Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Call: Reflections on the Fifth (and Fourth) Week Ordinary Time

Over the last two weeks, we have been introduced to several "call stories." Anyone who has been on a vocation retreat can tell you about them. The members of the religious order that you're visiting will share with you the moment in time that they felt called to join the order. They will talk about feeling a sense of peace on their first vocation retreat. They will talk about feeling a kinship with the founder of the order or falling in love the order's charism. The call stories we have seen over the last two weeks, however, have had a distinctly different flavor.

 Don't be such a Jeremiad!

The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo

Last week, we heard about the prophet Jeremiah. God came to him and said:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you." Jer. 1:4-5
What we don't hear is Jeremiah's response. He complains that he is "too young." God responds saying that He is always with him.

It's a good thing, too. Because Jeremiah's journey is not an easy one. He is the author of Lamentations, after all. His life as a prophet is very difficult. He gets to see his land invaded and his temple burn. He's imprisoned  tortured, and abused. His mission is to tell the people why their land is being invaded and to point out to them their sins. No one likes their sins to be pointed out to them! But God is with him through it all and he is now one of the "major prophets" of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Burn, baby, burn!

Isaiah's call as painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

This week, we hear about Isaiah's call. Isaiah was likely a priest as it seems that his call story occurred deep in the temple where only the priests were allowed. As Jeremiah complained that he was too young, Isaiah was worried about his own ritual purity. He saw himself as a sinner surrounded by sinners so he didn't think he was a worthy vessel for God's words. God takes care of this, however, by burning away his sins. After his sins are burned away, he seems to gladly accept the call, shouting, "Here I am. Send me!"

Like Jeremiah, Isaiah travels a tough road after his call. He also has to point out his society's sins. He also suffers for his message although his sufferings aren't nearly as well-documented as Jeremiah's (I guess because he didn't complain as much :) ). Tradition states that Isaiah was eventually martyred for his beliefs.

And now for the first Pope

Calling of St. Peter and St. Andrew by Duccio di Buoninsegna

In today's Gospel, we read the call story of Simon, later known as Peter. Simon is minding his own business trying to fish when Jesus tells him to lower his nets one more time. He tells Jesus that there's nothing there to catch, but he does as he's told. When it comes time to pull the net back up, he needs to call in help because it's so heavy with fish. Like Isaiah, he tells Jesus that he's too sinful, that he's not worthy. But he is overcome with awe over such a huge catch. Jesus says he will make him a fisher of men and Simon Peter and his friends drop everything to follow him.

This is the reason why popes wear the ring of the fisherman. 

We know the rest of the story. While Peter did put his foot in his mouth from time to time, he followed Jesus to the end and beyond. Tradition states that he was ultimately crucified upside down  at what is now the site of St. Peter's Basilica. 

What does this have to do with me?

As evidenced by the call stories at the vocation retreat, people are still called today. Your calling doesn't have to be dramatic nor does it need to be to the religious life. Ordinary people get ordinary calls every day. Let me share some with you.

The women of ICAN of Syracuse-

Oftentimes callings don't come when they are invited. They unexpectedly interrupt your life and force a change in direction. This happened to many of the women I have met through ICAN. ICAN stands for the International Cesarean Awareness Network. These women went to the hospital to give birth to their children and instead faced unplanned and emergency c-sections. They left these traumatic experiences to find a world that didn't understand and had little sympathy for what they went through. Out of a desire to help other women and to teach the world, they started this organization. 

Some women have gone a step further and dedicated their lives to helping pregnant women. One started an organization specializing in pre and post-natal yoga. Others became doulas to help women give birth the way that they wish. The international organization was founded by ordinary women in Syracuse.

I know one of the things that bugged me in my particular situation was the fact that the birth center that I went to did not have a dependable chaplain staff. I was scared. Before my c-section, I hadn't had surgery since I was 5-years-old. When I found out that I was going to be cut open, I wanted to see a priest! Since my real passion is end of life issues, I'm not planning on changing everything because of this, but I am planning on volunteering to be an on-call chaplain at the birth center since my internship is over and I'm currently still unemployed.

How do I know if I have a call?

There are a lot of ways to look at discernment (the decision about a call). One of my favorites is through Ignatian spirituality. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, has left a wealth of tools for discernment. Here is a site full of information to get you started.

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