In the universal church and in our own archdiocese we are asked to pray this week for vocations. As Deacon Joe brought out last weekend, vocations, God's call touches all of us, married, single, priest, religious.
Today's Gospel describes how Jesus called Peter and his brother Andrew. When they heard his voice, they left their nets and followed him.
I remember when I received my call, my vocation from the Lord. I was 17 years old, entering my senior year at Stanwood High. That summer I had accompanied my pastor, Fr Ed Boyle on a trip to Montana to visit his dying uncle. He lived in Butte, an old mining town. When we finished the visit, Fr. Boyle and I climbed one of the hills outside the town. On the way up, he asked me, "Phil, have you ever thought about becoming a priest?" I answered him, "I don't think that is what I am meant to be." The conversation ended there.
But when I was back home, I was doing my summer job, caring for a lady's yard on Camano Island. It was a beautiful day and I was alone. Suddenly something came over me, an awareness that not only I could, but I should become a priest. I did not tell anyone, but I decided to wait forty days which I marked out on a calendar. I remember waking up each day, amazed that the thought, the call was still with me. After the forty days were up, I told my best friend Mike Neely, then Fr. Boyle finally my mom and dad.
Since that experience I can honestly say I have never doubted that this was what God wants me to do with my life. I've had good days and bad days, (as well as crazy days and lazy days) but always that certainly in my heart that this call is from Jesus.
Now a vocation can come in many ways. Today's first reading tells about poor Jonah. He was a reluctant prophet if there ever was one. He did not want to go to the Ninevites, the terrible enemies of Israel. God had to send a huge fish to swallow him up and spit him out on shore. Sometimes God brings folks in kicking and screaming. C.S. Lewis, the greatest Christian defender of this century, tells how reluctant he was to become a Christian. His was an atheist and he found atheism comforting. Especially as a university professor, he did not want to give it up. But little by little he was convinced of the truth of Christianity and he entered the Church. As he says in Surprised by Joy, God checkmated him.
Each one of us can tell a story of our own call. Probably for most people it happens in relation to marriage and forming a family. After all when we talk about vocation, the most common, most basic one is marriage itself. For other people it can be some kind of crisis or event which turns their world upside down. The Bible itself speaks in terms of those upheavals.
Perhaps some of you saw the Bill Moyer's program on the book of Genesis. I only saw a couple of episodes, but I would like to see them all. It is something how the great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph had such topsy-turvy lives. But God called them right from that tumult.
And God's call can involve enormous sacrifice. I've been thinking about the Seattle fire of two years ago and those four firemen who lost their lives. It was a terrible tragedy, especially for their families, but yet did it not give us all a feeling for heroism? We do live in a decadent age, but it really touches us deeply when someone makes the ultimate sacrifice of laying down their life for their neighbor.
Many people commented on the fact that all four of the firemen were Catholics. Some said it was an amazing coincidence. But Mary Beth Celio, who does research for the Archdiocese of Seattle, said she was not totally surprised. Catholics do tend to be drawn to helping professions, like fire fighting, teaching or nursing. We've done a pretty job communicating to our young people the importance of helping others, that the real meaning of life comes from service. Perhaps we haven't done so great a job showing the relationship between service and worship, the importance of the sacraments, but that is another question.
There is a deep desire on the part of our young people to do something great with their lives. To have what Pope John Paul calls a "beautiful love." A pure love. Not just girls, but boys want that as well. It takes a lot of prayer, hard work and support from adults for a young person today to live Jesus' teaching on purity and chastity. It even might bring with it some scorn. But that is mountain we are challenging our young people to climb.
On Saturday we had a Vocation Discernment day for Hispanic young men. Some 14 attended. They were asking, why am I here, what does God want me to do with my life. If I am called to marriage, how should I prepare for that life? And could God be calling me to be a priest? Holy Family parish has produced some great priests, both in the English and Vietnamese community. I've been telling the Hispanics that I am not going to satisfied till I see an Hispanic priest from our Holy Family community. At the same time, I am convinced that Jesus is calling one or other of the young men from our English speaking families.
When I was in Peru we had Vocation Discernment days for young men of our parish and diocese. The first few years it was pretty discouraging. But after a lot of work and especially a lot prayer, one year, from our parish alone we sent eight young men to the seminary. Four to the Holy Cross Seminary in Lima and four to our own diocesan seminary. There are young men being called right now.
We had a great example of a vocation in Fr. Patrick Freitag who was ordain last June. He had a close brush with death and it made him re-examine what he was living for. He left a high paying job to enter the seminary. I know some people are very worried about the priest shortage and how it will affect us in our parishes. I guess I am convinced that Jesus is going to call young men like Fr Freitag and we are going to have the priests we need.
We are in our first year of preparation for the new Millennium. Our focus is Jesus Christ and the Scripture verse is: Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever. The same Jesus who called the first apostles is calling young people today. The apostles were tending their nets when Jesus called them. "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." You know, fishing is a noble profession. It takes a lot of skill and patience. Jesus took those good qualities and used them as a foundation for his first priests, the Apostles. There are young men who are being prepared right now. Our job is to pray they will have readiness to respond when they hear Jesus' voice. "Come, follow me."
From the Archives:
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (March for Life in Olympia)