By Carl E. Olson - OSV Newsweekly, 1/15/2012
I once wrote an article about the role of the laity in which I stated, “The vocation crisis isn’t just for priests!” While there is a crisis, at least in the West, regarding the number of priests, there is an equally grave and related crisis in the area of lay vocations. “The very fact that many Catholics,” I wrote, “do not know they have a vocation (or if they do know, they have no idea how to find out what it is) is proof of the problem.”
A vocation is not just an occupation but a call; it is a way of life gifted to us by God, rooted in our unique gifts and aptitudes, and animated by grace and charity. Each of today’s readings touches on some aspect of vocations and points us to their ultimate purpose.
Young Samuel had been dedicated by his grateful mother, Hannah, to the service of God and the temple (1 Sm 1:19-28). He was entrusted to the care and direction of Eli, the high priest.
When Samuel heard the Lord call him, he was confused, thinking he had been summoned by Eli. Why was he confused? “Samuel was not familiar with the Lord, because the Lord had not revealed anything to him as yet.” Although Samuel heard his name being called, he had not yet really heard and recognized the voice of God.
The emphasis here is on God’s initiative: He calls, and he does so on his terms and at the proper time. Although Samuel was living in the temple “where the ark of God was,” he had not yet answered the call of God. The older man, realizing what was happening, instructed the youth to say, “Here I am. You called me.” In other words, he was to wait attentively and listen to the word of God. Every vocation must begin with this humble attentiveness and quiet hunger for God’s voice. Every vocation requires the response, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
The Gospel reading also speaks of a prophet. But John the Baptist is not the focus, but the messenger who directs others to follow Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The word of God is delivered through John to his two disciples, for “they heard what he said and followed Jesus,” who is the Incarnate Word of God. This was not a casual acceptance of John’s proclamation, but a committed response to a divine call. They were challenged to trust God, and they responded by entering into that trust, addressing Jesus as “Rabbi,” and then asking where he lived. They had been seekers; they became followers.
Jesus, as was often the case, further challenged them by asking a seemingly benign question: “What are you looking for?” Yet this is the question each of us must ask as we discern our own vocation. The details will vary, according to the circumstances of our lives and the gifts we possess, but the answer is found in following Jesus, the perfect Servant, and dwelling with him, the Messiah.
The reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians addresses the vocation of all Christians by emphasizing the call to holiness. Our bodies are gifts from God, and their worth is indicated by the fact that the Son of God took upon flesh. In addition, St. Paul notes, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, filled with grace and divine life; they are meant not for acts of immorality, but for works of holiness. Every vocation is for the glory of God, and everyone is invited to share in that glory, if only we will humbly hear God’s word and gratefully follow Christ.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.
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