The readings of this Sunday talk about the call to serve God. They show that the call to serve is different from one individual to another and according to the circumstances of life. They invite us to listen to the Lord and work for the glory of his name and the salvation of our brothers and sisters.
The first reading describes the vocation of Samuel. It shows how, when God called him three times, Samuel did not realize that it was God. Then, it shows that it was Eli who helped Samuel to discern the call of God in his life.
What is behind this text is the idea that God calls us to serve him by serving our fellows. There is also the idea that in order to confirm our call, we sometimes need the help of others. The last idea is related to the truth that we need some humility in order to be open to others and ask for their help when things do not seem clear to us.
This text allows us to understand what is at stake in today’s Gospel as Jesus calls his first disciples. First of all, the Gospel starts with John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus as the Lamb of God. Then, it reports that when John two disciples heard that, they followed Jesus. After that, it shows that when they wanted to know where Jesus was staying, he invited them to come and see for themselves. The Gospel ends up by mentioning the names of those disciples who followed Jesus and the announcement that Simon will be called Peter.
What do we learn from today’s Gospel? Today I want to talk about the mystery of God’s call. Sometimes, people ask me, “When did you realize that God was calling you to become a priest”? Tell us how you became a priest? In my answer, I always say that there are two things: what I can explain and what I cannot explain. What I can easily explain is about my background and the environment in which I grew up: Catholic family, catholic school, chanter in our parish choir, server at Mass, etc. In such an environment, I did not see my life otherwise fulfilled than to be a priest.
However, I was not the only one to be born in a Catholic family, to be a server at Mass, to be in the parish choir, or to go to Catholic school. Why did not all my friends in the choir or servers of the Mass become priest? That I cannot explain. In the end, it comes to the truth that there is a deep mystery at the basis of each vocation we cannot explain.
In fact, God does not call us as it was on a telephone. What is happening is that we feel a strong impetus that pushes us to engage for God and give our life for him. In that sense, the cause of God seems bigger than our life itself so that we want to give to God everything we are and have by serving his people. That is what I felt and that is why, though still young, I wanted to become a priest. There is a mystery here I cannot explain. It is the same mystery that crosses the life of Samuel and other disciples as well.
If all that is clear, it means that in each vocation, the initiative comes from God and not from the recipient. It is that way that Samuel was called. It is that way that when Jesus saw the two disciples following him, he asked them what they were looking for. A little bit later, when they wanted to know where he was staying, he invited them to come and see.
This episode teaches us that whatever might be our vocation, it is always God who is the first to call us. He precedes us in everything we do, because the initiative is his. In fact, when we feel strongly some inclination for God or our hearts are so unsatisfied that we start asking questions about God, it is he who comes to meet us. God does not let us search for him in the darkness and in the forsaken. He comes always to us with open hands. That is why he does not keep himself at a distance from us, but rather is near us and is waiting for us. As St Augustine says, we would not even have begun to seek for God unless he had already found us.
That God has the initiative of the call does not mean that things will be easy. No, each vocation is demanding because it requires sacrifice. The disciples who followed Jesus had to abandon their master, John the Baptist. John himself had to let go of his disciples and accept to be humble in the presence of Jesus. In fact, in Jewish society, John was a respected person. He changed the lives of many through his teaching. Given such an honor, we would think that he would stick to his position. However, in the Gospel, he invites his disciples to leave him and to transfer their loyalty to Jesus. And yet, human experience teaches us that there is no harder task than to take the second place when once the first was enjoyed. John, on the contrary, teaches us humility, sincerity and detachment.
Moreover, the disciples had to change in order to adapt to the new situation demanded by Jesus. They had to let themselves be transformed. That transformation is shown in the Gospel through the change of the name of Simon who becomes Cephas. In fact, the change of name denotes a new relationship with God. When a person enters into relationship with God, he becomes a new person. That is why in the past, when someone entered religious life, he was given another name.
However, we should not be afraid because the call is demanding. In truth, God will never call us to some mission without giving us the grace to fulfill it. That is why we have always to know that the Lord will help us in spite of our human limitations. Knowing our weaknesses, we might be afraid to work for God. But, we have to know that the Lord is with us. He does not look at our present state, but at the potential in us and what we can become under his guidance for the glory of his name and the welfare of his people.
Now, here is a question: What can we do in order to be good disciples of Jesus? In order to be good disciples, we have to build strong relationships with him. In fact, when Jesus told the disciples to “come and see”, he wanted them to make a connection with him and to be the people who know him from the inside and not just from the outside. This was true in the past as it is today. No one can make a strong relationship with someone when he cannot enter into his intimacy; otherwise the relationship remains artificial. It was only when the disciples stayed with Jesus and learned from him that they came to understand the demand of their vocation and what they had to pay in order to be true disciples.
Let us pray, then, that the Lord may strengthen us in our vocation. May he give us the courage to be open to our fellows who can help us discern our vocation! May God bless and strengthen those who have already responded to his call. God bless you all!