitly or implicitly he always also poses the same question to us: “What are you looking for? What are you seeking?”
It’s been said that people define themselves by what they remember and by what they look forward to, by their memories and by their hopes. The words and deeds of Christ in any Gospel scene always require us to consider what we hope for, what we desire, what we seek in the light of what he is, of what he says, of what he does, and it is not rare that what we see when we come to him requires us to change the direction we have been giving to our lives, to look, to seek at a different level, to pursue other goals for other purposes. “What are you seeking?” is a question that we may often seek to avoid, but which Jesus often forces us to ask. It is not a bad question to keep in mind when we do any kind of review of our lives, at special moments or even every day, in a kind of examination of conscience: “What have you been seeking today?”
Samuel, when he finally is given to understand who it is that is calling his name, answers, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” which is the other phrase we might keep in mind. It might even be helpful if we were to use it as a quiet prayer by which we ready ourselves to hear the Word of God as we settle and calm ourselves in a few minutes of reflection before Mass: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”. It is a simple prayer that we could use any time we pick up the Scriptures on our own, or any time we set some time aside for quiet prayer: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” It could even be a little prayer that we use to start off every day: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
For we should not think that God’s call comes only to people who will become great prophets or apostles, that God speaks only to such men. Everyone of us stands in a direct relationship to God, is a unique creature of the Creator, called into existence by name, and watched over by a particular providence. And God has different ways of making his voice heard, or calling, just as there was a variety of ways he called people in the Scriptures. He may do so at Mass, in the Scripture readings; he may speak or call in private prayer; he may call us through what Newman called “the accidents and events of life.” In a wonderful sermon, entitled “Divine Calls” and built upon the calling of Samuel, he wrote: “There is nothing miraculous or extraordinary in His dealings with us. He works through our natural faculties and circumstances of life. Still what happens to us in providence is in all essential respects what His voice was to those whom He addressed when on earth: whether He commands by a visible presence, or by a voice, or by our consciences, it matters not, so that we feel it to be a command.” Almost any event could be the occasion of our perceiving a call to lead a better life, to follow Christ more closely and more eagerly, to love more generously and more widely.
In another sermon, Newman drew the lesson: “Let us desire to know His voice; let us pray for the gift of watchful ears and a willing heart. He does not call all men in one way; He calls us each in His own way…. Nor is it always easy to know His voice…. But whatever difficulty there be in knowing when Christ calls, and whither, yet at least let us look out for His call. Let us not be content with ourselves; let us not make our own hearts our home, or this world our home…. “
Those last sentences are perhaps the key: “At least let us look out for His Call. Let us not be content with ourselves; let us not make our own hearts our home.” If we are content with ourselves, we no longer are seeking, and we would have to say so if Jesus were to turn and ask us: “What are you looking for?” If we no longer desire to hear God’s voice, if we do not look out for his call, we are unlikely ever to hear it, or if we do hear it, our hearts are likely to be hardened against it. But if we permit the Scriptures, as we hear them each Mass, to challenge us to consider what it is our lives show us to be seeking, if we listen to them with “watchful ears and a willing heart,” then we will find that even and also outside such formal moments of encounter with God he does not cease to address us by name and to call us. If we hear him here in the attitude of Samuel: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” we will know what his voice sounds like and will be able to discern it when it comes in the ordinary course of our lives as well.