Listening for the Call
“Jesus said to them, ‘What are you looking for? They replied, where are you staying?’ And He said to them, ‘Come and see.’”
A fleet of battleships were out on night maneuvers. The weather was terrible, pea soup fog, high winds and seas. The second night was even worse. The captain of one of the ships stood on the bridge all night, wary of just secondhand reports. He didn’t want to chance colliding with another battleship in the open seas. All night he surveyed the night sky and the dark sea.
Toward dawn, the executive officer shouted, “Light on the starboard side, sir!”
The captain yelled back, “Is she steady or moving?”
A pause, and then the reply, “She’s steady, sir!”
“Send a message ASAP,” the captain roared. “Change course 20 degrees immediately.”
The message was relayed and sent. Then back came a reply on the radio that was passed on to the captain. “Sir, they suggest YOU change course.”
The captain was furious. “You tell them that I am a captain and I’m ordering them to change course, 20 degrees hard NOW. Don’t those fools know that we’re on a collision course?”
The captain was enraged. The light was fast approaching. “ You tell them I’m the captain of a battleship and they’d better obey my orders immediately!”
The message was sent – and back came the reply, “Negative sir, I’m a lighthouse.”
The Scripture readings for today pertain to vocations, the Latin term for our English word call. The Old Testament reading from Samuel tells us about the call of Samuel, a prophet and judge in Israel. The Gospel tells us about the call of Andrew and his brother Simon, who became Peter the rock, the chief of the Apostles, upon whom the Lord was to build His Church. Both of these readings have lessons for all who are called to be Christians, as well as for all who are called to serve others.
The Old Testament figure Samuel had a task in the Temple of the Lord at Shiloh that was not very difficult, but which demanded that he be on duty during the night. An oil lamp burned before the Ark of the Covenant from evening to morning, and Samuel slept near it, in order to tend the lamp. The lamp in front of the Ark was like the sanctuary lamps we have in our Church’s and chapels, that remind us that Jesus is really present in the tabernacle. In ancient times, the candles were not made of wax and were not conveniently fitted into glass, but rather, they were oil lamps with a wick, which had to be tended regularly.
Samuel heard the Lord call him, but he was not familiar with the Lord and hurried to consult with his superior, the priest Eli. You see, Samuel did not know how to listen. Eli instructed him that when he heard his name called again, he should respond, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
The vocation story of Andrew and Simon Peter also has something to teach us. The invitation to the two pedestrians was initiated by Jesus himself when he asked, “What are you looking for?” This was really a deep question, not by any means a casual one. It was a back-to-the-basics question, one having to do with the very purpose of life. The Lord’s further invitation to the pair was, “Come, and see.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, to each of us present today, called at our Baptism to live and act as a Christian, the Scriptures ask, “Are you listening to the call of the Lord?” Do you know to listen?” Do we remember that when the Lord speaks to us in response to our petitions, He sometimes says yes, sometimes He says no, and sometimes He says wait? Are we too busy, too lazy, and too proud to respond as Eli taught Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening?” Or do we dismiss those personal and intimate encounters with the Lord, as mere chance or coincidence, instead of realizing that the Almighty, perfect and transcendent God, who created everything out of nothing, reveals Himself anonymously to us in the ordinary events of our personal daily lives.
In my story at the beginning of this homily, the captain is unable to recognize the light in his midst because he possessed a lethal combination of arrogance and fear. Arrogance, inasmuch as he thought he was in complete control of his destiny, and didn’t need to change his course in order to accommodate others. And fear, inasmuch as he was afraid to consider the possible sacrifices and inconveniences involved with altering his plan.
To each and every one of us, the Lord asks, “What are you looking for?” Is it social security for the future? Is it peace in your family, workplace or neighborhood? Is it love and happiness instead of misunderstanding and confusion? Jesus says, “Come and see.” In HIS life, in HIS Gospels, through HIS ministers, in HIS sacraments, in HIS Church, and in HIS saints, you will find the answers to these vital questions; but only if you are listening with an open heart and mind. Otherwise, the Holy Spirit will be unable to assist you! It would be like bullets bouncing off superman’s chest!
There are perhaps some gathered here today who are pondering God’s call, not only to be Christians, but also to serve His Church in the priesthood or in the religious life. What are you looking for? What are you going to do with your life? What calling appeals to you? Not everybody is called to be married. The People of God need dedicated service of men and women willing to sacrifice their lives for the Kingdom of God on earth. Many people are praying that your answers will be like Samuel’s, “Here I am Lord, you called me?”
To “behold the Lamb of God” and to, “come and see,” is both an invitation and a challenge. Jesus dares us to come – to abandon the things that deter us from the things of God; and to see – to focus our attention on the needs of others rather than on our own. And more importantly, to find in our life’s purpose, the bringing of joy into the lives of others who truly need, rather than in the pursuit, of only the things the world deems important.
May the Lord Jesus and His Holy Spirit help us all to attune our minds and hearts to the voice of the Father in our daily lives, and to seek in Him, the answers to all of life’s questions, for the greater glory of God, for our own happiness, and for the good of all His Church.
Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us!