1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19
1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20
For the record, I have never been woken up in the middle of the night in any way similar to what happened to Samuel in the first reading. I've been woken as a child by my mother for real reasons or my brother for bogus ones. I've been woken by my job calling about a situation at the mill. I've been woken by my wife for various reasons and by my son entirely too early on Christmas morning. I've even been woken by drunk people wanting to order a pizza who, in looking in the phone book for Papa John's Pizza, accidentally dial the number for the next entry: Papa, Tim. This has actually happened to me, more than once, and that is why I stopped listing my phone number. But God has never intervened in my life in such a direct way as he does in the readings today.
God seems to nudge me slowly through other people. I'd like to have some grand story to tell about how I felt called to be a deacon, but in reality it was a letter sent through the post office. Father Tim sent me a letter about eight years ago asking me to consider it; he said he thought I might make a good deacon. My first thought, as I put down the letter, was, “Yeah, that's not going to happen.” I told my wife about the letter over the phone – she was visiting her parents at the time – and she said that I should consider it. Well, needless to say I did, and the fact that I'm speaking to you know tells how that story ends.
In the first reading, God in the form of the Father calls Samuel. But Samuel did not know what was going on. He never did figure it out on his own – Eli, his boss, needed to figure it out for him. But once he understood it, finally, Samuel was true to his calling and became one of the greatest prophets of Israel. In the Gospel, God in the form of the Son calls Andrew and Simon Peter. They, too, did not understand the call. They understood that they were being asked to follow, but they did not have an inkling about what that would entail. Peter in particular will, at various times during Christ’s ministry, deny the Lord three times, at another time be rebuked for not understanding what was being taught, even still another time be told to “get behind me Satan” when he utterly fails to understand Christ's mission. Yet, he doggedly followed. And by this Peter provides the answer to the question of what do you call someone who tries, fails, and tries again to live up to what God calls them to do. We call them “saints.”
I could ask what God is calling us to do. But maybe the better way of asking this is: what has God already called each of us to do that we, like Eli, didn't understand who was calling or what it meant, or like Peter and Andrew, didn't fully understand the full scope of the commitment. Even these great people with important callings took time to fully warm up to their true calling with anything that would be called clarity. This Gospel is from the first chapter of John, and today they follow Jesus because he is a great teacher, a rabbi, and start to believe that He is the Messiah. It won't be until the end of Christ's life that they really understand that He is the Son of God. So what makes us think that we, even those who are gray-haired, have heard all of what God wants of us here in our earthly lives?
God uses the most unlikely people to do his will. He did not call Eli, who was the experienced temple priest but instead called Samuel, who was essentially the Jewish equivalent of an altar server. For his apostles, Christ called, along with the fishermen Andrew and Peter, a tax collector in Matthew and a persecutor of Christians in Paul. God has used the great popes, such as Gregory, Leo, and John Paul, and also used the meekest and mild, such as a reformed Italian ne’er-do-well like Francis of Assisi, a simple friar and priests like Padre Pio, and a modest nun-like Therese, the Little Flower. God has used many other people, ordinary people, in less visible but no less important ways. Saint Mother Teresa was always calling people to action in her lectures, or maybe I should say that she reminded them that God was calling them to action. Just this week a woman on the social justice team here at Saint James shared a quote from Mother Teresa which gets at the importance of following your calling: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
Our parish intention for this week is to pray for those that have fallen away from the Church. Maybe this is part of our calling for each one of us here. We all know people who are no longer participating in the life of the Church, for reasons usually trivial but sometimes substantial and hurtful. How can we convince these people that they should return to the loving embrace of the Church unless we teach and remind them about God’s love and then also display that love by our actions? God called Samuel, Andrew, and Peter, and also calls all of us through our Baptism to make disciples and to live by God’s commandments. If we do so, we are participating in the Church’s call which is known as the New Evangelization. This term was brought into use by both Pope Paul VI and later by Saint Pope John Paul II, and has been reinvigorated by Pope Francis. Francis wrote about this in his first major work, an apostolic exhortation called The Joy of the Gospel or Evangelii Gaudium. It is available on the Vatican’s web site or in printed form through booksellers. I encourage everyone to read this because it has many observations on how we as a Church can do a better job of bringing Christ to those who don’t know Him or have fallen away from Him. There’s even a section written for clergy about giving better homilies. All I have to say about that is – I’m working on it. And, of course, I am still working on fully understanding what God is calling me to do in my life.
As we continue the Mass, let us pray the simple but beautiful prayer that Samuel is taught: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” [1 Sam 3:9]. As we participate in the great celebration of the unity of the Church that is communion, we can try to better understand how God is calling us to participate in that community to help make this world and our Church a better fulfillment of His teachings. Let us, as part of this, explore ways to also help Him call others back to the Church. Our calling is summed up in our mission, to be joyful disciples, but let us also try to invite others to be joyful disciples.