Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Vocations Discernment Retreat
St. Mary’s Seminary and University
Jan. 18, 2020
I am delighted to be with you during this time of discernment and I thank you sincerely for your presence on this cold January day. But what better day than this to spend time in serious and prayerful discernment. I am grateful to Father Roth and his team for getting us together, and I’m also grateful for our seminarians who are with us today. Thanks also to St. Mary’s Seminary for welcoming us so warmly!
In this retreat, you are listening to talks and engaging in conversation with one another and also with Father Roth, with the seminarians that are here with you. Most importantly of all, you are striving to listen to the voice of the Lord, a voice that can be heard when we pray silently and peacefully and ask for the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Your life experience and the influence of others may have led you here. But now that you are here, you are given a wonderful opportunity to listen to the voice of the Lord.
The Call of Levi
In the Gospel we have a prime example of someone who who listened to the voice of the Lord and responded promptly. His name was Levi, or as we know him more commonly, Matthew, after whom the Gospel of Matthew takes its name. But Matthew wasn’t always an apostle or an evangelist. Before that he was a tax collector. Tax collectors aren’t particularly popular now but at the time Jesus walked the earth they were particularly unpopular. They worked for the Roman Empire which ruled over Israel and they extracted from their fellow Israelites revenue which was used to support the Empire that had conquered them. Tax collectors were thought to be disloyal and corrupt and, if the truth be told, many of them were just that. The Scribes and Pharisees regarded tax collectors as among the lowest of the low.
But Jesus saw something in Matthew that others didn’t see. Matthew’s customs post was near a busy crossroads, so maybe he heard Jesus preach and gave him his undivided attention. Or maybe Matthew saw Jesus perform a miracle and Jesus, who could read the hearts of others, sensed that Matthew believed. Whatever it was, Jesus invited Matthew to join his intimate circle of followers, those who would, one day, carry forward his mission. Notice, though, that Jesus didn’t expend a lot of words calling Matthew. He simply said, “Follow me!” and, with that, Matthew got up and followed Jesus. Soon thereafter Matthew hosted a dinner in Jesus’ honor to which he invited his former fellow tax collectors as well as others whom the Scribes and Pharisees didn’t approve of.
Jesus Still Calls
Jesus still calls us to follow him, not just in general, but in some particular work, in some particular mission, in a vocation, including a vocation to the diocesan priesthood. And once we’ve found our vocations, the Lord doesn’t stop calling us. If we listen to the Lord’s voice in prayerful silence, we will find that he continues to call us to do very particular things to further his mission which lives on the mission of the Church.
In my experience – both in my own vocational discernment so many years ago, and in the prayerful discernment I must engage in now to live my vocation faithfully – in my experience the Lord uses very few words. Unlike the many words we use to express a simple thought, the Lord communicates with us tersely, with nary a wasted word, and sometimes without any discernable words at all. Just as he called Matthew using only two words, namely, “follow me” – so too the Lord will call us to our vocation and to our mission without lengthy explanations, without assurances, without a blueprint. He might just say to you today or someday soon–“Follow me!” or words to that effect!
It might be nice if the Lord were to use Instagram or text you or even stoop so low as to send you something as antique as an email. But, in fact, the Lord doesn’t work that way. Rather, when the call comes, it will be God’s heart speaking to your heart. It will be God who knocks at the door of your heart. He will not force the door open, in fact there’s no handle on the outside. It can only be opened from inside … by you! But once you open the door to God the Father and his Son Jesus, they will enter your heart and with them you will share a rich banquet of love. I’m here, we’re all here, to encourage you just to open the door of your heart, if you haven’t done so already.
What Jesus Sees
And let me add this. We may think we know ourselves pretty well. After all, no one lives in our skin except us, each of us. But think once more about the call of Levi, the call of Matthew. Jesus saw something in Matthew that no one else saw. Could it be that Jesus sees something in you that you yourself do not yet see? Could it be that Jesus knows you better than you know yourself? That is why, when the Holy Spirit delivers the call of Jesus to your heart, be sure you don’t dither too long; be sure you don’t try to cross every “T” and dot every “I”. The Lord does indeed know you better than you know yourself and those who say “yes” to any vocation in the Church must rely on the Lord to see them through all the unforeseen things that follow their assent to his call.
If I could give you a word of assurance… When the Lord calls, he also gives us the grace to answer the call. And even when the Lord asks things of us that seem to be above and beyond, rest assured that the Lord will unfold his plan for your life a step at a time, as I have discovered to my astonishment and delight over the course of a lifetime.
I hope you will rejoice at the very idea that God may be calling you to be a priest. It is a wonderful vocation and when lived to the hilt, it is joy beyond telling. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t difficult days and all kinds of challenges. What it does mean is that you will come to know, as never before, not merely yourself but the One who called you, the One who is the great lover of our souls, the One whom you will never tire of representing, the One whose mission will be both new and necessary until the end of time.
Thanks again for coming. And may God bless you and keep you always in his love!