Readings: 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20; John 1:35-42
The return to Ordinary Time offers us an opportunity to get back to the basics of the Christian journey – in this case, the fundamental task of listening for God’s voice in our lives. After all the changes in the liturgy, I suspect it will also be a relief that 80% of U.S. congregations will sing “Here I Am, Lord” this week!
Arguably, the most distinctive characteristic of Christianity as a religion is the notion of God’s call. This entails certain other beliefs – most notably, that God speaks to us and is not absent from our lives, and that God’s speech is not merely a set of announcement, but always moves us to participation in God’s mission. As Pope Benedict has noted throughout his writings, early Christian thinkers were deeply influenced by Greek philosophy, but what they never forgot was that the god of the philosophers did not CALL people. St. Augustine, often criticized for his “neo-Platonism,” nevertheless offers us perhaps the most famous description of a life saturated by following (and not following!) God’s call.
What do this week’s readings tell us about this call? Two things are readily apparent in the responses. First, Samuel is told by Eli to reply, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God’s call is not automatically heard. God does not force us to reply. I do not routinely call on students in the classroom. Rather, I seek their active responses. God also seeks for us to show that we want to listen. The act of listening is ever more challenging in our noisy and distracting age. Samuel points us to our need to be an active listener in hearing God’s full call. Second, the disciples respond to Jesus’ question by asking another question, “Where are you staying?” Robert Barron, in his beautiful The Strangest Way, makes this exchange one of his lead stories, explaining to us that the notion of “staying” involves making our home in Christ, becoming comfortable and familiar with His surroundings and His vision. When we listen to another person, we do not simply cross-examine them with informational data. We discover things about them by “staying” with them.
In reflecting on God’s call, we could do worse that let our imaginations be formed by the TV series, Joan of Arcadia. In that series, each episode revolves around Joan’s encounter with God, who (in good biblical fashion) always asks her to do something. What is particularly striking (and again, theologically accurate) is that Joan usually cannot understand why God is calling her to do the particular task. Yet, as the series progresses, she grows and develops in her ability to listen, despite the barriers. While fanciful in some ways, Joan’s ordinariness as a high-schooler who unexpectedly encounters God and learns to listen is instructive. At one point in the series, it is asked why God has chosen to call Joan – and the reply is, “She’s open.” Joan hasn’t made many determinations about what SHE wants her life to be about. And so she can be listening and ready to respond. May the same be said about us.