Gospel for Today


At this time during the Liturgical year, the Church has much to say to us about hearing the call of God.  We have heard the story of the prophet Samuel, hearing the voice of the Lord calling him in the night.  We have heard the story of Jonah, responding to the call of the Lord to preach repentance to Nineveh.  We have heard of Simon, Andrew, James and John, leaving their fishing nets and following Jesus to become “fishers of men.”
This Sunday we continue to hear about recognizing that voice of the Lord calling to us.  The first reading, from Deuteronomy, speaks about being a prophet.  The Lord warns that those who preach His words, but do not themselves listen, will have to answer for that.  (In other words, we need to practice what we preach!)  And he also warns that “if a prophet presumes to speak in my name an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak… he shall die.”  It is fair to say not everyone is called to be a prophet.  If you do not have that calling, do not presume that you do.
But just because you may not be called to be a prophet, does not mean that you do not have a calling.  As St. Paul writes in Ephesians, “His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…”  There are different callings.  But we all have the same goal, and that is holiness.  Which is why the psalmist today reminds us, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”  Whatever God is calling us to do, we must open our hearts to act upon that calling.
Another word for “calling” that Catholics should be familiar with is “vocation.”  Generally when you hear this word in the context of the Church it refers to a priestly or religious vocation.  Many pastors over the past few weeks have no doubt found much in the scripture readings to preach about in terms of fostering vocations.  Our second reading today from 1 Corinthians has much to teach us in this regard.
St. Paul instructs us: “An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.  But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided.  An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.  A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.  I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose restraint upon you…”
One may be inclined to read St. Paul’s writing and assume that the unmarried life is “better” than married life.  After all, the unmarried man or woman can be devoted entirely to the Lord.  Isn’t that better than being divided?  I would not say “better” but I would say “higher.”  Note that St. Paul is not saying that no one should be married.  He is not saying the unmarried life (as a priest, or as a religious brother or sister) is the way we all should live.  He is not imposing restraint on us, he tells us.  But some people are called to the celibate life, and there is much good to be found in such a life.
I am a married man.  And just as St. Paul states, I am concerned with pleasing my wife.  As it should be.  I need to provide a home for her, stability and security.  I need to provide love and affection for her.  Most of all, I need to help her grow in happiness, and the best way to do that is to help her grow in holiness.  I want to help her grow closer to God, and she does the same for me.  Together we have five children, and we need to provide a safe, happy, and loving environment for them to grow as persons, to grow in their knowledge of themselves and of the Lord, and to help them become saints.  We are both anxious about these things.  This is as it should be.  This is our calling as a married couple.  It is a natural calling, which God has raised to the level of a Sacrament by blessing the institution of marriage.
While marriage is a natural calling, a life of celibacy is a supernatural calling.  As St. Paul says, the unmarried man or woman is anxious only about the things of the Lord.  There is great freedom in that.  The life of priests, monks and nuns may seem to the outside observer to be very rigid and structured.  In truth those who are celibate are much more free to do the Lord’s work than those who are married and raising families.
I love my college students.  I love ministering to them.  I am concerned for them.  I care deeply for my ministry to them.  But that ministry will never be my first concern.  My wife and my children will always come first.  And this is as it should be, in my calling as a husband and a father.  If I were not living that calling to the best of my ability, I would not be a very effective campus minister, nor a very good Christian.  But a priest, a monk, or a nun are free in ways that I am not.  They are not bound by the same obligations.  They are free to be wherever and do whatever ministry the Church calls on them to do.  I have known many priests and nuns who have left behind everything they knew to answer the call to minister in some new way, in a new place, to fill a need only they could fill.
I do not have that kind of freedom.  But I do see the blessings of married life every day when I come home to my wife and children.  Both the natural call to marriage and the supernatural call to celibacy are valid paths to holiness.  Many of you are at stages in your life when these kinds of choices loom closely before you.  Do not harden your hearts to whatever call you may have.