Fr. Michael's Thoughts on Biblical Imagery: The First Vocations

FR MICHAEL BIBLICAL IMAGERY

(Fr Michael Boakye Yeboah: Vice Rector of St Gregory Seminary, Kumasi-Ghana)

THE FIRST VOCATIONS

I was happy when we finally resumed seminary formation after a long break because of Covid-19. The 9-month Covid-19 break has really been like a Sabbatical break. The break has really been fruitful to me. Among other things, I used the break to finish my fifth (5th) publication on priestly formation. Last Saturday, the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo allowed tertiary institutions in the country to return to school and start academic work. We are now back to active formation ministry. It is therefore appropriate that I write to you on vocations and the readings for today offers me that opportunity.

The scene found in the Gospel follows upon the story of the baptism of Jesus. He now begins his apostolic life. But it is not he who immediately issues a call for followers, rather, John the Baptist, the Old Covenant drawing to a close, sends his disciples to him. One is called Andrew, the unnamed other one must certainly be John, the writer of the Gospel. Discipleship here simply means followership, walking behind Jesus without knowing anything more than that one has been sent. Before long, however, Jesus turns around and looks at the two of them walking toward him. “What are you looking for?” They cannot put it into words, so they ask a question in return: “Master, where do you live?” Tell us where you are at home, so we can get to know you better. “Come and see!” He issues an invitation to accompany him, unaccompanied by any instruction. Only the one who accompanies will see. And the account confirms that this is what happened: “They went with him and saw and stayed.” “Abiding”, or “staying” is the word John uses for Jesus’ ultimate being, the word of faith and love. Even the third disciple, Simon, is not called but is brought to him, almost forced to come. Jesus takes a look at him: I know you – “You are Simon, the son of John.” But I need you for a different purpose – you shall be called Cephas, Rock, Peter. In the very first chapter of the Gospel of John everything is definitive and absolute; we find only challenges, not invitations. Jesus not only requires everything of this man, he requires him as the foundation stone for everything he is going to build. In the last chapter of the book Peter will be the foundation stone to such a degree that he will also have to undergird ecclesial love: “Simon, do you love me more than these?”

The first reading tells the story of the calling of the first prophet, the boy Samuel. God calls him out of his sleep. He hears the call but does not know who has called him. “At that time Samuel was not familiar with the Lord.” Thus, at both the first and second call he goes to Eli the priest, until Eli realizes at the third call that the Lord himself was calling the boy. Eli gives Samuel appropriate instructions: “If he calls you again, say: ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” In a New Testament sense this points to ecclesial, priestly mediation. Young people do indeed hear a call, but are unsure and unable to interpret and explicate it properly. The Church, the priest, who can distinguish a genuine from a merely imagined call, enters the picture. Like Eli in the Old Covenant, the priest must be able to discern whether it is really God who is calling and if it is, train people to listen to the word perfectly, like a servant. I count it a blessing every day that I am in the seminary helping young men to discern their call. My five books on priestly formation have this as my aim – just to help young men to listen and understand their vocation. May God continue to help all those involve in seminary formation.

The second reading makes it clear that one who truly hears and applies what he learns to his life “no longer belongs to himself”. He has been purchased and, like a slave, belongs body and soul to his Lord. Here the emphasis is placed on the body, which has been taken from the one called, for, as Paul says, the one called is now a member in the holy body of Christ. Anyone who sins in his own body soils the body of Christ. The dispossession that takes place in these stories of vocation is total, not partial: the whole man enters God’s service bodily, to accompany, see, stay. The Blessed Virgin Mary is a perfect example of total dedication to the call of God; for she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said.”

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