Sunday, 14 January 2018

Week 2 Sunday (Year B)

The first reading tells us again about the threefold call of Samuel, and the gospel reading tells us again about the call of Simon who will be Peter or Cephas. Our attention usually goes to these two most important figures, one of the greatest of the prophets of Israel, Samuel, and the chief of the apostles, Peter.

But it is interesting to see how other people are involved in the discernment of their vocations. Samuel needs the wisdom and experience of Eli in order to understand what is happening. He is to be the recipient of revelations, a key leader of God's people, but his preparation for that task and his realisation of his calling are helped along by Eli. Simon who will be called Peter needs the information coming from Andrew who in turn follows the guidance of John the Baptist. Peter is to be a central firgure in the community of believers in Jesus, a key leader of God's people, but his preparation for that task and his realisation of his calling are helped along by Andrew and, behind him, by John the Baptist.

People talk a lot about human dignity, meaning the inestimable value of every single individual human being. We do not talk as often abou the source or foundation of that dignity. Why do we think and talk in the way we do about human dignity? In the world of the Bible it is the fact of being created and called by God that establishes every human being in his or her dignity. To be on the receiving end of God's creative love, and on the receiving end of a call from God, means being established with an identity, a dignity, a recognition, a mission, within the creating and saving work of God. It means to be given a name, sometimes a new name, which encapsulates the dignity, identity, personality that is unique to each one.

It is easy to see this in the cases of Samuel and of Peter. They are VIPs in the history of salvation. But today's readings remind us of the intricate network of human relations within which these great people found their way to the mission that was theirs. So Eli, Andrew, and John the Baptist, have their place, their mission, their dignity within the body of God's people. 

As I was preparing this homily I was remembering people who were important in the discernment and development of my own vocation. Not that I'm comparing myself with Samuel or with Peter. But just to acknowledge that this is the human world in which we all live, a world in which we are forming each other for good or ill, informing and challenging each other, and so helping people to discern and to develop who they are, their particular dignity, vocation, mission, identity. I thought of Michael Condon, my English teacher, who when he heard that I was thinking of the priesthood reminded me that I had a first duty to consider the needs of our local church, the diocese of Dublin. I thought of Eugene Kennedy, then a curate in our parish, who taught me that major decisions about vocation are usually, within ourselves, majority rather than unanimous decisions. And I can quickly think of dozens of others who have helped me along the way, sometimes just by a single comment, affirming or questioning, but each one guiding, shaping, stimulating, helping me to discern and to decide and to grow. In ways beyond my knowledge, and by God's grace, perhaps I have helped others to discern and to decide and to develop. Helped somebody above all to find their way to Jesus, to the one who is supremely good, and true, and beautiful, the source and foundation of all human dignity.

So we can rejoice today in each one's vocation. We are not all Samuel or Peter, but we are all Eli, Andrew or John the Baptist. Or people who have in some way helped the Elis, and Andrews, and John the Baptists. There is a passage in the writings of  Cardinal Newman which summarises beautifully what I think is a central teaching in today's liturgy, a teaching about our calling, our identity and our dignity, no matter what our place in the body of God's people, or what our role in the unfolding of God's purposes:

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission - I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his - if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling (John Henry Newman, Prayers, Verses and Devotions, Ignatius Press 1989, pages 338-339).

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