Having celebrated the Baptism of the Lord last Sunday and the feast of the Epiphany the Sunday before, the Church now sets off into the still fresh new year with a series of what could be termed “call narratives.” Today we hear Samuel and Peter being called to their respective ministries in the service of the Lord. Next week we will listen to the prophet Jonah calling the people to repentance—and then being startled when they obey him! After that Moses will send forth the people of Israel from their desert wanderings into the promised land, calling them to a new phase of life without his accompaniment, as he goes to his grave in peace.
This is an ideal time to reflect on the call which each one of us received in the waters of baptism and by which we identify ourselves as Christians and Catholics. Now more than ever, as religious faith recedes from the public square and as the very idea of religious faith is increasingly challenged, taking ownership of our faith and consciously deepening and practicing it are critically important.
In previous generations, when religious faith was part of the fabric of our national culture, Christians could get by as members of a congregation without taking personal responsibility for their faith since they blended into the background of many others. That was not good for many reasons, one of which is because it muted the need to be accountable before the Lord and others for the faith and salvation we have received and which we are called to freely share.
We need to do the opposite and welcome the calling we have received, faithfully putting it into action. To do this we can take a few lessons from the biblical figures of Samuel and Peter, both of whom encountered difficulty in responding to their respective vocations, yet both of whom eventually succeeded in answering their callings.
Looking first at Samuel, we see that while he did not understand his calling at first he pursued it diligently, even though the elderly Eli, who was supposed to be his mentor and guide, thought Samuel was imagining things. Samuel gives us the courage to endure the misunderstanding of others, even close friends and family members, when we stand firm in our convictions about God, about Jesus, and about the way of life that disciples of Jesus must follow.
Turning to Peter, we find that he was enthusiastic and zealous for the Lord but misunderstood what being a disciple of Jesus meant—certainly not worldly glory—and he was easily frightened. Although Peter denied knowing Jesus at the time of our Lord’s passion (see John 18:15-27) he later became a model of the humble reception of forgiveness and renewal that we all need as we follow our baptismal callings.
What lessons can we draw from the scriptures today? We should learn to take seriously our own call to be a Christian, begun in the waters of baptism and nourished through the sacraments and our Christian lives. In doing so, we must realize that things are not like they used to be: a more conscious effort will be required for believers in the Lord to worship and serve together as the living Temple of the Holy Spirit and Body of Christ, as Saint Paul reminds us today (1 Cor 6:13-20).
As we respond to the call from the Lord to “come and see” we should remember that in every age, no matter the obstacles, Christians are always accompanied by God’s grace which enables us to answer the voice calling to us from the depths of our hearts, and then to share that call as we “go and make disciples of all the nations” (John 1:39; Matt 28:19).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Image: The Call of Samuel, Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1776