Sunday, February 7, 2010

Vocation to Consecrated Life

I celebrated Mass this morning with the Sisters of St. Francis at Clare Hall. The following is the homily that I gave.

In today's readings we have three vocation stories. All of us have a vocation. At baptism we were called to follow Christ; we became Christians or members of His Body. But within this basic baptismal vocation or call there are other calls. There is a call within a call that most of here have heard--the call to consecrated life.

In the first reading we have the Prophet Isaiah's call (Chapter 6). He had a profound experience of God's presence and sensed his own sinfulness. After the fire of God's love purified him he heard the Lord call "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" Having experienced God's love he responded "Here I am, send me!"

In the second reading we have St. Paul's call (1 Corinthians 15: 1-11). Paul talks about the death and resurrection of Jesus and how after He rose He appeared to the apostles and many others. Then he says, "Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me." Actually Paul wasn't so much the "last" as the "first." Those other appearances of the Risen Lord were before His Ascension into heaven. Paul is the first recorded apparition of Jesus after He ascended. He is the first in a line that includes St. Margaret Mary, St. Faustina, and St. Francis of Assisi. From this profound experience of God's love that started his conversion, Paul responded.

Finally, in the Gospel we have the call of St. Peter and some other fishermen. Jesus tells Peter, who has been fishing all night with no results, to go out again and cast his net. Peter knows in his head that Jesus is wrong. No doubt he thought, "I'm the fisherman. What does this carpenter know about fishing?" But in his heart Peter responded to Jesus' challenge. Peter followed his heart, not his head.

Isn't that so often the case? When we think about the call to religious life all sorts of questions and doubts come up in our minds. If we listened to our heads we would never have responded to Jesus' call. So we, like Peter, have listened to our hearts. The result is a profound experience of God. In the face of this Peter tells Jesus to get away because he is a sinner. That may be our response as well, but Jesus doesn't take "no" for an answer, then or now. Jesus tells Peter and us, "Do not be afraid." Then He tells Peter that from that moment he will be "catching" people and not fish.

I'm not a fisherman. My brother-in-law Joe is. He's such a fisherman that he even had "Muskie" as part of his email address. I'm not a fisherman, but I know enough about it to know that it requires three things. First, you have to have patience. Fishing involves a lot of waiting. Second, you have to be quiet. You can't yell at the fish to get into the boat. Third, you have to have the right bait or lure. That's one of the things that Joe spends time on, creating various lures and perfecting them so that the fish will be attracted to his line.

I think Jesus chose fishermen because they would naturally know something about evangelization. You have to be patient and gentle, and you have to use the right bait or lure. What's the bait that we use? Ourselves, the witness of our lives. We are the way in which Jesus will lure or attract people to Himself. Notice: we don't attract people to ourselves but to Jesus.

Today would be a good day to spend a little time reflecting on your own vocation story. What drew you to consecrated life? What attracted you to this community?

For me, it was a camping trip the summer before my senior year of high school. A Jesuit priest named Fr. John Eagan invited me to go with him and five classmates on a camping trip around Lake Superior. That was the "bait" for me. But what was it about that "lure" that attracted me to the Jesuits?

Several things. First, the sense of freedom and fun, being away from my parents and doing something I'd never done before--the adventure. Second, the beauty of nature. In that beauty I experienced the beauty of the Creator. Third, the friendship and sense of community that developed among the seven of us. And lastly, the prayer. Not that we were praying all the time, but in the midst of God's beautiful creation and by sharing that experience with others, I had a profound experience of God. I especially remember celebrating the Eucharist on rocks overlooking Lake Superior as the sun began to set in the west.

A seed was planted. I began to think about doing for other young people what Fr. Eagan had done for me. I was drawn to God and to mediating an experience of God for others.

Last Tuesday, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, was also World Day of Consecrated Life. I want to share with you some things that Pope Benedict said in his homily that day because they contain these same themes.

First, he said: "Consecrated life witnesses and expresses in a 'powerful' way the reciprocal seeking of God and humanity, the love that attracts them to one another. The consecrated person, by the very fact of his or her being, represents something like a 'bridge' to God for all those he or she meets...."

While every human person has a hunger for God and seeks God, God also hungers for our love and seeks us. There is a mutual attraction. Nothing in the world ultimately satisfies our hunger. As consecrated persons we are called to show the world this reality by what we say and, more importantly, by what we do. We are to be a "bridge" for God to enter the world with His love and for people to experience God and His love.

Secondly, he told the consecrated people he was with: "Each one of you has approached Him as the source of pure and faithful love, a love so great and beautiful as to merit all, in fact, more than our all, because a whole life is not enough to return what Christ is and what He has done for us."

Ultimately each of us entered religious life because we had an encounter with God and experienced His profound and intimate love. Our call to consecrated life was a desire to respond to the love of God which led us to give all of ourselves to Him.

Thirdly, Pope Benedict said: "Finally, dear friends, we wish to raise to the Lord a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for consecrated life itself. If it did not exist, how much poorer the world would be! Beyond the superficial valuations of functionality, consecrated life is important precisely for its being a sign of gratuitousness and of love, and all the more so in a society that risks being suffocated in the vortex of the ephemeral and the useful. Consecrated life, instead, witnesses to the superabundance of the Lord's love, who first 'lost' His life for us. At this moment I am thinking of the consecrated persons who feel the weight of the daily effort lacking in human gratification; I am thinking of elderly men and women religious, the sick, of all those who feel difficulties in their apostolate. Not one of these is futile, because the Lord associates them to the 'throne of grace.' Instead, they are a precious gift for the Church and the world, thirsty for God and His Word."

Our world focuses on production and wealth. A person is valuable in so far as he or she produces. You stand against this tendency of our culture. You witness to the reality that everyone is important because God calls everyone to an intimate relationship with Himself. You may feel now that you have very little to give to the Lord. You're not able to do what you had been doing for so many years, what you entered consecrated life to do. You may, like Isaiah and Peter, feel very little or very weak and sinful. But Jesus says to you, "Don't be afraid!" Continue to follow your heart. Give Jesus the little you feel you have and like Peter you will receive a lot. By continuing to give all, you will receive all, not the things of the world which can never truly satisfy, but the One for whom we were made, the One who gave us His all.

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