St John the Baptist Domenikos Theotokópoulos
Life Is Vocation to Joy
Paris, January 16, 2015 (Zenit.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo
1) Vocation in everyday life.
After the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus that last Sunday ended the Christmas season, today the liturgy presents a passage from the first chapter of the Gospel of John to complete the narrative of the events of the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God calling us to follow him.
It is no coincidence that even the other two readings of this Sunday’s Mass, the Second in Ordinary Time, have vocation as their central theme. We have all been called to follow a “vocation” to be realized in our everyday life. We are all called to live our vocation as children of God in the only Son in the apparent banality of everyday life. We are all called to be with Christ before to do something for Christ. The greatest example in this regard is Mary who, before “performing” as a mother, “was” and “is” still mother. Even the apostles mentioned in the Gospel today before doing something for Christ, were with Christ. To John and Andrew who asked him: “Master, where do you live,” Jesus answered: “Come and see”. He proposed to “be” with him before to “do” something with him.
It is no coincidence either that the liturgy of ordinary time makes the priest wearing green vestments to indicate the green time of our lives. It is a time full of hope that accompanies and illuminates our daily life to be “spent” following Christ. The ordinary time is not a lesser time. It is the time when the Mystery of Christ’s life, and of us in Him, flows under our eyes in an ordinary way and we are called to welcome Him and understand Him to pursue the path of salvation in Christ Jesus, our Way.
Every existence is already a call: God brought us out from the confused abyss of nothingness giving us existence. He also gave us a project to accomplish, a design to realize that was even drawn “on the palm of his hands” (Isaiah 49). This is the meaning of our life: to be with God and work to the great project that He from all eternity has on each of us.
We are often tempted to believe that the vocation that God gives us is a painful duty, a mandatory and annoying virtue. No. The calling by God is for men to intertwine a love relationship with Him. He invites them to his home and welcomes them back home when they return to his love. And not only they can be with Him, but He is in their hearts. The dynamism of the man who is always in search of his house is the longing for his homeland, his birthplace. The German writer and philosopher Novalis (1772 -1801) wrote “Philosophy is the longing to go home.” The passage of today’s Gospel shows how to come to this house following Christ, asking him where he lives and staying with him.
The most beautiful consequence is that we become his home. In fact, becoming close to God is to become a living cathedral. Receiving his presence in us, we understand the magnitude of the “human” condition to which we are called. The Bible is full of stories of vocation: Abraham, Moses, David, individual prophets, the little Samuel, of whom we read in today’s first reading (1 Samuel 3.3 to 10), the Virgin Mary and the apostles.
We all, each in different forms, are united by this invitation to give to our existence the supreme value of opening to a relationship with God, saying like Mary: “Amen, Fiat, be done to me according to your Word.”
2) The three verbs of vocation that is not a job.
The readings of today’s Mass show that the vocation “has” three verbs: to call, to listen, to respond.
To call. Except for a few exceptions of a direct call, the calling takes place through other men, as seen in the today’s episode. For the two disciples of John the Baptist, it is through him who indicates the Lamb of God; for Peter it was his brother Andrew; for the child Samuel it was his “guardian” Eli.
To listen, as did the little Samuel who to God who called him by name replied: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
To respond, going to live with the One who says to us, as to John and Andrew, “Come and see.”
Let’s go back again to the passage of today’s Gospel, in which we are told that, seeing that John and Andrew were following him, Jesus turned and asked, “What do you seek?” Jesus asked not to be inform, but to provoke the response and to induce them to become aware of their own search. Jesus compels man to wonder about the reasons of his journey.
The search must be questioned. There are two kinds of search. There are those who truly seek God and the ones that actually seek themselves.
Therefore, the first condition is to continually check the authenticity of the search for God. The second is not to try to understand vocation as a search to fix the world or to settle down in the world, because vocation is not the result of a human project or an organizational strategy. Vocation is Love, received and given. Vocation is not a choice, it is being chosen: “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15, 16).
3) Vocation to happiness through an exodus.
In Mark’s Gospel we read: “He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them:” If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (…) Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You are lacking one thing ‘Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me “(Mark 8: 34-35; 10:21).
In today’s Gospel, with other words, Jesus repeats the invitation to John and Andrew so that they also take their journey and follow Him. In both cases, Christ asks to go with him to the new exodus, which is not only liberation from evil and from all other physical or moral slavery, but for freedom, truth, love, joy that we hold very dear.
An example of a saint who accepted totally to do this exodus with Christ, was St. Francis of Assisi (1182 -1226) who expressed his experience of liberation and vocation with the words now called the Prayer of Saint Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Centuries earlier, another Saint expressed the experience of being called in a very profound way. It is Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) whose vocation-conversion was obtained by the prayers and tears of his mother Monica. In the Confessions, written to tell his vocation and give glory to God for his mercy, the great Saint says that “the weight of love lift one up” (Pondus meum amor meus – Confessions, XIII, 9, 10). It is as if the Bishop of Hippo had said: “Wherever love takes me, I’ll be there.”
He too had found love and not only did not want to lose it, he wanted to remain faithful forever.
For years he had sought truth and love. After having encountered them in the person of Christ, he remained faithful forever.
Even to him Christ asked “What are you looking for?” and to the question “Master, where do you live?” the reply is still “Come and see.”
4) The witness of the consecrated Virgins in the world.
The vocation of John and Andrew was awaken by the testimony of their “old” master John the Baptist who had indicated Jesus as the “Lamb who takes away the sins of the world”, but it became clear in the dialogue with Christ “What do you seek?” “Master, where do you live?” “Come and see.”
To John and Andrew, as to the endless line of people who seek Him and ask “Where do you live?” Jesus replies with an imperative (“come”) and with a promise (“see”). The search is never finished. The discovery of God is never ended. Jesus does not say what they will see or when. It is being with Him that the future will unfold and blossom.
To follow Jesus doesn’t mean to know where he leads; it means to have faith in Him and trust in Him completely. This total abandonment is experienced in a particular way by the consecrated Virgins. These women testify that the vocation is to recognize Christ as the center of affection of the human life. Following their example, to Christ’s question “Whom, what do you want?” let us answer “You”. In their daily “yes” (fiat) these women conform to his plan of love, faithfully renewing the “yes” pronounced in the hands of the Bishop the day of their consecration.
We all know that God’s love for man is faithful and eternal. “I have loved you with an everlasting love” says God (cf. Jer 31: 3). The consecrated Virgins testify that we too can live the vocation to God’s love that is light, happiness and fullness of life on earth and for eternity.
Patristic Reading – John Chrysostom – Homily XVIII. Jn 1,35-37
“Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as He walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God. And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.”
[1.] The nature of man is somehow a thing slothful, and easily declining to perdition, not by reason of the constitution of the nature itself, but by reason of that sloth which is of deliberate choice. Wherefore it needs much reminding. And for this cause Paul, writing to the Philippians, said, “To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.” (Ph 3,1).
The earth when it has once received the seed, straightway gives forth its fruits, and needs not a second sowing; but with our souls it is not so, and one must be content, after having sown many times, and manifested much carefulness, to be able once to receive fruit. For in the first place, what is said settles in the mind with difficulty, because the ground is very hard, and
entangled with thorns innumerable, and there are many which lay plots, and carry away the seed; afterwards, when it has been fixed and has taken root, it still needs the same attention, that it may come to maturity, and having done so may remain uninjured, and take no harm from any. For in the case of seeds, when the ear is fully formed and has gained its proper strength, it easily despises rust, and drought, and every other thing; but it is not so with doctrines; in their case after all the work has been fully done, one storm and flood often comes on, and either by the attack of unpleasant circumstances, or by the plots of men skilled to deceive, or by various other temptations brought against them, brings them to ruin.
I have not said this without cause, but that when you hear John repeating the same words, yon may not condemn him for vain talking;1 nor deem him impertinent or wearisome. He desired to have been heard by once speaking, but because not many gave heed to what was spoken from the first, by reason of deep sleep, he again rouses them by this second call. Now observe; he had said, “He that cometh after me, is preferred before me”: and that “I am not worthy to unloose the latchet of His shoe”; and that “He baptizeth with the Holy Ghost, and with fire”; and that he “saw the Spirit descending like a dove, and it abode upon Him,” and he “bare record that this is the Son of God.” No one gave heed, nor asked, nor said, “Why sayest thou these things? in whose behalf? for what reason?” Again he had said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”; yet not even so did he touch their insensibility. Therefore, after this he is compelled to repeat the same words again, as if softening by tillage2 some hard and stubborn soil, and by his word as by a3 plow, disturbing the mind which had hardened into clods,4 so as to put in the seed deep. For this reason he does not make his discourse a long one either; because he desired one thing only, to bring them over and join them to Christ. He knew that as soon as they had received this saying, and had been persuaded, they would not afterwards need one to bear witness unto Him. As also it came to pass. For, if the Samaritans could say to the woman after hearing Him, “Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world,” the disciples would be much more quickly subdued,5 as was the case. For when they had come and heard Him but one evening, they returned no more to John, but were so nailed to Him, that they took upon them the ministry of John, and themselves proclaimed Him. For, saith the Evangelist, “He findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.” And observe, I pray you, this, how, when he said, “He that cometh after me is preferred before me”; and that, “I am not worthy to unloose the lachet of His shoe”; he caught no one, but when he spoke of the Dispensation, and lowered his discourse to a humbler tone, then the disciples followed Him.
And we may remark this, not only in the instance of the disciples, but that the many are not so much attracted when some great and sublime thing is said concerning God, as when some act of graciousness and lovingkindness, something pertaining to the salvation of the hearers, is spoken of. They heard that “He taketh away the sin of the world,” and straightway they ran to Him. For, said they, “if it is possible to wash away6 the charges that lie against us, why do we delay? here is One who will deliver us without labor of ours. Is it not extreme folly to put off accepting the Gift?” Let those hear who are Catechumens, and are putting off their salvation7 to their latest breath.
“Again,” saith the Evangelist, “Jn stood, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God.” Christ utters no word, His messenger saith all. So it is with a bridegroom. He saith not for a while anything to the bride, but is there in silence, while some show him to the bride, and others give her into his hands; she merely appears, and he departs not having taken her himself, but when he has received her from another who gives her to him. And when he has received her thus given, he so disposes her, that she no more remembers those who betrothed her. Soit was with Christ. He came to join to Himself the Church; He said nothing, but merely came. It was His friend, John, who put into His the bride’s right hand, when by his discourses he gave into His hand the souls of men. He having received them, afterwards so disposed them, that they departed no more to Jn who had committed them to Him.
[2.] And here we may remark, not this only, but something besides. As at a marriage the maiden goes not to the bridegroom, but he hastens to her, though he be a king’s son, and though he be about to espouse some poor and abject person, or even a servant, so it was here. Man’s nature did not go up,8 but contemptible and poor as it was, He came to it, and when the marriage had taken place, He suffered it no longer to tarry here, but having taken it to Himself, transported it to the house of His Father.
“Why then doth not Jn take his disciples apart, and converse with them on these matters, and so deliver them over to Christ, instead of saying publicly to them in common with all the people, ‘Behold the Lamb of God’?” That it may not seem to be a matter of arrangement; for had they gone away from him to Christ after having been privately admonished by him, and as though to do him a favor, they would perhaps soon have started away again; but now, having taken upon them the following Him, from teaching which had been general, they afterwards remained His firm disciples, as not having followed Him in order to gratify the teacher, but as looking purely to their own advantage.
The Prophets and Apostles then all preached Him absent; the Prophets before His coming according to the flesh, the Apostles after He was taken up; Jn alone proclaimed Him present. Wherefore he calls himself the “friend of the Bridegroom” (c. 3,29), since he alone was present at the marriage, he it was that did and accomplished all, he made a beginning of the work. And “looking upon Jesus walking, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God.” Not by voice alone, but with his eyes also he bore witness to, and expressed his admiration of, Christ, rejoicing and glorying. Nor does he for awhile address any9 word of exhortation to his followers, but only shows wonder and astonishment at Him who was present, and declares to all the Gift which He came to give, and the manner of purification. For “the Lamb” declares both these things. And he said not, “Who shall take,” or “Who hath taken”; but, “Who taketh away the sins of the world”; because this He ever doth. He took them not then only when He suffered, but from that time even to the present doth He take them away, not being repeatedly 10 crucified, (for He offered One Sacrifice for sins,) but by that One continually purging them. As then The Word shows us His pre-eminence, 11 and The Son His superiority in comparison with others, so “The Lamb, The Christ, that Prophet, the True Light, the Good Shepherd,” and whatever other names are applied to Him with the addition of the article, mark a great difference. For there were many “Lambs,” and “Prophets,” and “Christs,” and “sons,” but from all these John separates Him by a wide interval. And this he secured not by the article only, but by the addition of “Only-Begotten”; for He had nothing in common with the creation.
If it seems to any unseasonable that these things should be spoken at “the tenth hour” (that was the time of day, for he says, “It was about the tenth hour”—(v. 39), such an one seems to me to be much mistaken. In the case indeed of the many, and those who serve the flesh, the season after feasting is not very suitable for any matters of pressing moment, because their hearts 12 are burdened with meats: but here was a man who did not even partake of common food, and who at evening was as sober as we are at morning, (or rather much more so; for often the remains of our evening food that are left within us, fill our souls with imaginations, but he loaded his vessel with none of these things;) he with good reason spake late in the evening of these matters. Besides, he was tarrying in the wilderness by Jordan, where all came to his baptism with great fear, and caring little at that time for the things of this life; as also they continued with Christ three days, and had nothing to eat. (Mt 15,32). For this is the part of a zealous herald and a careful husbandman, not to desist before he see that the planted seed has got a firm hold. 13 “Why then did he not go about all the parts of Judaea preaching Christ, rather than stand by the river waiting for Him to come, that he might point Him out when He came?” Because he wished that this should be effected by His works; his own object being in the
mean time only to make Him known, and to persuade some to hear of eternal life. But to Him he leaves the greater testimony, that of works, as also He saith, “I receive not testimony of men. The works which My Father hath given Me, the same bear witness of Me.” (c. 5,34, 36). Observe how much more effectual this was; for when he had thrown in a little spark, at once the blaze rose on high. For they who before had not even given heed to his words, afterwards say, “All things which Jn spake were true.” (c. 10,41).
[3.] Besides, if he had gone about saying these things, what was being done would have seemed to be done from some human motive, and the preaching to be full of suspicion. 14 “And the two disciples heard him, and followed Jesus.”