In the first reading today Samuel is aware of being called, though as a young child, as yet not informed regarding life or the ways of God, he does not know who is calling him—he thought it was Eli, the elderly priest of Shiloh. In the gospel, John the Baptist’s disciples literally see Jesus and know that he is the one who is calling them, but a discovery awaits them as well.
For those raised in the Christian faith the experience of Samuel is a unique one that we have access to only through the pages of the Bible—it is a prophetic calling. Taught from our earliest days about God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ, we “see him” in the gospel and encounter him in the sacramental practice of the Church. Although the one who calls us is thus “known” to us, there is still a process of discovery that must take place, as indicated by the two questions we hear in the gospel, one of which comes from Jesus: “What are you looking for?” and the other is spoken by Andrew and John, who were followers till that time of John the Baptist: “Where do you stay?”
The fact that the disciples of the Baptist respond to Jesus’ question with another question shows that it was as hard a demand to answer in their day as it is in ours. When asked “What are you looking for?” one might say, “I am looking for God”, and be perfectly honest. More often in our contemporary society people are likely to say, “I am looking for happiness”, or “I am looking for peace”, or “I am looking for meaning”, or “I am looking for love”. These things can and should be sought by all people, both Christians and non-Christian religious believers, and even non-believers alike, yet the ironic beauty of our faith is that even if one does not believe in Christ—even if one “sees” Jesus and does not at first follow him—if that person perseveres in seeking happiness, meaning, and love honestly, then he or she will ultimately arrive at their goal and find what they are seeking in him, and in his self-giving love.
This beautiful discovery, however, often requires a long journey; that is the “Where are you staying?” part of life. It can begin, as already said, with careful catechesis in the Catholic faith and an upbringing in a loving and supportive home. It can also begin, and today it often does begin, with little or no instruction in the faith, and little mention or practice of Catholic faith or culture in the home.
Whatever the case may be concerning the start of this search, the journey is hastened along its way by Jesus’ invitation “Come, and you will see”. That invitation does not take us to any single place of course, but rather leads us through the travails and joys and the moments of pain and healing that mark every human life, and it reminds us along the way that he freely chose to experience all those things along with us, for the sake of our salvation. Taking this devotion to the point of enduring an unjust death showed the depth of Jesus’ love, a love which often is misunderstood by many in the world because it is not self-serving but self-sacrificing.
Precisely that self-sacrificing love is what can eventually lead to Christ those who may have turned away from him at his first calling, for in every human heart there is a desire to love and to be loved. As Samuel finally recognized the voice of the one who called him, may we not just see, but come to recognize and embrace him who calls us, on account of his self-giving love, since in the end, for every person “love alone is believable”.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.