This is rather funny! Once upon a time when the white missionaries where numerous in Africa, a young a boy who was aspiring to be a priest went to stay with an elderly white priest to understudy him. The boy in question was so passionate about the priesthood that he not only wanted to be a priest but also a saintly one. He was always found in the Church praying by himself. There were two other boys who were also staying with the priest with the same desire to become priests. However, these two were not as committed and prayerful as the young boy in question and they detested his “holiness” attitude which made them look like sinners.
One day, the two boys came up with a plan against our holy boy. They monitored the time he would go to the church and before he could get there, they sneaked into the church and hid under the alter. The boy came as usual to pray before the alter and before he finished he heard a voice calling him and asking him questions in this manner: “John! John!! John!!! Do you want to be a priest?” The boy answered: “Yes my Lord!” And the voice told him “Go and fast for one day”! The boy was so happy that God called him and has even assured him of the priesthood if he should fast. So the whole day he fasted while the other two boys enjoyed his food.
The next day he went to pray like previously and he was asked to fast for one day. As this continued, he was getting weaker and sickly. One day he came and the voice asked him like before: “John! John!! John!!! Do you want to be a priest?” The boy answered: “Not yet my Lord I will think about it!” It was at this point that the two boys emerged from their hiding and had a good laugh at the young boy!
To call means to announce or speak with a loud voice. It further refers to requesting or asking for the presence of someone or something. In a more active sense it means to bring forth something or somebody into some place or out of a given place. For instance, God called things into existence during creation: “let there be light” and there was light (Gen.1:2). And as St. Peter would say he called us out of darkness into his marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9).
The entire Bible is filled with many instances of God’s call or if you like divine vocation and possible human response. God called Adam and Eve into existence (Gen. 1:27). God called Abraham out of his father’s house and his people (Gen.12:1-4). God called Moses from the land of Midian (Ex.3:4ff). God called Gideon (Judges 6: 11ff). Isaiah was called by God (Is.6:1ff), Jeremiah was called by God (1:4-10); as well as Ezekiel (2:1-4) and indeed all the prophets. In the New Testament, the mission of John the Baptist was based on God’s call which began even before his birth when God spoke to his father Zachariah (Luke 1:8-20). Our Lord Jesus Christ personally called people to himself and named them apostles (Matt. 10:1-4).
Today in the First Reading (1 Sam.3:3b-10.19), we read the story of the call of Samuel. The call of Samuel is saturated with a lot of lessons that will help us to understand fully what it means to be called by God and how we can response to God’s call. Samuel was at the service of Eli the priest at Shiloh. His presence in Shiloh was a fulfillment of his mother’s promise to God that if God blesses her she would return the child to God. It is important to note that when she fulfilled the promise, God blessed her again with three other sons and two daughters (1 Sam.2:21). This is unlike most of us who even forget our promises to God talk less of fulfilling them.
Samuel was called by God one fateful night. It is important to note that he was called while he was lying down in the temple where the ark of God was. The place is equivalent to our present day sanctuary. It could be said that Samuel was in the right location and that was why God could call him in the first place. Eli had two sons who were in the line of taking over the priestly work from their father but they were nowhere near the holy place. The one who is closer to God is the one who will hear when He comes calling. For three consecutive times God called him and he answered but went to Eli. It was on the fourth call that he answered: “speak Lord your servant is listening”; just as Eli directed him.
From the episode, we discover that God was patient with Samuel for him to discover who was actually calling him. He continued to call him until he answered accordingly. God does not give up on us even when we do not pay attention to his call or when we get distracted; He keeps calling us! Samuel showed himself a very dependable servant as he ran to his master all the time he heard the call. And when he was given instruction, he carried it out showing that he was teachable and leadable. This will serve as a big lesson to anyone who is under some authority. St. Paul was attentive to this when he encouraged us to be attentive to human authorities since all authorities come from God (Romans 13:1).
The call of Samuel offers us a good opportunity to reflect on the claim by many today of being called by God. All over the world there are numerous ministers and ministries springing up daily. One common denominator among all is the insistence of being called by God. Though this claim may not be easily verified but we also know that by their fruits you shall know them (Matt.7:16). The obvious thing is that some people have ended up calling themselves into various ministries in the name of God. Often this is motivated by the desire to acquire wealth or lack of employment. It is dangerous to go when you are not in any way called!
In the Second Reading (I Cor. 6:13c-15a.17-20) St. Paul presents us with another type of call this time around: ‘THE CALL TO HOLINESS”. This suggests also the call out of sinfulness. Here the body is presented as the centre of moral and spiritual encounter. St. Paul here explains to us that we don’t own our body though it is with us. In fact he calls it member of Christ as well as the temple of the Holy Spirit. On the strength of these designations, St. Paul instructs that all forms of immorality are destructive to the body. The call to holiness here therefore entails keeping the body free from defilement that comes from immorality.
It is easy to assume that St. Paul was referring only to sexual immorality in the Second Reading but that is not exact. Apart from sexual immorality which has taken a very destructive dimension in our world today, there are other forms of immorality that affect the body. It could rightly be said that anything we do with our bodies that does not glorify God is immoral. There are many people who feel that God should have given them fairer skins instead of darker skins and they consciously change the colour of their skins. Some other people feel that they should be like people from another race hence they consciously fix various outrageous things to look like them. What about piercings, tattoos, and other forms of bodily mutilations? Our body belong to God and anything that we do with the body must be respectful to its creator.
The call to “HOLINESS” is at the same time a call to “WHOLENESS”. To be Holy one needs to be WHOLE; that means nothing should be lacking in any area of one’s life. We all are called to be holy as Peter pointed out when he enjoined his audience to be holy as He who called us is holy (1 Pet. 1:15). The call to be holy is therefore not optional. Just as Samuel had to answer God we all are required and obligated to answer the call to holiness. There are indeed grave consequences involved if we fail to respond to the call.
Furthermore, the call to holiness does not just mean kneeling before the altar every day and night and going without food like the young boy in our story. Holiness does not mean spending a night in the church it rather entails spending our time with God; loving Him and our neighbour which is the greatest instruction given to us (Luke 10:27).
In the Gospel Reading (John 1:35-42) we encounter another form of call; the CALL TO SERVICE. John the Baptist facilitated this as he pointed out the Lamb of God to two of his disciples and immediately they followed the Lord. It was from this encounter that Peter was also called to become a follower of Christ the messiah. From this episode we discover that God can call us through people and events surrounding us. It must not necessarily take the shape of the call of Samuel in the temple. There is what we can call chain-of-call. From the call of John the Baptist through his birth emanating from his father’s encounter at the temple, he had disciples whom he introduced to Jesus Christ and they also introduced others. Ultimately, they were all CALLED TO SERVICE.
Our Christian vocation is ultimately based on SERVICE to God and humanity. When Andrew and the other disciple followed our Lord they were not going for an endless funfair or just to see where he lives. They rather entered into a life-time mission to serve. Our baptism is the first and most significant call by God to us. It calls us from death into life, from darkness into light. By virtue of our baptism our Christian life is inaugurated as well as our membership as Christians and children of God.
We launch into the ordinary time of the year with the firm attention to the fact that we are called by God first as his creatures. We are also called to know Him, to love and to serve Him. We are further called to live the life of Holiness which entails wholeness in all ramifications. Finally we are called to be finally with God at the expiration of our lives on earth. May God give us the grace to continue to answer whenever He calls us.
Have a glorious Sunday and a beautiful week ahead.