Speak Lord, your Servant is listening

Speak Lord, your Servant is listening

Here is the homily I preached at the 8 am Mass in the Cathedral this last Sunday, 14th January, the Second Sunday of the Year.

Recently a group of youngsters asked me when I first wanted to become a priest. I first thought about it at the age of 11. The Vocations Director had visited school and he gave an inspiring talk. That summer our family went on holiday to Ilfracombe in North Devon. I really liked it, so when we got back, I wrote to the Bishop of Plymouth to say I wanted to become a priest, in Ilfracombe. He wrote a nice letter back, but saying basically, grow up first, then write again. It was only years later at university in London, that the Lord put the thought of being a priest back in my head.

Here I am Lord! I come to do your will. The Readings today are about vocation. The First Reading is one of the most tender passages in the Old Testament: the call of Samuel, a young boy, to whom God suddenly speaks: Samuel! Samuel! He thinks it’s Eli: Here I am, you called. It happened again, and then again, until Eli, a wise and holy man, realised it was God calling. Go and lie down. If someone calls, say: Speak Lord; your servant is listening. And so, God called again and for the first time in his life, Samuel met the Lord and began a life-long friendship with Him. It’s the same in the Gospel, the call of the first disciples. John pointed to Jesus: Look, there is the Lamb of God. They followed Him. Jesus turned round: What do you want? They said awkwardly: Where do you live? Come and see Jesus replied, and they spent the rest of the day with Him – and many more days too, so much so that Andrew went to get his brother Peter: We have found the Messiah. These readings are all about the first time in life we discover the reality of God and embark on a personal relationship with him. They make us ask about our own spiritual lives, and how we are helping our children to develop a spiritual life. ARE we helping them? Or do we concentrate too much on their material life? And what about my own spiritual life, my own friendship with God, my listening to Him, my prayer and discipleship?

When I was on the staff at Oscott, we had a student from Norway whose bishop used to visit every year. The bishop, whose diocese stretched to the Arctic Circle, was fascinating. The Church in Norway is numerically very small yet there are many signs of vitality. In 2006, he told us, some Cistercian nuns arrived from America, in order to rebuild, on an island in a fjord, a mediaeval convent destroyed during the Reformation. Today, that convent has many vocations and people from all over Scandinavia go there on retreat. He also said that the Church, though tiny, is never out of the media. The press is forever criticising Catholics, making fun, ridiculing our moral teaching – a subtle persecution that by God’s providence generates a stream of converts. In other words, God still speaks today. God still calls. Jesus still invites people into a personal friendship with him, if only, like Samuel, they’d be ready to listen.

Speak Lord; your servant is listening. The boy Samuel and those first disciples are a model for us. They symbolise the soul, waiting to hear God’s word, open to receive it and ready to respond. Notice what they do when they know they have found the Lord: they go to tell others the Good News too, bringing them to the Jesus. They become His disciples and once formed, they become apostles, people sent. In our own lives, and in this day and age, our Catholic witness is crucial. So, in this Mass, let’s renew our personal commitment to follow Jesus. Let us entreat Him to deepen our spiritual life and our prayer. And let’s ask Him to enable us as His apostles to draw many others to the salvation He offers in His Church. In a word, let us say: Here I am Lord! I come to do your will.