Hearing the Lord’s Call

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

“Speak, for your servant is listening.” – 1 Samuel 3:10

Although a winter’s walk in the woods is usually a serene experience (unless you’re near a snowmobile trail), once spring returns, nature is not a quiet place. One can hear the calls of birds, peepers, insects, squirrels, and coyotes, to name just a few. The calls are a means to attract mates, or to mark off territory, or to warn off intruders. So many animals are wired for sound – and, more specifically, wired to hear the call of others. 

We humans are no different. Our own pets know this. Cats rarely meow on their own, but do so with us because we usually respond to that call. Not only that. What happens when you hear someone call your name? It’s as though some magic spell compels you to turn and look immediately. It takes  determination to resist the spell and not look. We are indeed wired to hear the call and to respond. Social by nature, we are attuned to the calls of other people – the greetings of family and friends, pleas for help, warnings of danger. Our survival as a species has largely depended on our ability to hear such calls, identify them, and respond appropriately.

This being “wired for the call” is just as true in our spiritual lives. We unconsciously await the call and are ready to respond. Whose call? And what kind of response? That is the challenge. Living in our multimedia culture, we hear many such calls. There are self-help experts and gurus and religious leaders and spiritual teachers of all kinds out there. In each one of their calls, we can discern something that feels real or true, at least to some extent. We feel this desire, this need, to choose. But how do we choose? If we simply reject them all, we find ourselves spiritually alone – vulnerable and defenseless in a confusing and threatening world. We become open to other calls – the calls of addiction, violence, abuse, and sin of all kinds. But whenever we answer any such call, that answer is itself usually a call from us – a cry of fear, a cry of a frightened child in a dark, lonely place with monsters seemingly just around the corner. We haven’t answered the true call. We feel alone and in danger. So, we answer the siren song that leads to death.  Even when we respond by acts of hatred or abuse or when we are ensnared by any addictions, that response is itself often rooted in that fear.

Now we turn to our first reading. The boy Samuel is living in the shrine of God with Eli the priest. Samuel hears the Lord calling to him, but he does not know that it is the Lord. He runs to Eli and says, “Here I am. You called me.” Like Samuel, we also want to run to whoever or whatever calls to us and say “Here I am. You called me.” In such a case, we often need an Eli in our own lives.

Now Eli was not the perfect or ideal Old Testament priest. However, he managed to get this one right. He did not try to take advantage of the situation by saying “Yes, I called you”, as many of the people and things that call to us now would do. No, he recognized that the Lord was calling Samuel, and told Samuel to say, when called, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”. Samuel does this, and then is open to the Lord’s presence and grace in his life.

We are ultimately wired to hear the Lord’s call. Like Samuel, we await that call without even being aware of it, and seek to respond genuinely and wholeheartedly. But how do we know when it’s the Lord who is calling? Many of us have been deceived before, or have deceived ourselves about this. And, who do we respond when it is the Lord?

First of all, we need an Eli in our own lives. Someone we can trust. Someone who is also close to the Lord and is not going to take advantage of us for their own ends. Someone who wants us to flourish, and wants to support our faith. If we are sincere in wanting this, the Lord provides us with such a person – or several such people. They may not always tell us what we want to hear at the moment, but they will help us be honest in seeking to hear the Lord and in responding to him with a generous heart. We can also find our Eli in the Scriptures, in the Mass, in the teachings of the Church, in the sacraments, and in the writings of those who have been close to the Lord. These help us learn the Lord’s ways, and thus help us discern what call is really from the Lord and what one is not. The Lord is unchanging in his love for us. There are certain unmistakable signs of his presence. All these “Elis” help us know when it is the Lord.

The greatest sign that it is the Lord calling to us is when the calling invites us to take the next step in making the passion, death and resurrection of Christ a greater reality in own lives. A genuine call from the Lord, first of all, reveals to us our true sinfulness. At the same time, it offers us overwhelming love, forgiveness, and the way out of the trap of sin. It invites us to a deep, childlike faith in the Lord. It may – or may not- inspire feelings of comfort or peace in us. It may challenge us to do something that may feel very difficult at first. But it also assures us that, whatever we are feeling, the Lord is always with us. We can trust his voice, his call, no matter what is happening and no matter how we feel. It is the trust of the Lord Jesus himself who on the cross, seemingly abandoned by nearly everyone who followed him, and in unspeakable pain, could ultimately entrust himself in an act of accepting love to the Father.

We seek to hear that call and respond to it in the same way. To admit to our need for an Eli is itself an act of humility, a response to the Lord’s call in us. It acknowledges that we cannot save ourselves, no matter how hard we try or how good we may be at anything. We need one another as we all feel to hear the Lord’s call and respond to it in the way the Lord wants.

Finally, our response to the Lord’s call opens our hearts to the Holy Spirit, whose love takes away all fear. How often did the Lord say to his disciples, “Be not afraid”? St. John Paul II often repeated those words, “Be not afraid!”, during his many travels. Why? Fear, as we saw, often leads us to answer the wrong call and to fall into the trap of sin and addiction of every kind. Trust opens us to the Lord’s Spirit, a Spirit of love that vanquishes the power of fear. We may still feel afraid and anxious. We may be in that boat, tossed about by the waves and feel certain that our doom is at hand. But there is the Lord, asleep in our boat, reminding us that even in the storm, we remain in the Father’s hands. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, Paul reminds us – and Paul knew his share of storms.  So, then. Listen for the call of the Lord. Find an Eli or two to help you hear it and remain faithful to it. Respond with your whole being. Trust. There is nothing to fear. The Lord is at hand.