A reflection on Isaiah 6:1-2; 3-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 and Luke 5:1-11
Tomorrow the Church marks the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, a day that is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Easter, traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday. As I reflect on the readings for Good Shepherd Sunday (Acts 13:14,43-52; Revelation 7:9,14-17 and John 10:27-30), I can't help but think of the readings from this past week (mostly from John 6), when Jesus affirms that He is the bread of life and we must east his flesh. And also the wonderful readings from the Book of Acts: The Call of St. Paul and the request made to Ananias; and Peter's healings; and last Sunday's Gospel when Jesus "calls" Peter again: "Tend my sheep" and then again, "follow me" (John 21:1-19). And it all comes together with just two words, "THE CALL." And I guess that's why today is called Vocations Sunday; vocations, a word that comes from the Latin VOCARE, which means, literally, "to call."
Everyone gets THE Call. Isaiah got the call. Peter got the call. So did Paul. Haven’t you? I think the problem is that, either we don’t think we’re going to get called- we think that it’s only for prophets, apostles and saints – and so we’re not expecting the call. Or, even if we think that we may get the call, we don’t know how to recognise it because we’re looking for something else; expecting something else. But I want to show you three “call” stories that give us a few clues that will help us recognise the call when it comes.
First, the call doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It doesn’t happen out of context. We have to first have an encounter with God. Isaiah has a vision of God (see Isaiah 6:1-2; 3-8). He sees God in the temple, sitting on a throne in his majesty. There are angles flying around – seraphs, singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (that’s what we try to re-create every Sunday). Then an angel touches Isaiah’s mouth with a burning coal. That’s an experience of the divine. Isaiah has an experience of the divine, before he is called.
The same happens to Paul. Paul has an encounter with Jesus that literally knocks him off his feet: “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And Paul asks, “Who are you?” “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Paul has quite the encounter with Jesus Christ. And his call comes much later. He doesn’t get called right away. He has to go to Damascus and was there, blind for three days, and still, the call happened years later.
And then there’s Peter… Some people argue that the disciples did not know Jesus when he called them, but according to St. Luke, Peter and the disciples had already met Jesus. Jesus had already healed Peter’s mother in law. These were such small towns and everyone knew each other. Jesus had been around for 30 years. And everyone was talking about his teachings and his miracles so when Jesus asks to get into Peter’s boat (see Luke 5:1-11), they are not strangers. But even though Peter knew Jesus he still had not had an encounter with Christ. That’s the same with us sometimes: We may know Jesus and still not have had an encounter with Jesus. And in Luke 5, Jesus takes Peter out into the deep and there’s the miraculous catch of fish (which is echoed in John 21). That’s an encounter with the divine.
So, first you have an encounter with Christ; then comes a calling. And it’s not we who encounter Christ; Christ comes out to encounter us. In every case, it’s God or Jesus who does the encountering.
Second: Just after the encounter, but just before the call, each person had a profound sense of their inadequacy. They had a real sense of their uselessness and an awareness of their sinfulness. Isaiah actually thinks that he’s going to die – that’s what happens when we’re in the presence of the divine- he says, “I am a man of unclean lips!” And Paul describes himself in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 as “one untimely born” or “abnormally born.” He is the “least of the apostles.” And he was; he used to persecute Christians. He was responsible for the arrest and even killing of some Christians. And Peter, Peter says “Go away from me, for I am a sinful man.” Each becomes aware of their sinfulness. This happens when we’re in the presence of God, but it happens before the call so that we know that whatever God is asking us to do, we will not do because we are so amazing; it is God who is going to do it through us. It’s also a good reminder of who gets called: Sinners. Sinners get called.
Last, just before the call, God asks us to do something strange or unusual. I think this is also so that we know it’s not us but God acting. Isaiah mouth is touched with a burning coal (not something I would recommend that you do at home). It makes no sense, but God says “trust me.” Paul is left blind and told to go to Damascus where Ananias will help him. Ananias is one of the guys that Paul was persecuting. “I know it doesn’t make sense; trust me.” And Peter, Peter is asked to take the boat back out. But it’s not the best time to fish and besides, there is no fish. Jesus says, “it doesn’t make any sense, but trust me.” Don't you think that Jesus saying that we must eat his flesh was the strangest thing Jews at the time had heard? In fact, many disciples stopped following him at this point. This was a much more than a very strange request; it was at best a ridiculous one. At worse, it was immoral!
But this is very much in keeping with the image of the Good Shepherd. The sheep completely trust the shepherd. If the shepherd leads them to green pastures and still waters, they follow. If the shepherd leads them up a rocky incline, they follow. If the shepherd leads them down the valley of darkness, they will not be afraid and they will follow. And so, just before the call we have to trust the Good Shepherd and say, “yes Lord, I will do what you are asking me to do.” Maybe it’s a bit of a test.
Then comes the call.
So, first you have a personal encounter with God; that encounter makes us aware of our inadequacy and last, that encounter involves trusting God. Then comes THE CALL. And this happens to everyone. God calls everyone. Everyone, at some point or another, especially if they are in a relationship with God, will be called. It’s not just for priests and people in religious life. This is one of the gifts of the Second Vatican Council: Everyone gets called. We’ve been sitting in the stands for way too long, it’s time for us to get on the ice!
And the call for everyone is holiness. We are all called to holiness. And we can best live our call to holiness in one of four main ways, called vocations:
- The single life
- The religious life
- The ordained life and
- The married life.
But it’s not our choice. They have been chosen for us. God has created us so that one of these vocations is our own persona,l special way in which we can achieve holiness.
Some of you will be called to be holy through the single life. That’s good because not everyone is called to be married nor should everyone be married. And single people have a great gift of time – they don’t have the same family commitments and so they can serve.
And some people are called to the ordained life as deacons, priests or Bishops; or some are called to the religious life as sisters, brothers, monks, nuns, who live consecrated or contemplative lives.
But most of us are called to the married life because that’s the way where we come closest to loving another person the way God loves us: Freely, faithfully, fruitfully and totally. Most of you are married; imagine, God has given you your husband, your wife to help you be holy! Your job is to help your husband or your wife to get to heaven! That’s beautiful! That’s why the Church takes marriage very seriously.
Is that how you see your marriage? This is your call to holiness. Do you live your marriage as a response to a call? Do you live your marriage as a response to a personal encounter with Christ? Do you live your marriage daily, as a personal encounter with Christ? Do you live your marriage with a keen awareness that you can’t do it alone and that you have to trust God all the way? Do you live your life, whether you’re married, single, ordained or in religious life, as a response to a call to holiness?
Most of us were never taught anything about these four vocations - and most of the time when people talk about "vocations" they mean vocations to the religious or ordained life. But, we all have a vocation and they are all valid and equal. With the hopes of teaching us more about vocations, Salt + Light Television once again partnered with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board to produce the MAKE THE CALL
series. Each video is aimed at a different age group, but no matter how old or young you are, each will show you how God calls us and what that means.
MAKE THE CALL will air this weekend in celebration of Vocations Sunday:
Make The Call: Discerning the Call (for older teenagers and adults) on Saturday, April 20 at 12:30pm ET.
Make The Call: Listening to the Call (for pre-school and younger school-age children) on Sunday, April 21 at 9:30am ET.
and Make The Call: Responding to the Call (for tweens, pre-teens and younger teen-agers) on Sunday, April 21 at 10pm ET.
Mother Teresa used to say that God does not call us to do great things, but to do small things with great love. Maybe you will be called to do great things, I don’t know, but if not, will you live your life, no matter which vocation you live, doing small things with great love? Like Isaiah, Paul, Peter, Mary, Abraham and Sarah, Noah, Moses, Mary Magdalene and so many others, can we say yes to the Good Shepherd and let him lead us to green pastures?
Can we get on the holiness boat and set out into the deep?