Considering our vocations

When we were children, our mother was not content with having us pray the ordinary grace before meals. No, at grace time, as well as in prayers before bed, there was a litany of sorts in which we remembered family and friends, and always ended with the simple prayer, "Please, God, help me to know my vocation and have the grace and strength to follow it." Mom was a firm believer that everyone had a vocation, a call to serve God with their best talents and deepest desires. Her vocation was to be a wife and mother; Dad's, a husband, father and dedicated physician; and so on down the line.

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Second Sunday in
Ordinary Time
1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19
Psalm 40
1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20
John 1:35-42

That prayer permeated our consciousness such that, for us, "what I want to be when I grow up" was inevitably a question of vocation, not just a career. I think Mom played a role like that of Eli in our first reading today (1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19), directing us to pay attention, not to her or society's expectations, but to the voice of God, which would become clear if we listened.

Samuel served in the temple under Eli's care. By the third time his sleep was disturbed, Eli realized that God was calling, and, like the parent who frees a child to seek their own destiny, Eli told him to listen. Listening became Samuel's way of life.

Samuel's call and response provide a wonderful complement to our Gospel reading (John 1:35-42). John is depicted as knowing himself as the forerunner, the one who would fulfill his prophetic vocation by pointing others toward God's activity in their midst. So he told his disciples to look and see what was before them, thereby freeing and even sending them to follow Jesus. And, like Eli in Samuel's story, John's role begins to diminish from that moment on.

Next, we hear the first words Jesus speaks in this Gospel: "What do you seek?" That is ultimately the most important question in anyone's life. Whether or not we clearly articulate our response, everything we do reveals our answer to it.

As the Gospel presents it, Andrew and his companion begin to respond by calling Jesus "Rabbi," allowing that one word to signal their desire to learn from him. They then ask a profoundly theological question: "Where do you abide?"

It was impossible for Jesus to respond to that question with an address or geography. At that moment, the answer they needed was, "Come and see." Only after they spent three years with him could Jesus answer more fully.

At the Last Supper, reminding them that following him is a matter of the heart and soul as much as the feet, ears and eyes, he said, "Abide in my love ... just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love" (John 15:9-10). The real answer to that first question is that his abode was in them.

As we begin the season of Ordinary Time, these readings invite us to refocus, to take stock of what we most desire and how we are going after it. The vocation to "come and see," to remain with, to abide in Christ belongs to all of us, each in our own particular way.

Pope Francis has called for 2015 to be a year focusing on "consecrated life," Catholicism's ancient and ongoing practice of encouraging and supporting some members of the church to dedicate themselves exclusively to God and spreading the Gospel through the "religious" or "consecrated" life.

As Sandra Schneiders explained in her book New Wineskins, some Christians experience a call to make the religious dimension of their life uniquely important and central -- so much so, that no other life commitment is possible for them. Theirs is not a common vocation, nor does it have more or less worth than any other. It is one valuable vocation in the church, and one that Pope Francis is inviting us to think more about throughout this year.

Perhaps this goes back to Eli and my mom. In this Year of Consecrated Life, the whole church is invited to consider God's call to each and every person. In addition, during this year we are invited to think again, to appreciate anew, the vocation of men and women religious in the church. Following the example of Eli and John the Baptist, we are all called to point others toward their Christian vocation. A few, like Samuel, Andrew, Peter and other women and men who followed Jesus, are called to live the unique vocation to consecrated life.

No matter what our call is, I believe Mom's prayer is important for all of us: "Dear God, Please help me to know my vocation and have the grace and strength to follow it." I would only add "all the days of my life."

[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA.]

This story appeared in the Jan 2-15, 2015 print issue under the headline: Considering our vocations .

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