Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Ordinary Time refers to all of the weeks of the Church Year that are outside of the Advent-Christmas seasons and Lent-Easter seasons. The name “Ordinary Time” comes from the fact that Sundays of this season are named after ordinal numbers – numbers such as Second, Third, Fourth, etc. The liturgical color of Ordinary Time is green.
In the Second, Third, and Fourth Sundays in Ordinary Time, we hear about various types of vocational callings. Today’s homily focuses on a very unique type of vocational calling by the Lord, a type that I call the “Samuel-like” model. I particularly like this type of call, for that is the one that occurred in my life.
This model is found in today’s selection from First Samuel (3: 3b-10, 19). In this passage, a young man named Samuel was sleeping in the temple. Samuel’s mother, Hannah, had taken Samuel, when he was just a young child, and gave him to the priest Eli to raise. Eli did just that. Now, Eli was an elderly man.
Suddenly, the Lord called Samuel. Samuel naturally thought that Eli had called him. So, he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am.” Eli told Samuel that he had not called him, and he should go back to sleep. This happened two times more. Finally, it dawned on Eli that it must be the Lord who was calling Samuel. So, Eli told Samuel that the next time he heard the call, he should say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And indeed, the Lord called Samuel again, and Samuel replied, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” The Scripture passage then says, “Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.”
In this model, God often calls individuals to follow Him at a very early age. The individuals try to follow the call, but God has a very long and winding path for them to follow. Therefore, God keeps saying, “Not yet.” Thus, such individuals follow other vocational or occupational paths until one day, God finally says, “Now is the time.” Often this type of vocational journey can prepare an individual in extraordinary ways that would not have been possible if he or she had received a call to follow the Lord immediately, such some of the apostles received as we’ll see next week.
My priestly vocational journey was a Samuel-like journey. By the age of four or five years, I knew without any doubt that when I grew up, I would become a Catholic priest. The household in which I was raised for my first six years of life was not particularly religious, and I never knew any priests intimately. The call to priesthood was simply planted in my heart.
When I was fourteen, I entered a Maryknoll Junior Seminary outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania. For the next four years of high school, I received an incredible classical education. The faculty was composed of Maryknoll Missionary priests who loved to tell of their amazing mission stories in exotic places around the globe. Also in the seminary, we had a strong emphasis on writing, for the priest faculty in the Maryknoll college seminary told the high school faculty that the college seminarians were deficient in writing skills. Therefore, the faculty made sure we had many writing assignments.
At graduation, my spiritual director advised me to go see the world before continuing my priestly journey. So, that is what I did.
First, I became a Registered Nurse and practiced in almost every field of nursing, beginning with gynecological nursing and eventually practicing psychiatric-mental health and chemical dependency nursing.
Through the years, I practiced nursing on weekend nights, was a full-time college student, and taught on the university level. Eventually I received my Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Montana and my post-doctoral Master of Science degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Following graduation, I became a professor the University of Iowa and, through the next ten years, was a visiting scholar in various places such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Texas. Interestingly, the University of Iowa is a “publish or perish” institution, so to continue on the tenure track, I had to write. It was then that I understood how God had helped me be a writer by giving me a solid high school foundation.
All through the years following Maryknoll, I never lost the desire to begin studying once again for the priesthood, but every time I would try, there would be an obstacle in my path. In retrospect, however, the “obstacles” were actually blessings. Finally, though, one day as I was walking my little dog Patches by a lake near Iowa City, I felt God say, “Okay, now is the time. Get prepared for seminary.”
So, I took two more years of college, gave up my home, professorship, and most of my books and began a five-year program to become a priest.
In 1998 I was ordained as a priest of the Diocese of Raleigh, and I have to say that everything I learned in nursing and sociology, I put into pastoral ministry as a parish priest. Further, like a snowball rolling downhill, I discovered that I could not stop writing. So now instead of writing in nursing and sociology, I write in other fields.
So how about my missionary heart? Well, I set others on fire with the missionary spirit and hope they can do the same.
As for the future, I believe the best is yet to come. All the nursing, sociology, writing, missiology, and pastoral ministry will all come together to lead me to the most exciting, joyful, and fulfilling time of my life.
So, the “Samuel-like” vocation can be pretty exciting.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2018.