Homilies

Responding to God’s Call

[Readings: Ezekiel 6:1-2a, 3-8; I Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11]

Fr. Michael Reding

The 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C, February 7, 2016

You might say that Simon had it easy when it came to his calling… his vocation. I mean: he had the flesh-and-blood Incarnation of God himself standing in front of him, speaking with him audibly and saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men [and women… And so] they left everything and followed him.”

Saint Paul, whom we hear from in our second reading today, has no doubt about his calling as an apostle. Jesus appeared to him as well, although, in his case, it probably wasn’t the flesh-and-blood incarnate person of Jesus Christ. It was more likely some kind of… of vision – some sort of voice – that couldn’t be seen or heard by those who were with him – some sort of mystical experience – but absolutely and unquestionably real… for Paul, whose life was changed forever after hearing that call on the road to Damascus…

And Isaiah, in our first reading, also has some sort of mystical experience. If somebody reported this vision nowadays, we might ask what he’d been smoking. But Isaiah, too, is utterly certain that God has called him – God has given him a vocation – and he’s prepared to answer that call…

I believe that God has a vocation for each one of us. Some of us hear it; some of us don’t. Some of us respond; some of us don’t. This weekend, I thought I’d share my own vocation story with you. It seems like people enjoy hearing this stuff, and I think there might be some lessons in here for all of us…

When I graduated high school in 1982, I felt that my vocation was business. Not that I would have used that term. If someone had asked me, I simply would have said, “I’m going to go into business because I can make a lot of money there.” After all, Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Dallas and Dynasty were on TV, and the clarion call for all young men was “Go out and make your fortune.”

I went to college expecting to go on to business. I started with a major in economics and an area concentration in business. I was blessed, however, with an advisor who encouraged me to follow my bliss… “What do you really enjoy studying; what’s your passion?” he wanted to know… “Well, political science and religion,” I said, “but what am going to do with those?” Education is supposed to be practical. “Don’t worry about it,” he assured me. “Follow your passion.”

And so I did. I graduated in four years with a major in political science and a minor in religion, but still determined to make my fortune and gain prestige in business.

I spent six years in business: three years with a small rubber company doing mostly sales and marketing but also a bit of research-and-development, a bit of investor relations and government relations. I traveled all across the country and a little bit abroad.

Around the time that that company was beginning to fail, I was giving a paper at a plastics conference out in Washington, DC. I met some people who owned a large scrap metal trading company. They persuaded me to come to work for them… I moved to Des Moines for a year and then came back to the Twin Cities to their St. Paul operation as a buyer and a broker.

I made good money in those years. I found that I could indeed make my fortune in business. But it wasn’t where I found satisfaction… I watched some of my colleagues exhibit real joy – real fulfillment – in doin’ the deal – saving two cents on freight and thereby increasing our margin by five percent… I didn’t get the same buzz that they seemed to get…

I became more deeply involved with church in those years, participating in RCIA and a young adults group and Cursillo. My prayer life deepened significantly. Each morning I’d spend about twenty minutes in prayer, reading Scripture, reading a short reflection, and then spending time in quiet meditation.

And one morning, as I was sitting in silence, I heard a voice say, “It’s time for you to be a priest.” Not “You should be a priest,” or “I want you to be a priest,” but rather, “It’s time for you to be a priest.” As if this had been the plan from the beginning, and the moment had finally arrived.

I responded back with a question: “When?” and it was met with a response: “Fall of ’92.” Now, this was before I had… rationally put together the fact that: if you’re going to do this, you have to go to school, and school starts in the fall. The calling was clear. God had blessed me with something (perhaps) like Isaiah and Paul had experienced.

And at that moment, I could look back over my life and see all sorts of things that had prepared the way: things that people had said, choices that I’d made, circumstances in which I’d found myself… Prior to that moment, I’d never understood them as leading to a vocation to the priesthood; I’d never even considered it. After that moment, it all seemed obvious… and totally right.

I met with Father Mike Joncas and Father Greg Welch, two priests whom I admired at that time, and they helped to confirm the call. I entered the seminary in the fall of ’92, and I was ordained a priest in May of 1997.

All these years, there’ve been times – moments along the way – when I’ve been… unhappy or disappointed in some particular circumstance, but I’ve never regretted the decision to answer that call. The fundamental vocation is absolutely right… for me. I’m more satisfied than I ever was in business…

Having had that experience, I always hope that other people will enjoy the same: a sense of certainty that what they’re doing is a response to God’s call for them. And over the years, I’ve seen lots of people for whom that’s true: priests and deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and lay ministers in the church.

I’ve seen it with teachers and counselors. I’ve seen it with doctors and nurses and therapists. I’ve seen it with lawyers and accountants (yes, even accountants!). I’ve seen it with stock brokers and commodities traders. I’ve seen it with financial advisors and systems analysts. I’ve seen it with computer programmers and graphic artists. I’ve seen it with musicians and actors. I’ve seen it with cooks and truck drivers and plumbers and electricians. I’ve seen it with carpenters and furniture-builders, hotel managers, and sales people…

I’ve seen it with folks who are fulfilling their vocation not by the professional work that they do, but by the relationships they nurture: married couples, single people, biological parents, adoptive parents, foster-parents, grandparents, celibates, people caring for a sick relative, a lover, or a friend…

I’ve seen it with people who are fulfilling their vocation not by their professional work or their personal relationships… but by their volunteer commitments: as a Little League coach or a scout master, a tutor for immigrants learning English, a faith formation teacher, a choir member, a Eucharistic minister, a lector, an usher, a worker at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen, the coordinator of a charity ball or a fundraiser, serving on a board of directors or advisors. I’ve watched people who light up when they engage in these activities that are more satisfying for them than the work that pays their bills…

I’ve watched people who felt powerfully called to a certain vocation… only to have that call thwarted. Women or married people who’ve felt called to the priesthood. A friend who was driven out of the military because he’s gay. A college roommate who wanted desperately to be a doctor but didn’t get into medical school. A couple who yearned for children of their own but found that they couldn’t conceive. A woman who was certain that she should be married but never found the right partner. These situations… are painful to behold.

And finally, I’ve seen people – lots of people – who’ve never properly discerned God’s calling in their life. They do their job each day. They come home to a family. Maybe they even have some association outside of work and home, but none of these seem to be their vocation – none of them gives them a sense of responding to God’s call or fulfilling his mission in the world. These too, are sad to see, because I know how satisfying life can be when we know that we’re doing God’s will…

Frederick Buechner, the theologian, once said that “Vocation is where your deepest desire meets the world’s greatest need… Vocation is where your deepest desire meets the world’s greatest need.”

…There are few things more satisfying than that. I pray that each one of us will be open to hearing that call – that we’ll make room in the silence of our prayer, that we’ll listen to the voices around us – in Scripture, in trusted mentors and teachers, in counselors and ministers – that we’ll allow ourselves to hear God’s call, and that we’ll have the courage of Peter and Paul and Isaiah – the courage to say yes… and to know… life’s greatest fulfillment.