Ask any married couple, "How did you know your husband or wife was the one for you?" Everyone would have a different answer. Some knew right away, from the moment they first saw each other. For other couples, the process was longer. They may have known each other for years and dated off and on before they decided to spend the rest of their lives together.
No matter how they met or how they decided to marry, every couple has one thing in common. They had to decide together that marriage was the right thing for them. One person cannot decide on his own that he wants to get married. It is a joint decision because marriage is by its nature a partnership.
As Christians, we have an even deeper understanding of what marriage is because of the teaching of Jesus. Marriage is more than a contract between a man and a woman. Marriage is a calling from God himself. God is the one who brings a man and a woman together to live as examples of the beauty of his love. That is why Jesus can say, "What God has joined, no man may tear asunder." It is God himself who joins a man and a woman in married life. It is God who calls them to live together as one.
Marriage is not the only calling. Some men are called to be priests or deacons. Some women are called to live as religious sisters. Different careers such as writing or business can also be callings. Each one of us, in one way or another, is called to be part of God's plan and to contribute to the common good. Each one of us is chosen by God to play a special and unique role in the salvation of the world.
Today's readings speak to us about what it means to be called by God.
In the first reading, young Samuel is asleep in the temple when the Lord calls him. But he mistakes it for the voice of his mentor, Eli. Sometimes we wish that God would just come down from heaven and tell us himself what he wants of us. Just such a thing happened to Samuel - in the temple where the Ark of the Covenant was, no less - and he still needed help understanding that it was the voice of the Lord he was hearing. His mentor gives him excellent advice. When you hear the Lord call, simply say: "Speak Lord, your servant is listening."
Listening is an important part of any relationship. But it is crucial to our relationship with God. If we are to know where God is calling us, we must listen. God may be speaking to us by placing a desire to serve him in our hearts. He may be speaking to us through a passage from Scripture that we keep opening our Bible to or that we hear being quoted frequently. He may be speaking to us through a friend. One thing is sure - God is trying to get our attention. We have to open our ears, and more importantly our hearts, if we are going to get the message.
Today's gospel tells the story of the calling of Jesus' first disciples. They were among those who answered the call of John the Baptist to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. John points Jesus out to them, and they decide to follow him. But something interesting happens. Before they could speak a word to him, Jesus turns around and asks them, "What are you looking for?" Jesus makes it clear to them that it is not they who are choosing him, but he who is choosing them. Throughout the gospels, no one follows Jesus on their own initiative. It is always Jesus who picks out and calls those who will be his disciples.
Just so, none of us can make our own path in life. None of us can live our lives "our way." God has a plan for each of us. We can either say "yes" to God, or "no". But our lives belong to God, and our peace is only in doing his will.
We all know how true this is by looking at our own lives. We have all tried forcing things to work out, and they just didn't. We may have wanted to be doctors or rock stars when we grew up, and it just didn't fit. Or there may have been that one woman or one man we wanted to spend our life with, and the relationship just wouldn't work. For some reason, the pieces didn't seem to fit no matter how hard we tried. We had to finally stop trying to force things to happen and let events take their course. We then started to experience peace as things began to work themselves out on their own. We could then look back and thank God that the course of our life worked out his way and not our way.
It is not always easy to know what God's will for us is. If it wasn't easy for young Samuel in the temple nor for the followers of Jesus, then we cannot expect it to be any easier for us. Like the decision to get married, it takes time for the right course of action to become clear to us. It takes much patience and a heart willing to listen for God's voice. But there is also great relief in knowing that an almighty and all-loving God is in control, and that he has a plan for us.
The Catholic spiritual writer, Thomas Merton, put together the following prayer for people like us who want to serve God but are not always sure how:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire
in all that I am doing.