Responding to a Call from God/ a Vocation
by Father Pete Iorio
Three very important commemorations converge this week: the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior who was a leader for civil rights and who was martyred/slain 50 years ago come April; the 45th anniversary of the US Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in every state of the nation and the subsequent annual March for Life to affirm the dignity of every life in the womb; and the week of prayer for Christian unity.
Is there a common thread to these events and to the message of the Scripture readings today? I think that there is. The simple answer is a “call from God.”
Starting with Jonah, “the word of the Lord came to Jonah, saying…” God was calling Jonah to be a prophet. He heard the words and knew that they were from God and what was Jonah’s response? NO. It is too hard. I am not going to do that. I am too afraid. I am not worthy. People will hate me. So he ran away, got into a boat, got thrown in the sea, swallowed by a big fish, and then vomited up on the shore. In the third chapter of the book of Jonah, the word came a second time: (God is relentless in calling us. God always gives us chances to try again.) Set out for the great city of Nineveh and preach… Jonah’s response changed. He was obedient. He said YES to God and did what God called him to do.
In the Gospel today Jesus, the Son of God, calls after some fishermen to follow him. Do they reject the call? No, they drop their nets and follow after Him, not knowing where they will go nor how their lives will change nor what tremendous growth will take place in their souls.
Martin Luther King Jr. was motivated by the gospel. He was a preacher and his encouragement came from God. He was not merely a public organizer or a social change agent. It was the call of God/Jesus Christ that emboldened end empowered him to not only follow Christ and to bring the good news to others, but to be a prophet and call others to change. Almost all of his speeches are laden with quotes from the Holy Bible.
Why are young people and adults from the parish and across the country motivated to go to Washington, DC and March for life? Sacred Scriptures speak of God knitting us in our mother’s womb and knowing us before we were born along with the commandment not to kill but to have life and to have it to the full. We march because of the call from God’s Word.
The prayer and work of Christian Unity is based on the prayer of Jesus Himself who prayed in John chapter 17 verse 21 May all be one, Father, as I am in you and you are in me.”
Christian life is a vocation. Vocation is a call. Last week I focused on a specific and particular call to priesthood and religious life, but like the disciples in the Gospel that we heard today, Christ calls all of us to come and follow him as well.
Every person who calls herself or himself a Christian must respond to the call of Christ. It is not a gene or a birthright we are entitled to, but we are free to respond to the call or not. And to be a Christian is to always be open to change. Change is integral to life.
And Christianity is by definition a religion of change. In the Incarnation, the word becomes flesh. In the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, He ushers in the new creation. In the person of Jesus Christ, we claim a new future in God. There is a lot of language of newness when speaking about Christ.
The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—disruption and chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, darkness, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God. We will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart.
This is when we need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes. Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Change of itself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, like Jonah did inside the big fish and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians.
In the moments of insecurity and crisis, it’s the deep “yeses” that carry you through. Focusing on a call from God that you absolutely believe in, that you’re committed to, will help you wait it out. This is the dream that God has for you!