Sunday, January 14, 2018




                                Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!
                                                            I Samuel 3

What Father Michael does these days in his other job of Vocation Director, a job I also held several years ago, is described in our first reading. In short, we try to encourage young people listen for God’s voice and respond to it with enthusiasm.

In that job of Vocation Director, Father Michael and I, represent the old priest Eli in our first reading. Samuel represents all the young people that we  speak to and listen to throughout the year. Eli (whose name, by the way, means “uncertain”) is an old temple priest who lived during a religiously bleak time in Israel – in many ways like today’s Church. Many of the temple priests were corrupt and there seemed to be a shortage of good priests willing to speak convincingly for the Lord.  Old Eli, however, carries on his priestly duties in spite of the bad times. He is assisted by a young man named Samuel. Samuel, like many young people of his day, was not familiar with the Lord. It was, however, precisely during such a terrible state of affairs that God calls this young man, Samuel, to be his spokesman.

This wonderful story is, in some ways, a funny story. The old priest Eli and the young Samuel are asleep in the Temple. Young Samuel keeps waking up thinking he hears someone calling his name. He presumes it is the old priest Eli, so he gets out of bed and goes into the other room and says, “You called?” He does this twice and twice Eli tells him “No! I wasn’t calling you!, Go back to sleep!” When the young Samuel hears the voice a third time and goes to awaken the old priest, Eli realizes that it must be the Lord who was calling him.  Old Eli then tells young Samuel, “If you hear the voice again, tell the voice “Speak, your servant is listening.”  This time Samuel answers the call just as Eli had instructed him. He says to God, “Speak, for your servant is listening!”  God then takes Samuel and gradually turns him into a great prophet, a powerful and effective spokesman. As a preacher, I love the closing line. It says that God "did  not permit any word of Samuel's to be without effect.” Any serious preacher would love to know that all his words hit the target and had lasting effects! 

Just as the old priest Eli did for the the young man Samuel, our jobs are not to talk anyone into anything, but to help them listen for what God is calling them to do. Our job is to encourage people to listen, and when they hear God’s call, to be ready to answer, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 

Let me be perfectly clear here! You will not be doing us a favor if you listen for God’s call. You will be doing yourself a favor. Your very happiness depends on hearing your call, discerning your vocation, and finding your purpose in life.  Getting your call right, is one of the most essential tasks in life. If you get it right, it will bring you unimaginable happiness and peace of mind. If you get it wrong, you will go through life always feeling that something is just not quite right! You will be unhappy without knowing why. You will be driven to look for love in all the wrong places and you will find yourself settling for second best.  As Thomas Merton says, “The biggest human temptation is to settle – to settle for too little!” Buddha put it this way, “Our goal in life is to find out what our goal in life is and to give ourselves to that goal wholeheartedly.” Dale Carnegie put it this way, “Throw yourself into some work you believe in with all your heart, live for it, and you will find happiness that you thought could never be yours.” 

Let me say a few things about what I have learned about “calls.” First of all, all of us received our primary “call” at our baptisms. God adopted us as his children and called us to grow into his likeness as his disciples.  Like Samuel, the first call we all need to “wake up” to is to become like Christ!

Within that call, we have a second call, a call to carry on some part of Christ’s work in the world. The hard part, like Samuel, is to discern what part of God work we are called to carry on! Am I being called to teaching, healing, feeding, reconciling or what?

Before Jesus left this earth, he commissioned his followers to carry on his work. So that we might be equipped for this work, he sent the Holy Spirit to make us powerful enough to do what he has given us to do. He even stated that with the power of the Holy Spirit we could do what he did and even more.

There are, then, a variety of specific calls within the general call to carry on Christ’s work of teaching, healing, feeding and reconciling. The possibilities are endless. Some are called to marriage and parenthood. Others are called to be teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, politicians, artists, counselors and administrators. Still other are called to ordained ministry, the religious life or full-time church ministry as lay persons.

There will be opportunities in the weeks ahead to talk about marriage, parenthood and the other calls, but let me today say a few words about the calls to priesthood, religious life and full-time lay ministry. Don’t turn me off just because you feel it is not your call. The work of promoting religious vocations is just as much your responsibility as it is mine and Father Michael's  Even if it is not your call, you have a responsibility to encourage others in these calls and tell them that you see it, if you see it being manifested in them. Just as Eli had to tell Samuel to “listen,” we are called to encourage each other to “listen” for God’s call.  We all need to do this a little more these days, especially at a time when many people do not appear to be “familiar with the Lord.”  After all, someday you will need to be married, have your babies baptized and confirmed, have your confessions heard, attend Mass, be anointed when you are sick and dying, have a funeral or be ministered to by religious and lay ministers in countless ways. I am happy to say that this diocese has produced several bishops, many priests and religious and a plethora of fine lay ministers in the last few years because they were encouraged by someone to listen for God’s call!  

What are the signs of a possible vocation to priesthood, religious life, permanent diaconate or full-time lay ministry?  Assuming the person is a healthy, well-rounded person of faith and practice, he or she should have a fundamental openness to people. We don’t need priests, religious, permanent deacons or lay ministers who are unbalanced religious fanatics or who cannot relate to people of both sexes. Sadly, all those positions have been filled! He or she should have a disposition to compassion and justice, with a desire to be of service. Most of all, he or she should have a capacity for healthy introspection and contemplation. If he or she cannot be quiet sometimes and listen, we don’t need them!

Secondly, a priest, religious, permanent deacon or full time lay minister should carry at least the potential for a lively and creative intellectual life. This is especially needed for the ministries of preaching, counseling, spiritual direction and pastoral leadership. The members of our church deserve the best and brightest to minister to them.  Along with these qualities is the aptitude for community, as well as the capacity for sustained commitment and delayed gratification. They have to be able to “go the distance.”

Third, a priest, religious, permanent deacon or full-time lay minister must have a capacity for rising above self-interest in the service of the gospel, the ability to surrender his or her life to something bigger than himself or herself.

Some religious priests, sisters and brothers live “apart” in monasteries and convents. Others of us, along with permanent deacons and full-time lay ministers, live “in the world.” Both those who live “in the world” and those “set apart” are equal members in the household of God.  One is not “better” or “higher” than the other. They simply serve in different ways. Diocesan priests, like myself, are called to live “in the world.” I get a pension, draw Social Security, paid taxes my whole adult life, own a home, buy my own car, do my own laundry, shop at the grocery, cook my own food and I saved for retirement for 45 years. Diocesan priests like me live “in the world” so as to serve those who live “in the world.”   

Today is a day to appreciate and pray for priests, sisters, brothers and full-time lay ministers. Today is a day to call forth from the community of believers new people like Samuel to carry on these ministries into the future.  If you, or anyone you know, would like to know more details, call Father Michael. Like the old Eli, I once told Father Michael, like Samuel,when he was still a student at Bellarmine where I was chaplain, "Michael, someday you will take my place!" Guess what? All these years later, he has two of my old jobs: Vocation Director and pastor of the Cathedral!

I retired about three years ago. Now I leave you with a serious question! Who here is God calling to take my place – here in the pulpit and there at the altar? It could be you or that person sitting down from you, in front of you or behind you! 

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