Father Donald Senior, CP

Jan. 17: Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Answering the call

1 Sm 3:3-10, 19; Ps 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10; 1 Cor 6:13-15, 17-20; Jn 1:35-42

In a book about the Benedictine community at Collegeville, Minnesota, titled “Cloister Walk,” Kathleen Norris describes the difference between a call and a choice. In our Western society we prize choice — making our own decision about where we will go to college (if we can get in), about our job (if we can find one), about our future spouse (if we meet the perfect candidate) and a lot of other things. Frank Sinatra’s famous croon “I did it my way” has a strong appeal.

But in the biblical world, call seems to win out over choice. A call comes from outside of us and is often unanticipated and sometimes hard to discern or accept. A calling can well up inside us in unexpected ways and linger until we either dismiss it or accept it. Our role is not to initiate or control the call but to say “yes” or “no.”

The Bible is full of stories of famous characters who received a mysterious call from God and struggled to accept it. One of the most famous is found in the first reading for this Sunday.

The prophet Samuel was a powerful figure who was authorized by God to select Saul as the first king of Israel and, after Saul failed, to anoint David as the future king. Samuel’s own life began in an unusual fashion. His mother, Hannah, had been sterile, but God favored her and gave her a son. She dedicated that son to God, putting him under the tutelage of Eli, a priest at the shrine of Shiloh, thus triggering Samuel’s prophetic career.

The call of Samuel to be a prophet is one of the classic call stories. Three times God calls the young Samuel in his sleep and Samuel thinks it is Eli calling him. Finally, Eli realizes this call is from God and counsels Samuel with the perfect biblical response: “If you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” Samuel did so and the story concludes magnificently: “Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.”

This account joins a long line of calls, often with the recipient confused or frightened by it. We have Amos grumbling that he is content to be a simple farmer; Jeremiah worried because he stutters; Isaiah realizing he is “a man of unclean lips.” This stretches into the New Testament as well with a hesitant Mary because, “I know not man”; Paul fighting with Jesus’ followers before being knocked to his senses; Matthew startled at his tax collector’s booth. 

In the synoptic Gospels, the call of Jesus’ first disciples is abrupt: “Come, follow me,” and the fishermen leave their nets, their boats and their families and follow Jesus. But in today’s Gospel from John, we hear a call story in a different mode.

When John the Baptist points out Jesus to some of his own disciples, they are intrigued and ask Jesus, “Where do you abide?” Jesus answers: “Come and see.” The rest is history.

In his Letter to the Galatians some years after his amazing conversion, Paul the apostle looked back on his call to follow Jesus and realized that the roots of that call started earlier than on the road to Damascus. “Before I was knit together in my mother’s womb, you called me.” Even our very existence as human beings is not under our control or choice but is a call from God to a life of purpose. 

What about us? As human beings and Christians, what about our call? Why did God create us? Where do we find the deepest motivation for our lives? What divine purpose do we bring to our everyday lives? 

When we take a moment to think more deeply about our lives (not a bad habit, by the way), what do we see as key turning points that changed the course of our lives? Are there moments when we realize we are called to a deeper, more complete life, one pleasing to God?


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