“As John stood with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God.’ Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’ they answered, ‘Rabbi,’ – which means Teacher – ‘where do you live?’ ‘Come and see’ he replied; so they went and saw where he lived and stayed with him the rest of that day. It was about the tenth hour.
On of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him ‘We have found the Messiah’ – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas’ – meaning Rock.”
Normally and rightly so, I think, when it comes to analyzing what is lacking in the promotion of vocations to priesthood and the religious life we focus for an answer on the second paragraph of today’s Gospel reading. We say, just as Andrew took Simon to Jesus, so we (priests, parents, teachers, parishioners) must call forth the gifts in our children. We must lead them to Jesus. This paragraph teaches mightily about vocation as calling and about the discernment of vocations. Every moment and aspect of this paragraph from John’s Gospel offers us instruction on how a calling from God works within the community of the Church, which is the Body of Christ.
For some strange reason, this morning early as I prepared for Mass paragraph #1 was what struck me. It was not John the Baptist’s “Look, there is the lamb of God” but rather Andrew and the unnamed disciple who took off and followed Jesus who drew my attention. Their following the lamb of God takes on its content in the brief and poignant exchange with Jesus, but what struck me more was their responsiveness to John’s indication of who it was who was passing by. To be very brief, another and perhaps unexamined factor in the vocations equation, besides folks doing more to encourage young people to enter the seminary or the convent, is the variable “responsiveness”.
When I was in 8th grade at the Cathedral, the Bishop was planning the opening of his “Latin school”, his minor seminary, as requested by Blessed Pope John XXIII (Veterum sapientiae). It was decided that a photo opportunity at the construction site for the diocesan paper might be a good way to bring this event to the attention of all of the-out-of-town parishes, as well. The five town parishes and their Catholic grade schools came through very nicely and the photographer found himself with the bishop, all the priests from town and more than 40 eager 8th grade boys in the picture.
Two of us in that picture eventually got to the next stage: “‘What do you want?’ they answered, ‘Rabbi,’ – which means Teacher – ‘where do you live?’ ‘Come and see’…” and then at some point there was one from among those 40, but no matter, the rest of the parishes out-of-town did their part and eventually (13 years later) after 4 years without ordinations, the Bishop ordained 7 men to the priesthood, 4 of them from his “Latin school”.
Everyone in the Church plays a part in discerning vocations until ultimately the Bishop, on the advice of those charged with a man’s formation, speaks really and with certainty for God Himself and chooses “our brother here present for the order of presbyter”. But nothing happens if Andrew and the other disciple don’t take that first step. The responsiveness of the 40 boys posing for the old black and white photo at the construction site is a given and I fear that this is what is lacking many times today.
Even before that little boy tires of thoughts about being a cowboy or a fireman there has to be tilled ground ready for seeding. I fear that the noise level of our world today and all the distractions which take us out of the quieter, slow-paced world of once upon a time haven’t been sufficiently addressed. How can you even find the occasion with a 13 or 14 year old today to say, “You know, the diocese really needs priests, have you ever thought of the seminary?’
For now, I just want to throw this thought out to parents and educators: Are we giving our children the skills to compensate for all the distractions we foist upon them? Cell phones, Ipods, laptops and HDTV are not so novel that we can’t begin to work on strategies to guarantee children quiet time, play time outdoors and access to story books.
Andrew and the other disciple may have been confronted with other challenges in life, but they certainly didn’t have to worry about over stimulation blunting their responsiveness to a prophetic word spoken by John. Christ came in the fullness of time, but that time (Anno Domini) continues. There has to be a way to touch hearts and lives, to prepare the seed ground yet today.