We’re having a Come & See Discernment Weekend on February 17 – 19, so the student brothers went out two-by-two (or three, in my case) to inspire young men to begin listening to God’s voice and be active in discerning their vocation. Before now, I’d only preached three times, solely to fellow friars. Finally, I got the chance to preach to an actual congregation.
We traveled to the Newman Center at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where I preached the Saturday evening Mass. While our goal was to attract men to our Come & See, this Mass had few students in attendance. But vocations are not limited to young men aspiring to the priesthood; everyone needs to discern the call of God in their lives.
After Mass, an older parishioner, perhaps 75 years old, thanked me for my preaching. She spoke those humbling words many preachers have heard: “You were speaking directly to me.” I came to inspire young men, yet my words moved this older woman. Even now, the Lord continues challenging her and asking her to serve him in new ways. Within the last few weeks, she found herself twice at the side of the dying. She was privileged to pray at their sides as they passed to their eternal reward. She felt an urge, a calling, to reach out to the dying.
Later I had the opportunity to teach the seventh- and eighth-grade catechism class at our nearby parish. At last, the chance to speak to young people, although too young for a Come & See. Maybe I could plant an initial seed. Yet once again, I was more in touch with the catechist than the students. She, too, was older, perhaps in her early sixties. Throughout life, she felt called to be a contemplative nun, yet chose to marry instead. With her husband’s passing five years ago, she suddenly found herself able to pursue this other vocation. The Lord was challenging her, calling her to continue serving him in different, unanticipated ways throughout her life.
Maybe my preaching did not directly inspire young men to listen to God’s voice, to be open to their vocation, and discern with the Dominicans. Nonetheless, I unexpectedly saw other generations also struggling with God’s call. Perceiving God’s will and listening to his voice is never finished. The Lord constantly challenges all people to serve him wholeheartedly, regardless of their age, job, or position in life. Vocation is a reality to everyone, not just young men.
An excerpt from my preaching...
When talking about “vocation” today, we usually think about vocation to the priesthood. However, every single person has a vocation, a calling, a unique purpose to serve God. In some ways, we are all called to preach. Preaching does not occur solely from the pulpit, but also in conversations, in acts of kindness, in love. Loving others with an undivided heart is a part of the preaching of the Gospel.
Last year, I taught in an elementary school serving primarily working-class families. Most of these families were broken, with divorced parents and crowded homes. Many children could only depend on one meal a day: the school lunch. I worked frequently with a girl named Katie. Katie’s small, three-bedroom apartment was home to fifteen family members. Her father, who was no longer in her life, had emotionally abused the entire family. This eight-year-old was even receiving professional therapy for emotional problems, so school was not a major concern for her. When Katie occasionally understood something, I praised her, trying to allow her to feel good about herself.
Toward the end of the year, I was gone from school for a month. When I returned, Katie ran to me, yelling “Br. Raphael!” and wrapped her arms around my legs, a rare sign of affection from this little girl. I realized that during the year, I had been preaching the Gospel to her. I seldom talked about Jesus or the Gospel according to Mark, but still I preached the Gospel. I loved Katie as a child of God, seeing God dwelling within her. I valued her and gave her a sense of dignity that was unknown in her life.
That is a kind of preaching we are all called to, to love others and treat them truly as children of God. It is a true challenge for us to examine how we preach in our lives, how the Lord is calling us to serve him and his people, and how willing we are to listen to his call and fulfill the unique purpose he has for each of us.
God has a word that he needs spoken which only you can say; are you willing to say it?