Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Where Am I Going?

Scripture tells us that God called Samuel in the night three times, and three times Samuel thought it was someone else calling. Finally Eli, who slept nearby said: “It is God calling.” And when he heard the call again, Samuel said: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

In explaining the reading, the priest at mass mentioned the call the Holy Spirit makes to each of us, and our own deafness or wrong interpretations of that call. We may have received the sacrament of Confirmation, to be open to the call of the Holy Spirit, but then the world called also. And “God’s calling us” suddenly didn’t enter into our minds anymore.

And the priest also mentioned that Eli was nearly blind, and Samuel cared for him (God calling to caregivers??!). That caught my attention. I think of my prayers to God at mass or in my visits to the chapel, and I know He DOES speak to me there in answer, but does He speak to me in my sleep or in my daily activities? Intellectually and faithfully I know He is there with me, but in truth I often don’t think of Him when I hear another’s voice, as Samuel did. When I hear a voice telling me something, I look at the speaker and consider what they said or want, but I rarely consider: “could this be the voice of God speaking to me through them?”

As I go through my daily life, how often do I really say: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening,” and then listen? Do I consider fully enough that God’s answer to my prayers may be through that friend, or through that professional person, or even through that stranger? Or do I too often answer my own prayers, hearing the “thoughts” of friends, professionals and those I treat as strangers, and then saying: “That’s what you think, well here’s what I think,” and then go merrily on my way, thinking God didn’t answer my prayer, so I’ll have to do this myself. Alone.

God called Samuel four times! That’s the key point of that lesson. God calls us persistently. Confirmation is a sacrament bestowed on Catholics at about the age 13. It is supposed to be an initiation into the work of the Holy Spirit. It says, in effect, you learned thus far to listen to the voice of your parents, and they taught you well, now BEGIN to listen to the voice of God, for there is much more to learn.

I think many people treat sacraments like Confirmation as an event, a thing that happened and then is over and done with. But sacraments are really initiations, doors being opened to something new. They are just the start of something, something big and life changing. To receive a sacrament as an event is like receiving a car and putting it in the driveway, never to be used. What value would that be? Like a car, sacraments can open whole new areas to your life, if you use them properly.

Catholics receive Confirmation, and Protestants commit their life to Jesus; they are similar blessings and commitments, but they shouldn’t be just events. God’s continual calls to us can be like a map placed before us; distant cities are there to be reached, with confidence, if we follow. But when we first commitment to our faith life we are like an infant, and so a map in front of us means nothing. We must grow. Fortunately, when we receive Confirmation or commit our life to Christ we are grown enough physically to begin to take part in our own education, and discover what God’s call and our commitment to hear it means to us. Our parents’ teachings drift seamlessly into our own self-learning. One of the first commitments we make ourselves, as young adults, is to learn about God. It is a crucial part of our education in life, because it is the reason we have life at all. And we naturally yearn for God, even if we can’t express it (Ps 42).

We are each made with a purpose, like no one else. Each of us has a different map for his life, a road God has equipped us to follow. Reading our map takes lessons, to learn how to interpret its signals and symbols, and to hear the instructions from the Mapmaker.

We learn how to live our life well, as intended, if we continue to learn --- all our life --- about God. We made that commitment when we received Confirmation or committed our life to Christ. But for many of us the world got in the way, and we chose life routes not on our map. Fortunately, we have our whole life to reach our destination, our heavenly home at the end, and it is never too late to get back on the course, or even to begin like infants again, to learn how to read, to hear, and to interpret the route laid out before us. For no matter what route we may have gotten lost on, God lays out detour signs to direct us back to the right way. He calls, through friends, through professionals, through saints and even strangers. He calls. And we begin to turn our car in the right direction when we say, like Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

All our life we are meant to make progress toward our destination. Our education in how to read our map comes from Scripture, Jesus Himself, and from His speaking to us through others. Read the words of saints and scripture scholars, the recognized experts in reading the map of life, but also be open to His personal call to you in the night.

Growing in holiness is a life’s journey, not an event. “This is eternal life: to know You, the One true God, and Jesus whom You have sent” (Mt 17:3). Fortunately, each of us has the same destination on our maps, and many of the routes to get there are common to us all, so often we can travel together. Come, let us go, enjoying the scenery and each others' company. Perhaps I’ve been down that route you are about to take, and I can explain its hazards --- or even a shortcut. We have much to learn from each other along the way. But let us get started. Let’s listen for the Mapmaker, and His directions.

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