The Three Stages of Growth in Our Christian Vocation, Second Sunday (B), January 18, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
January 18, 2015
1 Sam 3:3-10.19, Ps 40, 1 Cor 6:13-15.17-20, Jn 1:35-42

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided today’s homily: 

The Christian Calling’s Inner Nature

Pope Francis told us in November at the beginning of this Year for Consecrated Life that the purpose of this ecclesiastical holy year is not only for the whole Church to pray for nuns, sisters, brothers, religious priests, consecrated virgins, widows and hermits, those in secular institutes, societies of apostolic life and others who live by the public profession of the evangelical counsels, but it’s also meant to be a “grace” for the entire Church. It’s an opportunity for all of us, as St. John Paul II told us in 1996, to learn from those in consecrated life how better to live the Christian life. “The consecrated life,” he wrote, “is not something isolated and marginal, but a reality that affects the whole Church. … The consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission, since it manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse.” The consecrated life shows the inner nature of the Christian calling in this world and the fulfillment of that vocation in the eternal wedding banquet of the next.

One of the most obvious aspects of the consecrated life is the reality of divine calling. People don’t just become consecrated men and women. The Lord calls boys and girls, men and women today to an intimate union with him in the consecrated life, just as much as he called the prophet Samuel in today’s first reading, just as much as he called the Prophet Isaiah whose words constitute our Responsorial Psalm refrain, just as much as on the Road to Damascus he called Saul-turned-Paul who speaks to us in today’s second reading, just as much as he called John the Baptist from the womb, and just as much as he called Saints Andrew, John and Peter in today’s Gospel. To talk about the consecrated life is to enter into a discussion of vocations, and focusing on the specific vocations of religious men and women, of nuns and monks, of those in cloisters and those living the evangelical counsels in the midst of secular professions, helps us to remember the calling to sanctity every single believer receives in baptism.

And so to mark well this Year for Consecrated Life we should ponder how it reveals to us the inner nature of the universal call to holiness that is at the root of the Christian vocation. And today’s readings provide us a great opportunity to do so, because they place before us the theme of divine calling and the response we’re supposed to give to God when he calls. Our response, like those in the consecrated life, is meant to be the response of Samuel who followed Eli’s advice and said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!,” and never stopped listening to the Lord and sharing what he heard. It’s supposed to be the response of Isaiah, who said, “Here am I, Lord, I come to do your will,” and never ceased presenting himself for the Lord’s service. It ought to be the response St. Paul made outside the city walls in Damascus when he said, “What do you want me to do, Lord?” It should be the response he was seeking to form the Christians in Corinth to make in today’s second reading, reminding them that their bodies, their whole lives, are meant “for the Lord,” that by baptism they’ve become “a temple of the Holy Spirit within” and are therefore called to “glorify God in [the] body” and with all their mind, heart, soul and strength.

Today’s Gospel reading is the most helpful reading of all, I think, to allow us to enter into the inner nature of the Christian calling. It shows what I like to call the three main stages of growth in any Christian vocation.

First Stage in the Christian Vocation: Wonder at Jesus

The first stage of this divine drama is curiosity, wonder, and a eventually a certain amazement. When St. John the Baptist saw Jesus walking by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!,” two of those who had been following and helping John the Baptist — Andrew, and “another disciple” who very likely was John the Evangelist — were obviously intrigued. As good Jews, they knew the significance of the Paschal Lamb from the Passover rite to free the Jews from slavery in Egypt, which they reenacted each year. When John pointed out Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” they couldn’t help but be curious. So they did what curious people ordinarily do: they tried to find out more. Enquiring minds want to know. They began to follow Jesus, but they, being fishermen, were not particularly adept as private investigators. Jesus, aware that they were on his tail, turned around and asked them “What are you looking for?” Caught off guard, they asked, “Teacher, where are you staying?” Jesus didn’t respond with a direct answer to their small talk. He did not want to meet them at the level of curiosity; on the other hand, he didn’t want to kill that curiosity either, by admitting what he would say later, that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). So he responded by trying to bring them from their curiosity to something higher: “Come and see!,” he said. He invited them to follow him more closely and to spend time with him.

Second Stage in the Christian Vocation: Discipleship

That brings us to the second stage of the growth in vocation: to come to be with Jesus, to follow him to where he is. We call this stage discipleship. “Disciple” is the Greek word for “student.” We come to Jesus the Master to learn from him. We come not just to learn facts from him or other information that we then ignore or forget later. We come to him to learn how to live, how to die, and how to live forever. At Jesus’ invitation, Andrew and John came and saw his homeless mansion. St. John gives us a very interesting detail (which is one of the reasons why he was almost certainly the “other disciple” he names, because it would have been hard for him to know it otherwise): “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” This detail shows us first how much of an impression that meeting with Jesus had in his life that he would never forget the precise time he met Jesus for the first time. It also shows us that this meeting wasn’t brief. Scholars convincingly have shown, based on the text of St. John, that it was probably a Friday when this encounter happened, and once Jews reached about 4:00 pm, the Sabbath would begin and travel would be prohibited. So it’s likely that Andrew and John got to spend not just an hour or two with Jesus but a little more than a full day with Jesus, peppering him with questions, answering his questions, laughing, praying, just being with him. Whatever happened over that length of time, they were changed. They were no longer curious hangers-on; they were believers. They were prepared out of that faith to follow him and when he would later visit them on the Sea of Galilee and call them from their boats, their nets, their fish, their families, their homes, they responded prompthy.

Third Stage in the Christian Vocation: Apostolic Mission

But, because they really believed in him, they were not content to remain merely at the level of discipleship. Andrew, as soon as the Sabbath was over, quickly moved to the third stage: the apostolate. Once he was able to travel, he ran to find his brother Simon, to announce to him the news any Jew would have longed for centuries to hear: “We have found the Messiah!” He proclaimed that they had won the jackpot of jackpots and could not restrain himself from sharing that news with the brother he loved. Then he did something more: he brought his brother Simon to meet Jesus, so that Simon could share the same joy. Little did Andrew know what the Lord would do with his brother. Little did he know that Jesus would change his brother’s name to “Cephas” (Peter) meaning “rock,” and later say, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). All Andrew did was announce the good news to his brother and bring his brother to Jesus, and Jesus did the rest. Little do we know what will happen when we announce Jesus to others and try to bring them to him. That’s something we don’t need to know because it’s at the level of curiosity. We’re compelled, though, to share Christ and let him work the same wonders in those we know as he has worked in us.

These three stages of faith of vocational growth are meant to occur in the life of every believer.

A Personal Witness of this Vocational Growth

We all begin at a stage of curiosity, when someone else points Jesus out to us. For adults, almost any believer can play the role of Eli helping others to recognize the Lord’s voice or of John the Baptist, pointing Jesus out to their family members, or colleagues at work, or fellow students. For most cradle Catholics, that role is played by parents when the child is young.

I remember when I was a toddler. My mother would read children’s Bible stories to my twin brother and me each night. I was fascinated by the stories of Jesus who could walk on water, who could feed a crowd of 5000 men and their families with five loaves and two fish, who could come to meet met like Zacchaeus up in the tree, who could cast out the devil, who could raise his friend from the dead, who could rise from the dead himself and go out to heaven. I wanted to know more and more about him. I was curious to the extreme.

But then something happened about the time I reached the age of reason. I graduated from the level of fascination to the level of a believer and follower. Jesus turned and basically asked me, “What are you looking for?,” and I said, basically, “I’m looking for you to forgive my sins and mistakes,” as I prepared for my first Confession. A short time later, he queried again, “What are you looking for?,” and I replied in life, “I’m looking to become one with you in Holy Communion!” He asked anew, “What are you seeking?,” and I retorted, “I want you to hear these my prayers!,” as I prayed for a sick classmate at school, as I prayed for my deceased grandparents, as I prayed for what we asked the Lord for in our family Rosary. The Lord continued to ask, “What do you want?,” and I replied, “I just want to grow up to be just like you!” I had by this point grasped that the priest was the luckiest person in the whole universe, capable of holding God in his hands and giving him to others, and God had implanted within me a desire to ask for the vocation to the priesthood. I had become a disciple of Jesus, someone who didn’t just didn’t want to know about him, but wanted to know him personally and to follow him intimately.

But my progression in faith didn’t stop there. The next stage happened when I was in high school and college. Like Durfee here in Fall River, Lowell High School was enormous, with about 4,000 students. And there were some problems. Some kids started to get in trouble with the law. Others began to smoke dope, or head out to the woods on Friday nights to get plastered. Many started to use fellow students for sexual kicks, and I saw the emotional harm wreaked on both boys and girls. Over 200 of my female classmates alone ended up becoming pregnant and needing to take time off. Other classmates were undergoing great inner turmoil because of problems at home. All of these situations convinced me how much they needed Jesus in their lives, someone to say, “I have found the Messiah” and try to take them to have the same type of relationship I had with him. It wasn’t always easy. Many of my fellow students didn’t want to hear about Jesus, and I was, at best, awkward as a teenage evangelist. But I tried, by my own personal choices and by taking advantage of any opportunities that presented themselves, to bring Jesus to them and bring them to Jesus. That third stage in the life of faith, apostolate, grew in college as I tried to bring Jesus to my fellow students at Harvard, then to my coworkers at Massachusetts General Hospital or in Washington, DC, and have continued to strive to do in my life as a seminarian and a priest.

Many remain at the level of curiosity

Jesus wants every one of us to pass through these three vocational stages. There are many people who remain, even into adulthood, at the level of fascination with Jesus. Even Catholics who have received all the sacraments of initiation can still be at this first step on the ladder of faith. They know a lot about Jesus. Jesus is clearly too famous to forget and they can recognize that his claims about heaven and hell and the importance of our choices on earth are too important to dismiss easily. So they sort-of follow Jesus, but do so at a distance, kind of hedging their bets. They’ll come to Mass as a sort of eternal life insurance policy, just in case it is truly sinful to miss it. They’ll receive holy communion, but not really deeply believe that what looks like a little piece of bread really is, according to Jesus’ own words, his body and blood. They’ll pray, but not really center their lives around listening to the Lord speaking to us in prayer and calling us to change. They’ll be good to their neighbor, and support the Church, but more out of a sense of obligation than out of burning love. They haven’t yet put their whole hearts in. They haven’t yet made Jesus the king of all parts of their life, of their time, of their talents, of their home, of their jobs, of their money, of their mind, heart, soul and strength. To people at this vocational stage, including some of us here today, Jesus turns and says to us full of tenderness, “What are you looking for?” He invites us to “come and see,” to enter into his life more deeply. He tells us, “I am the way, the truth and the life!,” and beckons us to follow. Jesus wants all those who are at this stage to be upgraded to the status of true disciples, not just on the outside but on the inside.

The nature of true discipleship

Discipleship is the second stage. It involves following Jesus not at a distance, but up close. Like with Saints Andrew and John, it means being with Jesus, and following him where he wants to lead us. It means treating him not just as someone or something that’s important in our life, but as God, as the single most important reality of our existence, for whom we’ll sacrifice everything else if necessary. A true disciple of the Lord will live a life of deep prayer, because prayer is where we encounter Christ and discern what he’s asking of us in the day-to-day decisions we face. A true disciple will make Mass the “source and the summit” of his existence, because there’s no greater privilege and gift in the whole world than to receive Christ inside. A true disciple will seek be a good student, sitting at the feet of the Master and pondering his words in Sacred Scripture, in the teaching of the Apostles, in the words and writings of the Pope and the bishops and the priests God has called and commissioned to teach us in his name. Are you at this stage of discipleship? Is your relationship with Jesus the most defining reality of your life? If he were to call you today to follow him more intimately, to make a major change in your life, are you prepared because of that relationship to leave everything else behind to follow in his footsteps? If not, once again, Jesus wishes to give you the grace you need to live at this level.

Letting discipleship mature into mission

But as important as this is, it’s not enough. It’s not sufficient to remain at the level of a personal life-changing relationship with Jesus. A true disciple of Jesus will try to love others as Christ as loved us, which means having a ready willingness to sacrifice for others as Christ sacrificed for us, to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us, even to die for others just like Christ died for us. That brings us to the third stage in the growth of faith, which is the apostolate or mission. Once we recognize the beauty of the life of true discipleship with Jesus, we naturally want to share it with all those we love. Like St. Andrew, true disciples cannot stop themselves from bursting out to all those around them, “We have won the lottery! We have found the Messiah! We have encountered God and his salvation!” If we love him, we will naturally want to spread love of him to others. We will also want to bring others to him so that they can experience the same joy we have found. Pope Francis wrote to us in his beautiful exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel, “If we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” He continued, “The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?” And then in the most eloquent part of the document he describes in greater depth the motivation for sharing our faith: “We are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize.” That is why we share the faith.

Many Christians today, including many Catholics who come to Mass each Sunday, think that all that’s really necessary in the life of faith is their own personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. As long as they refrain from sin, as long as they do what they have to do, come to Mass, pray, contribute, they think that’s enough. But people who think this way may not even be at the level of discipleship. The one who truly loves Jesus will love what Jesus loves and want what Jesus wants. And what he wants is the salvation of each person in the whole world. Jesus, of course, could have stayed on earth until the end of time and proclaimed the Gospel himself to every man and woman. But he didn’t. He loved us enough, and trusted us enough, that he wanted us to share in his mission of the salvation of the world. This is the apostolate. In his valedictory address before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples — and that includes each of us— “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to every creature… and know that I am with you always until the end of the world” (Mt 28:18-20). We have a beautiful statue in the back of the Church of St. Therese Lisieux, the “Little Flower,” who even though she died in a French Carmel at the tender age of 24, is co-patroness of the missions. She was once asked by a struggling young missionary priest in Africa, whom she had adopted as her spiritual brother, why eighteen centuries after Christ’s mandate, there were still so many millions of people who hadn’t heard even the name of Jesus Christ. St. Therese responded with great candor: “Because of the laziness of other Christians.” Too many Christians are not fired up with apostolic zeal to bring Jesus and his Gospel to others. Too many love Christ so little that they don’t feel impelled on the inside to speak of him, to make him known, to make him love. Too many Christians love others so little that they really won’t lift a finger to try to make sure they’re saved. Today the Lord wants to stoke in us a desire for the full flourishing of Christian vocation in us to come to him and to be sent by him, to be a holy disciple and an ardent apostle.

The apostolic witness of the vocational maturity of consecrated men and women

Consecrated men and women are those who have been so touched by the encounter with the Lord that they make following him and sharing love of him the biggest goals of their life. Like Samuel they are constantly listening to what the Lord has to say in prayer, because they know that God has the words of everlasting life. Like Isaiah they are saying each day, “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will!,” as they do his will of teaching the Gospel to all nations in missionary work and schools, as they do his will as Good Samaritans caring for the wounded in health care professions, as they do his will in caring for the poor and needy, the hungry and thirsty, the homeless and naked, the immigrant and prisoner, and under various other disguises as they would Christ himself. Like St. Paul, they are the ones who remember that they are temples of the Holy Spirit and show us all of us how to glorify God in our bodies through the virtue of chastity that helps us to love unselfishly. Like St. John the Baptist, they are the ones who are constantly pointing out the Lord. Like St. Andrew, they are the ones who encourage the rest of us to come, see, meet and love someone who is far greater than the Messiah but our God and Savior. They show us in all of these ways how to pass in faith from curiosity, to discipleship to mission. They are the ones who manifest the inner nature of the Christian calling and urge us to live for God, to live for heaven, to live for eternity and to help others to do so.

The Culmination of our Vocation in the Mass

Today, whether out of curiosity or discipleship, we have responded to Jesus’ invitation and followed him here today to his house. This is where he stays. This is where he speaks to us, feeds us, and renews us. This is how we glorify God in our body and in our souls by joining our bodies and souls to him as we consecrate ourselves together to the Father, presenting our bodies as living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, our spiritual worship (Rom 12:1-2). Today Jesus turns to each of us and says, “What are you looking for?,” and he wants to help us to seek him, to find him, to love him, to share his life and to bring others into communion with him. As we prepare to behold and to receive the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, we ask for his help to become like Eli, John the Baptist, Andrew, Paul and so many in consecrated life, so that at the end of this celebration of the Christian Sabbath, filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit, we will go to find those we love and bring them this great news personified. We have indeed found the Messiah and more than the Messiah! We have indeed said to him today “Speak, Lord, for we’re all listening!,” as he’s renewed us in our Christian calling. And we’ve responded to him, “Here we are, Lord! We’ve come to do your will!”

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 1 SM 3:3B-10, 19

Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD
where the ark of God was.
The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.”
Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.”
“I did not call you, “ Eli said. “Go back to sleep.”
So he went back to sleep.
Again the LORD called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli.
“Here I am, “ he said. “You called me.”
But Eli answered, “I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep.”At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD,
because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.
The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time.
Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am. You called me.”
Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.
So he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply,
Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
When Samuel went to sleep in his place,
the LORD came and revealed his presence,
calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.

Responsorial Psalm PS 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10

R. (8a and 9a) Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
to do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!”
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.

Reading 2 1 COR 6:13C-15A, 17-20

Brothers and sisters:
The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord,
and the Lord is for the body;
God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?
But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him.
Avoid immorality.
Every other sin a person commits is outside the body,
but the immoral person sins against his own body.
Do you not know that your body
is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you,
whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
For you have been purchased at a price.
Therefore glorify God in your body.

Alleluia JN 1:41, 17B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
We have found the Messiah:
Jesus Christ, who brings us truth and grace.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 1:35-42

John was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,
“What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Rabbi” — which translated means Teacher —,
“where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.
It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,
was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.
He first found his own brother Simon and told him,
“We have found the Messiah” — which is translated Christ —.
Then he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said,
“You are Simon the son of John;
you will be called Cephas” — which is translated Peter.