Speak, LORD, Your Servant Is Listening… and So Is His Mother

January 15, 2018

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B) on January 14, 2018, at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20; and John 1:35-42.

In today’s gospel, two of John the Baptist’s disciples are literally following Jesus.  Jesus turns around, looks them in the eye, and asks, “What are you looking for?” Imagine that Jesus looks you in the eye and asks the same question. “What are YOU looking for?” 

It can be a hard question to answer, but for a lot of people at St. Austin’s, they have cooperated with the Holy Spirit sufficiently over the years that they can now give a fairly concrete answer. Many have found purpose through relationships, families, work in a variety of service industries, or volunteer work.

Let us not rest on our laurels, however. Many of our friends and neighbors do not know Christ. We can always reach more people. And we who are here can always go deeper into our faith. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to God and to open our hearts to others.

The Bible is not a history book; it is the book of our story. It gives examples of how we humans experience God. So, when we hear the story in chapter 3 of the First Book of Samuel of God calling Samuel in the temple, we can – and should – place ourselves in Samuel’s place. Can we think back to times in our lives when we’ve experienced God, but it required someone else to point out that it was happening? Similarly, when the Christian community reflected back on our shared story of faith, the first meeting of Jesus with these two disciples was such an important moment that they even noted when it happened: four o’clock in the afternoon.

No matter where we are on our faith journey, Jesus continues to lock eyes with us as he did with Andrew and ask: “What are you looking for?” 

Isaac Hecker had an experience of God similar to Samuel in the summer of 1842, but it was through intense seeking that he eventually found his way to the Catholic Church, the priesthood, and the eventual founding of the Paulist Fathers in 1858. But once Isaac Hecker found what he was looking for, he spent his life inviting other people to deeper ways to find God in their own life experiences.

When Jesus first asked me what I was seeking, I didn’t know what to answer. And there were a number of years when I, like those first two disciples, would have answered Jesus’ question with another question. I now recognize that Jesus calls me to witness how the Holy Spirit is working in other people’s lives. 

There aren’t as many religious sisters, brothers, or priests as there were in the 1950s… and the numbers are definitely going to go a lot lower over the next two decades as the baby boomers retire. (For example, only one of the three priests currently serving at St. Austin – and only 30 of the 108 living Paulist priests – will be under the age of 70 in four years.) I read a lot of articles that give overly simple explanations: blaming the receiving of communion in the hand, that millennials are unwilling to make commitments, that young people’s ideas about sexuality are the problem. But I think these articles are wrong. 

I believe that there are people among us like Samuel. If someone helps you recognize God’s call, you will respond like Samuel. 

I believe that there are people among us like Andrew. If Jesus asks you what you’re looking for, you might say, “I don’t know yet, Jesus, but can you help me figure it out?” And maybe Jesus will invite you to “come and see.” Literally. The Paulists are hosting a retreat called “Come and See” February 2-4 in Washington, DC. Two young men from Austin are going up to see what life with the Paulist Fathers is like, and I can help any young man with airfare if he’d like to join them. All the guys I’ve known who’ve gone on a “Come and See” weekend in the past 13 years have found it helpful in discerning what they are looking for.

I believe that there are people among us like Eli, helping other people recognize the call to a religious vocation. Here are two other low-pressure ways to invite young people to discern about priesthood and religious life. The Diocese of Austin is hosting “Project Andrew” at the cathedral on Saturday, February 17, a gathering for men to learn more about priesthood and religious life. The Diocese is hosting a similar event for women on the following Saturday, February 24, called “Project Miriam.” 

When some people pray for vocations, they sound as if they’re criticizing the Holy Spirit: “C’mon, Holy Spirit, why aren’t you calling more people?” I think the Holy Spirit knows what she’s doing. I pray that young people who hear God’s call have the courage, the support, and the freedom to pursue the invitation.

And that’s where you come in, folks. If there’s one place in the whole world that should be able to produce vocations to the Paulist Fathers, it’s right here: St. Austin Parish. You know the Paulists well, you identify with our mission, and you want us to succeed. And yet, in nearly 110 years of this parish, we have only produced two vocations to the Paulists. William Blakeslee was a 9-year-old boy when the Paulists arrived here in 1908, and Ben Hunt was born 99 years ago. What’s going on?

Call me crazy, but I also believe that there are people among us called to be like the protagonist in the first two chapters of the Book of Samuel: Hannah. Hannah struggled for years to conceive a child, at a time when women were dependent on children to care for them in their old age. And yet Hannah promised God that if he gave her and her husband Elkanah a son, she would be content to have him serve the LORD in any way the LORD pleased.

Twice in the last year, I’ve asked a young man in this parish if he’s ever considered the priesthood, and before he could open his mouth, his mother has responded, “No, he’s not allowed to. I want grandchildren.” 

What am I looking for? I’m looking for brothers to join me in this odd and wondrous calling of Paulist priesthood. I pray that what you’re looking for isn’t in direct opposition to what I’m looking for. So please: join me in praying fervently for vocations from St. Austin Parish to the Paulist Fathers. Let us pray that the young men who hear the call have the courage, the support, and the freedom to pursue the invitation of the Holy Spirit.