Nathanael asked Jesus, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”
John 1: 48-50
Unexpectedly my day yesterday was spent in large part engaged in telephone conversations. Fortunately it was unexpected because I tend to suffer from a level of telephone anxiety, if not phobia. Although I enjoy meeting with and speaking with people face to face, I have a level of dread about speaking on the telephone. Despite myself, however, what was asked of me yesterday was to be present by phone to persons at a distance. All three of these calls dealt with the human struggle to understand our call and to attempt to live it out. One was with a friend who is very ill and struggling with the meaning of his life where he can do very little. What is life for when all we have loved or wanted to do is not possible for us? The second call was from a person who struggles to live his faith and has worked very hard to inculcate values and abilities in his children and who now faces with both of them a seeming inability on their part to make their own way in the world responsibly. The third was a friend who has devoted her life to living her faith and serving the church, and who now finds herself in a lifeless and authoritarian parish situation. All three people are experiencing a crisis of meaning of their lives, in short a crisis of vocation. What is my call for the world when I am unable to do anything for anyone? What do I do when it seems as if my call to parent has been apparently unsuccessful? How do I deal with the feeling that the church to which I have devoted my life may be in many respects an empty shell encased in clerical privilege and power?
Our path and our vocation, however, are not first of all a matter of our choice, but rather more our willingness to respond to what comes to us, to what the world asks of us. Today we hear in John’s gospel of the calls of Philip and Nathanael. Philip says that he and Andrew “have found” the One foretold by Moses and the prophets. In truth, however, they did not find Jesus, rather Jesus found them. Likewise, Nathanael understands Jesus, at first, as the wonder worker and seer that Israel is waiting for. Jesus, however, tells Nathanael that the One who calls him is far more than that. “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1: 51) Our vocation is always far more than we at first take it to be or ever fully understand.
To live in faith is to recognize that at its heart our life is a response to a call, a life-task, from God. It is to live moment to moment and decade to decade out of “response-ability,” the spiritual potency we are to live out the life that God has given us in accord with God’s design. The Fundamental Principles quote Isaiah as reminding us that “At times you will discover that God’s ways are not your ways, and God’s thoughts are not your thoughts.” The way in which we receive from God and attempt, in accord with what we have received, to give form to our lives is most often a dark path. We don’t see the big picture. A contemporary church song by Bernadette Farrell entitled God Beyond All Names contains the lines: “In our living and our dying, we are bringing you to birth.” Faith is to trust that by doing the best we can from moment to moment we are “bringing [God] to birth” in the world in our unique way.
In today’s reading from 1 John 3: 14, we read: “. . . we have passed out of death and into life, and of this we can be sure, because we love our brothers and sisters.” We do not really know where we are going much of the time, so we can’t really know, in a conventional sense, what our vocation is. We are called by Jesus to become and live out the one we have been created to be. We are called not to reproduce or to compete with the life of any other person, but to live out our own life-call and life-task. We are not, though, to make of our vocation a personal and insular project. The gift we have received and are to give as a gift may come to show itself and to offer itself in very mysterious ways. Since it is not something we create but something that is given to us, perhaps the words of 1 John teach us something of how to live our vocation. We are living, and not dying, when we love. Perhaps more often than not, we are asked to respond in love, not in the situations we would have chosen or that we even understand, but rather in the life situation that is given to us. St. Terese of Lisieux came to understand, after many struggles to “discern” her vocation, that her vocation was love. The first letter of John tells us that love is the vocation of each of us. However, what that looks like and how it is lived out is the mystery of call. With our origin in God, we are each “original.” The great beauty and awe of the human experience lies in our uniqueness. In fact, it might well be that this is what evokes love in us for the other, not only that we are “alike” but also that the other awakens in us the experience of Mystery.
God’s love for us is known in the beautiful diversity and originality of creation. No other has or will live or die as I do. In the course of our lives, in ways that will always feel “strange” to us, God is always calling us and bringing us to life, so that all of us together in our living and our dying may continue to bring God to birth. Wherever we find ourselves, whatever our present circumstances, our histories, our futures, we are always and everywhere being called and being formed. We shall rarely if ever see ourselves or others with the eye of God, but faith means to trust in every moment and circumstance that if we live out this moment and this encounter in love we are becoming the ones who are the apple of God’s eye, and who are, as Jesus so mysteriously teaches us, not only servants but friends.
Theologically it can be said that God uses the inclinations of our true self, the promptings of conscience, to help and guide and call us through decisions big and small toward the goal or purpose for which we were created. According to Russell Connors and Patrick McCormick, the ultimate goal is an ever-deeper and fuller sense of humanity that can be likened to sainthood: “In that most secret core of our being we are haunted by a moral siren summoning us to become more and more fully human, to transform ourselves into increasingly loving and principled adults, indeed, to become saints.”
John Neafsey, A Sacred Voice Is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience, Kindle Version, loc. 250.