Friday, September 5, 2014

At the Heart of a Priestly Vocation Is Living the Memory of a Call

(This week, I had morning Mass one day at the seminary and preached this homily).

We have all been asked at one time or another the question, "What made you become a priest?" or "What made you go into the seminary?"  It's interesting to me that as the culture has become more secularized, the question more often takes that form.  But, I am always impressed and moved when somebody phrases the question by asking, "When did you get the call?" 

This latter way of phrasing the question arises from a beautiful and profound recognition on the part of faithful Christians that, at the root of every priestly vocation, is a call.  The vocation of the priest is not the result of a personality quiz or a career diagnostic test.  A priest's vocation doesn't begin with an assessment of his particular skill set.  When the faithful ask, "How did you know that you were called?" they are revealing something beautiful about our vocation.  It began with a personal call from Christ himself.  He spoke to us; "Come and follow me."  He asked us to follow him, to walk in his path, and to share in his pastoral mission.  

Today's Gospel (Luke 5:1-11) provides to us a profound and penetrating paradigm of the call to the priestly vocation.  Jesus came to Peter and entered into Peter's boat--into Peter's experience, his life, into his concrete reality.  Once in Peter's boat, Jesus speaks his word. This word moves Peter towards the obedience of Faith.  "It doesn't make sense to me Lord, but at your command I will do it."  When Peter obeys the Lord, he experiences the "hundredfold."  Whenever we act in the obedience of Faith to Christ, he does more with us than we think possible.  In the face of this, Peter recognizes his smallness, his unfitness for such gratuity, his sinfulness.  "Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!"  But then the Lord tells Peter, "Do not be afraid.  I will make you more."  And Peter leaves everything to follow Christ.

Peter's life is defined and shaped by this call.  How often in his life Peter must have recalled the incident.  His friends and companions must have heard it countless times. "Oh no, he's going to tell the story about the nets again."  For all of us, our vocation began with a call from Christ.  But, we can sometimes live our life detached from this call.  We live as though that were simply a matter in time.  But it is so much more than that.  To live our vocation, we must live with profound attachment to that initial encounter where Christ called us.

When we live our life detached from that calling, our life lacks consistency.  It lacks any unifying principle.  Our life devolves into moralism.  We have "trying to be chaste" over here and "being prayerful" over there, and "being obedient" over here.  But nothing holds our life together.  But, when we live the memory of our call from Christ--when everything is lived from this call--then our life is given consistency.  When we do not live in the present the memory of this call, we live as though God were shouting down instructions from heaven.  

How do we live the memory of this call in the present moment?  Through the life of prayer.  Each day, when we enter into the life of prayer, we recall with profound gratitude that Christ has entered into our boat.  His has stepped from the shores of heaven into the boat of our life.  He has entered into my experience.  And into my experience, he has spoken his word.  A Word that moves me.  A Word that draws me into the deep of the Trinitarian life.  A Word that gives my life depth and abundance.  In obedience to this Word, I experience the hundredfold.  Whenever we encounter this experience, like Peter, we are overwhelmed by God's love. We feel intensely our own weakness and sinfulness.  "Depart from me Lord.  This love is too much for me!  I am a sinful man." But, the Lord does not abandon us.  Instead, he asks us to go deeper.  He invites us to sacrifice something more.  He leads us away from our selfishness and sin and leads us towards a life filled with greater abundance.  He invites us to leave behind our nets.  Yes, daily in the life of prayer the memory of this call is awakened within us and we live again the newness of the call of Christ.

It is interesting that the question about our call most often comes from lay people.  To our shame, priests rarely inquire of one another about their call.  And yet, this call is at the very heart of our life.  Today, the Gospel reminds us of the centrality of this call.  It invites us to stand daily vigil by this call and to live the memory of this call.

As we now approach God's holy Altar, we see this mystery most perfectly fulfilled.  We see that God has stepped from Heaven and entered into our experience.  In the Eucharist, Christ who calls us does so from "the inside."  He enters into us.  He enters into our boat.  In the Eucharist, we receive into our boat the One who calls us.  The one who calls us enters into our souls and he calls us from the inside.  And more than this, not only does he enter into us and call us, but he accomplishes within us what he calls us to be. He calls us to share in the image of the Divine Shepherd and through the reception of the Eucharist, he brings the image of the Divine Shepherd to perfection within us.

No comments:

Post a Comment