God-given Vocations

Readings: 1 Kgs. 19.16-21; Ps. 15; Gal. 5. 13-18; Lk. 9. 51-62

The first and third readings today focus on response to our God-given vocations. Around 800 B.C., the prophet Elijah was searching for a successor to his vocation as Godís prophet. God indicated that Elisha was Godís choice. Elijah approached Elisha; Elijah threw a cloak over Elisha as a sign of Godís selecting him, and protecting him. Elisha accepted Godís call, and followed it, even though Elisha did not know where this response to vocation would lead him.

In the gospel, Jesus calls disciples to follow him, but they come up with apparently good reasons not to follow Jesus at that moment. One disciple says, "Let me go first and bury my father," and another explains, "Let me first say farewell to my family." Jesus replies with popular proverbs. Just as we might say, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me," or "Family comes first," Jesus replies with two contemporary proverbs: "Let the dead bury the dead, whose meaning scholars explain as, "Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead," but, in any case, Jesus is moving forward. The other proverb says, "Whoever sets a hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God," which describes a farmer in Jesusí time who typically held with one hand the handle of the plow, and with the other hand the whip with which he directed the beast of burden. If that farmer were to look backwards over his shoulder, chances are that his plow would go off line, and affect the planting and eventual harvesting. Again, the message is, "Jesus keeps moving forward. Follow him, and the call he has given you."

These vocational readings apply to us all: married, single, single again, religious sisters and priests. Like Elisha, we donít know precisely where we are going; we say "yes" to God, and place ourselves in Godís hands. Think back on the day and year when you took your vows, you could never have written the script for your life. When we first took our vows, we were all starry eyed, and idealistic. Reality, however, has carved a path for us, which most of us never foresaw. Most of us are probably more like St. Peter than Elisha. We said and still say "yes" to God, out of deep faith, hope, and love for God. Yet like Peter, we probably from time to time have stumbled: have discovered the hard way that we canít walk on water, that sometimes we canít even stand up and profess our faith in Jesus, that our actions and words may deny our relationship with Jesus, and that we repeat like Peter, "Depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man/woman." Yet Jesus loved Peter, hand-selected Peter, and gave him huge responsibility. And by the grace of God, Peter, although broken and humbled, responded as best he could.

May you and I hear and respond as generously as possible to our God-given vocational call. Elijah and Elisha provide great examples, but I suspect most of us more easily identify with St. Peter. We keep trying to do the best we can, which is never perfect. We recognize that whatever good we do, we accomplish through the power and grace of God. With the psalmist today, we pray: "I set the Lord ever before me."

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley