For more resources about National Vocations Awareness Week, go to https://www.vianneyvocations.com/
Homily: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Friends, today our scriptures ask us to consider the question: “What is our response to God’s love?” Perhaps this begs the question, however, “Is there any need to respond?” The answer to that question (and I’m going to ask you to trust me on this one) is “yes”, of course. The love of God demands a response from us, so much so that responding to God’s initiative toward us is something we model right here in the liturgy.
Perhaps a number of you know this already, but the “Responsorial Psalm” is not called “responsorial” simply because we “respond” by repeating a verse or phrase after each stanza. Rather, it is called “responsorial” because the Psalm itself is a response to the first reading. The idea being this: when we hear God’s word, it moves us to respond. Sometimes, it moves us to respond in praise: simply singing of God’s wonderful attributes and about how great it is that he has revealed himself to us. Other times, it moves us to respond like the scribe did in today’s Gospel: who recounted back to Jesus his teaching to demonstrate his understanding. In fact, if you’d like a summary of the first reading from Mass, one that gives you a little more insight into its meaning, just look to the Responsorial Psalm. If the reading was one demonstrating God’s power, his glory, or his mercy, then the Psalm might be one of praising those attributes of God. If the reading contained a lesson, then the Psalm might be one that demonstrates our understanding of that lesson.
Case in point: today, in the first reading, we hear the teaching that Moses gave to the Israelite people as they were on the cusp of entering the Promised Land: “you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Then, in our response with the Psalm we sing: “I love you, Lord, my strength.” In the reading we are reminded of our need to love God; and in the psalm we respond, expressing our love for Him. All of this is to remind us that, when we experience and receive God’s gracious initiative toward us, we are called to respond. ///
Many of you heard my homily for All Saints’ Day this past Thursday. If you did, you heard me talk about how the idea of becoming “great”—that is, becoming that person we dreamed about becoming when we are kids—is something that’s written into our DNA; and that the greatest greatness that we can achieve is to become a saint. I also said that our inspiration for pursuing this greatness comes from God Himself: that is, it comes from the fact that we are beloved by God. This is because when we know that we are someone’s beloved, and when we desire to be loved by that person, we strive to make ourselves better for that person: in a sense, to make ourselves more “worthy” of their love. This is a response to their love; and it is the response that we are called to give to God and His love for us. ///
This weekend we kickoff the annual “National Vocations Awareness Week”, in which we focus intently on raising awareness of the need to promote and encourage vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 50 years or so, you’ll know that we are in great need of more men and women who will take up the call to greatness in a religious vocation. Our beloved Fr. Ziegler, who we laid to rest this past week, used to say to seminarians: “We need you young guys to get ordained because us old guys aren’t going to be around much longer!” Although I am still yet on my way to becoming one of the “old guys”, I keenly feel the need now to promote vocations among our young men, so that I don’t have to feel the same anxiety that Fr. Ziegler felt in his waning years. Still more, part of the flourishing of Catholic culture here in the United States in the last century was due to the presence and witness of religious women and men within our parishes and communities. I believe that, in large part, a new flourishing will occur when more and more young women and men hear God’s call to the religious life and respond. Thus, our celebration and work this week to raise awareness of these vocations is of great importance.
Friends, God’s call to the priesthood or religious life is not something arbitrary that comes to a person out of the blue; rather, it is something that is discerned when a person makes a response to God’s love towards him/her. In other words, God’s love comes first. That is, we must first experience God’s love for us. Then, we must give our love completely to God. It is there, within our response, that God will make known to us the vocation to which He has called us. Anything else is our invention. Knowing this, how then do we go about encouraging young people to consider God’s call to the priesthood and religious life? Although it sounds counter-intuitive to what I’ve just said, we must invite them! We must look at single men and women among us and ask them “Have you considered being a priest?” “Have you considered whether God may be calling you to be a religious sister or brother?” If they respond “no” and they ask you “How do I do it?”, this is what you tell them: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
In other words, tell them to open their hearts to encounter God’s love, which is constantly present to them, and then to respond, loving God with their whole hearts, with their whole souls, and with all their strength. Tell them that they should strive to be the best beloved that they can be for the God who loves them and that it will be in that striving that God will reveal his vocation to them. To put it simply: when they shema, when they listen, ready to respond to the love God pours out to them, they will hear it.
Friends, this model of “listen and respond” doesn’t end when we’ve discerned our vocation and begin to live it. Rather, it continues throughout the rest of our lives. Even if we’ve seemingly completed the path of our vocation, we must still shema, we must still listen, and strive to respond. In other words, we must never stop striving to become the best beloved that we can be for the God who has demonstrated his love for us. This, too, will be a powerful tool to promote vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. A Christian life, lived mediocrely, can only discourage young people from discerning their vocation, since all they see is that the Christian life leads to a mundane existence. A heroic Christian life, however—a life striving for greatness, that is, saintliness, regardless of the vocation—will inspire young people, since they will see that a life of loving God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength, is an adventurous life, full of meaning and purpose.
Therefore, as we respond today to God’s love, poured out to us in this Mass, by loving Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with all our strength, let us re-commit ourselves to strive for greatness, that is, saintliness; and, thus, to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life both by our word of invitation and by the witness of our lives; and, thus, to grow God’s kingdom: the kingdom that even now is here among us.
Given at St. Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – November 3rd & 4th, 2018