Father Donald Senior, CP

Hearing the call

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Is 6:1-2a, 3-8; 1 Cor 15:1-11; Lk 5:1-11

What is the difference between a “call” and a “choice”? The wellknown novelist Kathleen Norris, who also happens to be a thoughtful writer about things religious, asked that question in her book “Cloister Walk.” A strong tug in our U.S. culture is to make our own choices — echoing the famed Frank Sinatra song that boasts “I’ll do it my way.”

Understandably, we like to choose our friends, our clothing, our college, and so on. But a “call” is different — it comes from the outside, initiated by someone or something else. It may come unexpectedly and even, at times, be unwelcome.

Some calls can be responded to without much fuss — a phone call from a friend or a salesperson; an invitation to a party; a doorbell rings announcing the visit of a neighbor. But there are other calls that are more profound, harder to detect and have great consequences for our lives.

The story of the call of the first disciples in the Gospel selection from Luke for this Sunday as well as the encounter of the prophet Isaiah with God’s call to him in the Jerusalem temple are two examples of this deeper sense of call. Such “call stories” abound in the Bible.

Calling disciples to follow him in his mission is one of the first things Jesus does in each of the Gospel accounts. Luke portrays this initial call in a unique and enticing way. Jesus is preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and the press of the crowd, anxious to hear his words, backs Jesus right up to the water’s edge. He sees a boat there — it happens to belong to Simon Peter — and climbs in to preach to the crowds from this floating pulpit!

When he is finished he tells Peter and his companions to “push out into the deep” and lower their nets for a catch. Simon replies with a bit of weariness, “We have worked hard all night and have caught nothing … but at your command I will lower the nets.”

We know the rest of the story! These Galilean fishermen lower their nets and catch such an abundance of fish that their nets were breaking and the boat almost sinking. Simon Peter, realizing what had happened, drops to his knees and begs Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” But Jesus reassures Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When the boat come to the shore, the Gospel notes, “they left everything and followed him.”

For Simon and his partners, James and John, the call of Jesus to follow him comes unexpectedly and dramatically. For some of us that may be the way we discovered our call to faith — an accident or illness that shook us to our depths; an encounter with someone we love that turned our lives around.

But for most of us our call to follow Jesus seeped into our lives gradually, beginning with the faith of our family that brought us to baptism before we even knew what was happening, or a kind of nagging thought about what we should do with our lives that we can’t get out of our heads. For all of us, no matter the circumstances, the call to live our lives in accord with the Gospel — to follow Jesus, in other words — is not something that happens once and can be put in the past. From time to time we have to sink deep into our souls and ask what is our purpose in life? What is God asking of us? How can I live a life that is truly loving and responsive to the needs of others?

In other words, a “call,” unlike a “choice,” requires a response. If God has given me the gift of life, if I have been also gifted with faith in Jesus Christ, then how should I respond? That is the probing question that comes to us in Scriptures this Sunday. We, too, are asked to “push out into the deep” and search for God’s call in our life.


  • scripture