There’s a Career Center on the campus of Georgetown University, where I serve as Dean of Students. The Center is beautiful and inviting. Light- filled, comfortably furnished, and staffed by a professional staff ready to advise students contemplating their post-graduation lives. Usually, at this time of year, it would be filled with students waiting for news from prospective employers or graduate schools, anxiously wondering what that news will mean for them- where will the live, will they find an apartment, did they make the right choice?
Contrast that with the story in in today’s readings. Here we find Samuel and Eli. Eli is an aging leader, “dim of sight” and Samuel is a boy of eleven, asleep in the Temple at Shiloh, guarding the Ark. Hardly an inviting place -no comfortable couches on which to rest his head, only a stone floor. But although he doesn't yet know it, Samuel is also waiting for news – news that will transform his life.
Twice, God called the sleeping Samuel. But Samuel did not recognize the voice of the Lord
Only when God called for the third time, did Samuel respond:
Speak Lord, your servant is listening.
As I reflected on today’s readings, I was struck by this powerful narrative of vocation awakened, and wondered what it means at this extraordinary moment in our lives, at this extraordinary moment in our world.
In the 14th century, St. Catherine of Siena said:
Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.
Six hundred years later, we struggle with this question, and we continue to ask -who does God mean me to be?
This is not a question that only Christians struggle with, of course.
The Dharmic tradition speaks of the sacred duty to stay true to oneself, to find one’s dharma, one’s true path.
And the Hebrew word for work, avodah, is also the word for prayer. The Torah teaches that, at its most true, our work, our vocation, has the potential to repair the world.
In Christianity, vocation is a calling, a calling to live a full and authentic life. Finding our vocation is, for most of us, a journey. I know that it has been for me. Hills and valleys, times of silence and times when the voice of the heart speaks clearly.
Speak Lord, your servant is listening.
Since, for most of us, God’s call is not clear as it was for Samuel, how do we discern our vocation- how do we know where our gifts meet the needs of the world?
I’ve often found inspiration and instruction in the lives of others.
I’ve always loved biographies – and one I recently re-read was Kate Hennessey’s biography of her grandmother, Dorothy Day. Radical pacifist, advocate for the homeless, Catholic convert, Dorothy Day abandoned a bohemian life, left the man she loved, and embraced poverty to live a life authentically hers.
Now that’s a vocation story…
Dorothy Day fell in love, and as the Jesuit Pedro Arrupe reminds us:
Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is than
Falling in love
In a quite absolute, final way
What you are in love with
What seizes your imagination
Will affect everything
It will decide
What will get you out of bed in the morning
What you do with your evenings
How you spend your weekends
What you read, who you know
What breaks heart
And what amazes with joy and gratitude.
Fall love, stay in love
And it will decide everything.
Over the past year, we have been confronted with the fragility of life in a way that few of us have ever experienced- and from that, has come a hunger for connection and community.
Like many of us, I have navigated these months of isolation by reaching out to family and friends, women like:
Sarah, a pediatrician, caring for the youngest victims of the pandemic.
Sacasha, who left Wall Street to work with the vulnerable elderly in a nursing home in Florida.
Alyssa, crafting policies to improve the lives of the urban poor.
Joanna, walking in humble accompaniment with migrants at the Mexican border.
Elisa, teaching immigrant children in the Los Angeles neighborhood where she grew up.
Yamiche, speaking truth to power as a journalist.
Women who have found their vocation, living lives of joy and purpose – authentic lives, lighting the world on fire.
So, what do we choose in this moment of challenge and opportunity? I know, myself, how easy it is to return to the familiar routine- in T.S. Eliot’s words, to measure out my life through coffee spoons.
So, as we begin to emerge from isolation and division, can we pause to listen? Will we listen to the stirrings of our hearts, or will we let the noise silence them?
Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.
And as we enter this new year, unlike any other, a year of hope and a year of challenge, let’s remember that
Implicit in our Christian vocation is a call to leadership- not to be confused with high office, but rather moral leadership, a commitment to the common good and to the care of the most vulnerable in our world, joining “charity with justice”. The vocation of citizenship demands that we live with integrity and compassion, that we answer the call to a “saintliness demanded by the present moment” that we see in the vocations of Dorothy Day and Sacasha and Sarah and Elisa and Alyssa and Joanna and Yamiche, and in all our sisters who do the hard, joyful work of this beautiful broken world.
So, let’s not forget the lessons of this year. Let’s raise our voices together on behalf of those whose voices are silenced, and say, with joy and courage:
Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will.
Jeanne Fielding Lord
Jeanne Fielding Lord
Jeanne Fielding Lord serves as Associate Vice President and Dean of Students at Georgetown and has been professorial lecturer in the Department of Catholic Studies and currently teaches in the Designing the Futures program at the University. She holds a J.D. from The Catholic University of America and an Ed.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She is a recipient of the Matteo Ricci Prize and an honorary member of Alpha Sigma Nu. Since 2013, she has directed the AJCU Leadership Institute.
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