Fr. Charles Irvin
1 Samuel 3:3-10,19; 1 Corinthians 6:13-15,17-20; John 1:35-42
There are those who defend themselves from allowing God to get too close to them, fearing that a close, warm, personal relationship with God will take all the fun out of their lives, deprive them of their pleasures, and make them miserable. They love to portray Catholicism as nothing but a bunch of rules to be followed. They cartoon Catholics as mindless little unthinking robots who blindly follow the pope, having surrendered their freedom over into the hands of rule-bound priests.
All of that sort of thinking is, of course, nonsense.
The truth is that our religion calls us into having a warm, personal friendship with God in Jesus Christ. Far from asking us to follow a whole bunch of impossible rules, it asks us to actively listen for God’s calling voice, to hear what God has to say to us – and to follow in trust and in love where He takes us.
The first scripture reading we’ve just heard takes us back to the very beginning of all genuine religious experiences, experiences which eventually become journeys, pilgrimages through life, if you will.
Note that in all religious journeys we always find the initiative of God coming to us first. It is God who calls us, inviting us to freely choose to respond. And the response, as the story of Samuel suggests, is not always immediate. Some have noteworthy anxieties about responding. Moses tells God: “If you please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor recently…. I am slow of speech and tongue.” Jeremiah cries out: “Ah, Lord God!…. I know not how to speak; I am too young.” Amos informs God: “I am no prophet, nor do I belong to a company of prophets; I am a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees.” (In other words, please leave me to landscaping).
In Old Testament account just heard, Eli, the prophet to whom Samuel goes in response to the calls he hears, is cautious, very cautious. In the end, however, he teaches young Samuel the right response, the response we should all have on the tips of our tongues: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Today’s Gospel takes us back to the very beginning of the Christian movement, the movement of God into our humanity in Jesus Christ. The story is so familiar, so simple, that we easily lose sight of its overwhelming importance.
John the Baptist initiates it by introducing two of his own disciples to Jesus, Andrew being the key player. John points out Jesus to them by exclaiming: “Look, there is the Lamb of God!” As in all significant encounters with people who play an important role in our lives, recognition is vitally necessary before anything else can happen. Spiritual inattentiveness is deadly.
Then a conversation develops between Andrew and Jesus, a conversation with seeking words like “what do you want?”, “where do you live?”, “come and see”, “come with me”, all the relational words of friendship. Let me emphasize that these are the inviting words of friendship, not the words of submission and obedience.
My point is that our religion in its most distilled form is a friendship between ourselves and God in Jesus Christ. It is the one operative principle throughout Christ’s entire life. Even at the end, at the Last Supper, Jesus gets down on His knees, washes our feet, stands up, looks each one of us in the eyes saying: “I no longer call you slaves… I call you friends.”
Watching television talk shows fills me with great depression. In them I watch people talking t each other, even talking and shouting over each other. Those TV talks shows are often visions of what happens in a mad house. Have we forgotten our basic lessons in anatomy? Have we forgotten that we learn with our ears, not with our mouths!
Listening to God’s voice is of the essence of religion, it is the “stuff” of our spiritual lives. When we come to worship the first thing the Church does is to offer us God’s word. THEN, having received His word for our hearts and minds, we receive His Word made flesh in Holy Communion for our bodies and souls.
There are those who defend themselves from intimacy; there are those who are afraid to love. For fear of losing their own independent autonomy they either flee from religion or turn it into something ridiculous. Some, both within and outside of our Church, turn it into a series of laws, rules and regulations to follow that require only mindless obedience in order to be saved, thus missing the whole point about our relationship with Jesus.
The truth is that God has a word for you, He has something He wants to say to you. The story of Samuel is a story that we should make our own. The story in today’s Gospel account is a story we should make our own. For God is calling you and inviting you to come and stay with Him, to come and see Him.
May you repeat Samuel’s words each morning when you begin the day with your first morning thoughts about God: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And then at the close of each day when you interpret the events of the day and try to make some sense out of them, repeat Samuel’s words: “Speak, Lord, for you servant is listening.” And each time you pray, after having told God about all that’s happening in your life and all that you need from Him, say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
And then be prepared to embark upon your vocation, your journey, your response to God’s calling. For we are all called by God. He has a word for each one of us. He has something He wants to say to each one of us. But nothing will happen and nothing will begin until we say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”