Sunday, January 18, 2015

Vocation: the Call of God

The Scriptures the liturgy proposes to us today focus on the call of God. There is the boy, Samuel, whom God calls but who does not recognize at first that it is indeed God. There is the experience of Andrew and John as John the Baptist points out Jesus to them, and they go after Him. There is the teaching from St. Paul about how to honor God with our bodies and our deepest selves.

When I heard all of this today, I was reminded of what we read in our family devotion last night from Oswald Chambers. It was such a clear exposition of the Catholic concept of vocation, and yet it was so strikingly different from most of what I've heard actual Catholic people say about the subject. It really speaks clarity into the existential confusion that I think is present in the hearts of many Catholics who really want to do God's will. And so, I'll quote here, generously:

The call of God is not a call to serve Him in any particular way. My contact with the nature of God will shape my understanding of His call and will help me realize what I truly desire to do for Him. The call of God is an expression of His nature; the service which results in my life is suited to me and is an expression of my nature...

Service is the overflow which pours a life filled with love and devotion. But strictly speaking, there is no call to that. Service is what I bring to the relationship and is the reflection of my identification with the nature of God. Service becomes a natural part of my life. God brings me into proper relationship with Himself so that I can understand His call, and then I serve Him on my own out of a motivation of absolute love. Service to God is the deliberate love-gift of a nature that has heard the call of God. Service is an expression of my nature, and God's call is an expression of His nature. Therefore, when I receive His nature and hear His call, His divine voice resounds throughout His nature and mine and the two become one in service. The Son of God reveals Himself in me, and out of devotion to Him service becomes my everyday way of life.

--- from My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers, "The Call of the Natural Life," entry for January 17.
The account of Samuel teaches us that we have to learn to know God's nature, presence, and ways, and we have to know ourselves. Part of knowing ourselves is being in relationship with others, because we all have a certain social dimension of our natures that isn't activated apart from the relational aspect of reality. And it seems that part of how God teaches us about Himself and ourselves is that He allows us to be mistaken for a time. It purifies us. God called; Samuel answered Eli. Samuel was mistaken, but clearly Samuel had a natural and healthy attachment going with Eli, so going to Eli was the clearest, most logical way for Samuel to respond to God. The second time God called, Samuel could have ignored Him, or responded in fear or mistrust about bothering Eli again. But the call prompted enough urgency for Samuel to try his best to figure out what was being asked of him. (This is Samuel learning who he is.) By this time, Eli is probably a tad frustrated, because he is mixed up in something that doesn't seem to have a thing to do with him, and maybe he just wants a peaceful night's sleep. The third time, Samuel has to really want badly enough to remain in integrity. He knows something is happening, but he doesn't really get it, and the one he relies on as his guiding companion seems clueless and maybe irritated. So he really needs courage this time to keep trying his best. This is the essence of discernment. Something is urging me; but I don't get it, and neither does my companion. So, I'll keep pursuing an answer by seeking with my actions.

And then Samuel gets direction. Maybe this comes because Eli is irritated enough to stop thinking only about his desire to sleep. He understands that his young charge needs help. So, he gives direction, and then goes back to sleep. And God takes that moment to reward Samuel's courage and humility, and the path of Samuel's vocation opens out before him. All the seeds present in this reading grow to full stature in the rest of the Scriptural accounts of Samuel's life.

Sure, if I heard God's voice calling me, telling me what to do, it would be so easy, you might say. But in reality the fact that God exists, when you really think about it, is also the fact that I am called. God is the Creator; I am the creature. God made me; I am His. I find my real self by knowing Him. I not only owe God my service out of the justice of giving God what is His due, I also seek my own highest good (and so "owe it to myself," if you will) to give my utmost for His highest (to borrow Chambers' title). It's just a matter of figuring out what really fits my nature, or another way to put it is to notice what is in my hand to give.

It is goofiness to wait for some angelic visitation to direct me. Actually, it is a bad case of insecurity: about myself, or God's reality or His love for me, or all of the above. It is a bad case of seeing myself as an object that God uses rather than a person God loves. It is a bad case of envisioning myself as a slave instead of a son. Or it is a bad case of never having heard the explicit gospel call to leave the things, the attractions of the world, the baubles, the power-lust, and to bring instead your real treasure which is your heart, and to follow Christ.

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