Saturday, June 17, 2006

Called

The Gospel says that when Jesus saw James and John at the seashore, He called them. He did the same to Peter and Andrew, saying: Follow Me. This Sunday, on the Byzantine liturgical calendar, is that of the calling of the first disciples of Christ. As we begin with the cycle of Matthew in the Sunday gospels, we are looking at the beginning of the Christian mystery. Being a Christian begins with being called. But just what does it mean to be called, and what is the content of the calling, and what should be our response?

When God acts outside of Himself, He calls. He called creation into being simply by saying: “Let there be…” He called Abraham to be the father of the chosen people, called Moses to give them his law, called the prophets to be his spokesmen. God takes the initiative: He loves us first, He sends out his word to do his will, He speaks and expects a response. So when God sent his eternal Word made flesh into the world, Jesus began to carry out the Father’s will by calling people: to follow Him, to learn the revelation He was sent to give, and eventually to call the rest of humanity to salvation through Christ. Peter and the other disciples proved themselves worthy of his calling by responding immediately, leaving even their very livelihoods at the simple invitation of Jesus. “Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” Jesus could then make good on his promise to make them fishers of men.

We may understand that Christians are called by God to eternal life through Christ, but what is the content of this calling? To what are we all called? Here I don’t mean particular vocations within the Church, but that to which every Christian is called, that which makes us worthy of the name. There are several indications in Scripture.

St Paul tells us two things at the beginning of the Letter to the Romans: we are called to belong to Jesus Christ, and we are called to be saints. Similarly in First Corinthians he says we are called to communion with Christ. Belonging to Christ and being in communion with Him constitute the foundation of the Christian life. This belonging and communion begin with the sacraments of initiation: baptism, chrismation, and Holy Communion. This is only the beginning of a whole life of fidelity to the Gospel of Christ. Paul says in Galatians that those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. In this context he lists the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit, so we have no doubts as to how a Christian is to live.

Scripture also says we are called to be children of God, called to peace, to hope, and to glory. St Peter says that we are called to suffer as a way of following in the footsteps of Christ, and that we are called to bless, even when we are cursed or mistreated. In fact, we can say that anything that Scripture exhorts us to do (or not to do) is a calling, an expression of part of the fullness of what it means to have been called out of the darkness of sin into the marvelous light of grace and virtue and salvation.

To be among those who respond to the call of Christ is to be open to the grace of the Holy Spirit. We know from the Pentecost account in Acts that it was those who were faithful followers of Christ who received the Holy Spirit, and they were thus all the more able to live out their response to God’s call in holiness and fearless witness to the truth.

We learn from St Cyril of Jerusalem that the gift of the Holy Spirit enables us to see what we hadn’t seen before, see what others don’t see. Now, some discernment is needed here, because schizophrenics and those who use hallucinogenic drugs also see what others don’t see! But there is a crucial distinction. Those who see things by means of drugs or because of mental illness see distortions and phantasms and things that aren’t really there. Those who see by means of the Holy Spirit see what really is there, even though it cannot be seen by those with dulled spiritual perception or those blinded by sin and selfish pursuits. In the Holy Spirit the veil is lifted a bit and we are initiated into divine mysteries, to the extent that God sees is necessary for us to bear fruit in the particular vocation to which He has called us.

So let us reflect on what it means to be called by God, called to be saints, to hope, to suffer, and to bless, to choose spiritual growth over superficial happiness, and to do all that constitutes the Christian vocation. Jesus is approaching us now, saying, Follow Me. Are we willing to rise immediately and go after Him? Ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to see what you haven’t seen before, see the truth of God more clearly, experience his love more profoundly. Then there will be no hesitation. You will follow wholeheartedly, rejoicing that you are called to belong to Jesus Christ.