'Come after me' — The challenge to respond to the Lord's call
In place of writing "my own" piece for this week's Voice, I'd like to share with you one of the best articles I've ever seen on the subject of vocations. It's by Father John Jay Hughes of St. Louis, a popular historian, writer and preacher. Enjoy.
— Most. Rev. Michael C. Barber, SJ
A cardinal was visiting a community of Carmelite nuns in Italy. After celebrating Mass for them, he asked the Mother Superior if he could see how they lived. Carmelite nuns are enclosed. They don't leave the cloister. And visitors talk to them through a grille. The cardinal's request violated their rule. But when a cardinal asks, you don't say "No." So the Prioress asked one of the nuns to show him round.
They visited the refectory, where the nuns sit on wooden benches without backs to eat their simple meals off bare wooden tables. The cardinal saw one of the cells where they sleep: a small room furnished with a narrow bed, a table to serve as a desk and a hard wooden chair; a single light bulb overhead and a gooseneck lamp on the table. Instead of a basin with running water there was a large washbowl on a stand, and on the floor next to it a large crockery jug. The nun explained that water was brought from the bathroom down the hall.
At the end of the short tour the nun led the cardinal up a narrow stairway to the flat terraced roof above, furnished with hard benches and a railing all round. "On feast days like Easter and Pentecost," she explained, "we can come up here, if the weather is fine, for our recreation period." The view was beautiful. Across a valley they could see a magnificent villa surrounded by formal gardens and several fountains. It was summer. A gardener was cutting one of the hedges. Children were frolicking in the swimming pool. A couple was playing tennis on one of the two courts.
The cardinal turned to the nun who was showing him round.
"How long have you been here in Carmel, Sister?" he asked her.
"I entered 20 years ago next Easter," she responded.
"Sister," he said, "if the young man of that house had asked you 21 years ago to come and live there with him there as his wife, do you think you would be here today?"
"Your Eminence," she replied. "That was my house."
Why? Why would a young woman give up all that luxury and all that beauty? I think if we could have asked her, or hundreds like her round the world, she would have said something like this: "I wanted to be with Jesus."
The Gospel tells of a similar sacrifice by two pairs of brothers: Simon and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John. They were fishermen. Yet at Jesus' call, the Gospel tells us, they immediately left their nets and boat to follow him. Their nets and boat were their livelihood, their security. They were burning their bridges behind them. Why? If we could have asked them, I think they might have said something like this: "You would have to have known this man Jesus. There was something about him that made it impossible to say No."
Somewhere right now there is a young woman whom God is calling to be a religious Sister. Somewhere there is a young man who God wants to be a priest. Let me speak very personally to you.
Listen to the call
Jesus is offering you something he offers to only a few, something precious beyond words. He is offering you a life that will sometimes be hard, but which will be filled with meaning and filled above all with joy. How do I know that? Because 68 years ago Jesus made that offer to me. He called me when I was just 12 years old by placing in my heart and mind the desire to be a priest. Since then I have never wanted anything else. Thirteen years later I fulfilled that desire. That was almost 54 years ago. And I've never regretted it, not one single day. And so I say to you, whoever you may be, whatever your age, whatever your circumstances: When Jesus calls you, go for it!
And one day you too will be able to say what I say to you right now: What a wonderful life! I have experienced already here on earth a little bit of heaven. Is God's call just for religious professionals, priests and nuns? Don't you believe it! While you were still in your mother's womb, God already had a plan for your life.
He calls each one of us, as he called those four rough fishermen in today's Gospel. He calls us to walk with him, to be so full of his love that others will see the joy on our faces and want what we have. Christianity, it has been said, cannot be taught. It must be caught.
"I could never do that," you're thinking? You're wrong. Here is a list of some of the great people in the Bible. Every one of them had a reason for thinking God could not use them. So the next time you feel like God can't use you, remember:
Noah was a drunk. Abraham was too old. Isaac was a daydreamer. Jacob was a liar. Leah was ugly. Joseph was abused by his brothers. Moses had a stuttering problem. Gideon was afraid. Sampson had long hair and was a womanizer. Rahab was a prostitute. Jeremiah and Timothy thought they were too young. David had an affair and was a murderer. Elijah was suicidal. Isaiah thought himself unworthy. Jonah ran away from God's call. Naomi was a widow. Job went bankrupt. Martha was a perpetual worrier. The Samaritan woman was five times divorced. Zaccheus was too small. Peter denied Christ. The disciples fell asleep while praying. At Jesus' arrest, they all forsook him and fled. Paul was too religious. Timothy had an ulcer. And Lazarus was dead!
So what's your excuse? Whatever it may be, God can still use you to your full potential. Besides, you aren't the message. You're only the messenger.
When you were born, you were crying, and everyone around you was smiling. Start today (if you haven't started already) living your life so that when you die, you're the only one smiling, and everyone around you is crying.
(Father John Jay Hughes wrote this blog in 2008 to accompany his audio course, "A Journey Through the Parables," produced by Now You Know Media Inc., www.nowyouknowmedia.com.)
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