Second Sunday of Ordinary Time: Speak Lord, Your Servant is Listening

1/21/06: Once again, it’s been tooooo long since I’ve posted, so I’m posting this one a bit late, and it’s the homily I preached on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 14-15. It reflects on the readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, but also reflects on vocations since it was the end of National Vocations Week. Warning: Reading this blog entry does expose you to my vocation story. Remember… you’ve been warned.

I haven’t made any New Years resolutions yet, at least not formally. But after living with these readings for the last week, I think I know what mine will be. I’d like to start every day with Samuel’s prayer in today’s first reading: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Then of course, I’ll have to listen; and I don’t know how it is for you, but I know that, for me, more listening in my prayer might be a good thing.

Because it’s easy, isn’t it, to say all kinds of things to God in prayer. We have no problem telling him our needs, praising him, even giving thanks. And all those things are good, of course, but we’re supposed to listen too. And that can be the hard part in today’s noisy world. Our world has lots of ways to speak to us: television, radio, cell phones, text messaging, email and the list goes on. We’re a culture that likes to say a lot of stuff and make a lot of noise. But for prayer to really work, there has to be silence, we have to listen. So we might do well to pray the way Samuel did: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

To say that in our prayer shows a strong openness to God’s will. The implication of saying “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” is that, as God’s servants, we will do what he asks of us. Samuel did that, we know, because the end of the reading tells us that he grew up and the LORD was with him. Andrew, Peter, and the other disciple had that kind of openness in the Gospel reading, since they were willing to drop everything and respond to Jesus’ invitation: “Come, and you will see.”

Jesus says that same thing to us today, and every day: “Come, and you will see.” Do we want to see what Jesus is doing in the world today? Do we want a world of justice and peace? Do we long for a prayer life that guides us through life and sees us through good times and bad? If so, “come, and you will see.” Having that openness to God’s will is a way of life that Jesus offers to all of us.

This is Vocations Awareness Week, and today’s readings really speak to us about our vocation to follow Christ. As baptized People of God, we all have a vocation to follow Christ in whatever way God has led us. Some of us live our vocation in marriage and as parents, others live it as single people serving Christ in the world, and others live it as priests, deacons, and religious men and women. God has something specific for each of us to do, and we will see what it is if we open the door and say “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

Five years ago on the occasion of Vocation Awareness Week, I was co-directing the contemporary choir at St. Petronille. At the homily time, I sat in a pew next to my mother, who happened to come to that Mass. During the homily, one of our parishioners who was a seminarian gave his talk about Vocations. And my mother, in her not-so-subtle fashion, elbowed me in the side and said “you should listen to this.” Well, I said something like “not gonna happen” … I had long since put the idea of a religious vocation aside, having looked at the possibility not once, but twice, and both times feeling that I was not in fact being called to a priestly or religious vocation.

In fact, in college, I had received a degree in religious studies with a minor in philosophy, and the diocese was ready to send me to seminary as soon as I graduated. But at the time, I felt that I needed to do some work, and so I did that, working as a youth minister at St. Petronille. After that, I worked in the business world for about ten years. At one point, I spent some time with the Benedictines at St. Procopius Abbey, and eventually found I wasn’t being called to that either.

So when I heard the seminarian’s talk that year, I was very happy with my life. I had a good job, and worked mostly with people that I liked. I had good friends and a wonderful family. I had some ministries in the Church, including the choir, that came out of my spiritual life. My prayer life was good. I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing and I was happy about that.

But sometime later, my prayer life became stale, as prayer lives will do on occasion. So I prayed about that, and realized that God was trying to move me in a new direction. Of course, I had no idea what that direction was, so just before Lent, I prayed that God would give me a big challenge. And I remember saying to God, “I don’t care what it is, just help me to know what it is and I’ll do it.” In some ways, this was my way of saying “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

And here’s a little spiritual hint. If you pray a prayer like that, God will answer it, so make sure you’re prepared. I wasn’t, but don’t let that happen to you!

I continued to pray about it during Lent, and eventually started to consider going back to school. That’s an idea I had toyed with a lot over the previous few years, but could never decide if I should go and get a computer-related degree, which interested me, or a church-related degree. As I looked into it, I became aware that God was calling me to go to seminary. I remember protesting in prayer that going to seminary wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I also remember God saying “you said you’d do anything.” And so, several months later, I was at Mundelein Seminary for the first of five years of priestly formation there.

During my time at Mundelein, I have grown in my vocation, and God has continued to encourage me to “Come and you will see.” In addition to receiving a wonderful education, I have also had the opportunity to minister in a nursing home, at a parish for a six month internship, as a hospital chaplain and as a fire chaplain. I’ve discovered that God calls me to do all sorts of things that I never thought I could do or would want to do, and those experiences have been great.

That’s my story, and every one of us has a story about how God is calling us to live our vocation. You may not know what it is yet. Some people know what they are called to do right away. Others, like me, take some time to figure that out. There is no one, right, way to follow Christ. But it always starts out with “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

If you feel like you have been called to a priestly or religious vocation, I’d be glad to talk with you about that. Our diocese has a good number of seminarians, but not enough to serve our Church well in the future. This year, in fact, I will be the only one ordained to the priesthood, and there’s a need for many more than one new priest in a diocese that is growing every day.

I would like to ask all of you to do three things. First, if you know someone who you think would make a good priest or religious man or woman, tell them. I know that’s a risk and it’s hard to do, but they aren’t going to be offended by it. And I pray that all parents would encourage their children to consider priestly or religious vocations and support them if that’s what they choose to do. When we encourage people to consider that kind of vocation, they may or may not respond right away, but even if they don’t, you’ve planted a seed that God can water and care for.

Second, open yourself up to live your own vocation – whatever it is – well. When we all live our vocations well, following Christ with open hearts, we create a community where jobs are not just jobs, and relationships are not just give and take, but where all of life is an opportunity to live fully and freely as followers of Christ. That kind of community will generate the people we need to serve the Church as priests and religious.

And finally, pray for vocations. Pray for all vocations. Pray that married people would be models of Christian love for everyone. Pray that parents may have the strength they need to raise their children in a challenging world. Pray that men would be open to priestly vocations. Pray that men and women would follow Christ in the religious life. Pray that priests would be strong disciples that lead people to Christ. Pray that we would all be a community open to God’s will and to following Christ in the way we have been called. Pray because prayer is effective and transforming and prayer works.

This new year, let us all resolve to begin every day and all of our prayer with the words of Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”