Godís Selection Frequently Seems Flawed!By Wilton D. Gregory, President of the United States Conference of Bishops
From time immemorial, God's choices and His intentions have repeatedly perplexed and mystified the human heart! Is that not the exact meaning of the Lord's Word that we have just heard? After all, how could the Lord select Saul as His chosen instrument? Why would God want one who had been such a violent persecutor of the Church to become the most respected preacher and Apostle of the mission of Jesus Christ? Why would Christ choose to give us His Body and Blood for our nourishment? And during these days devoted to the topic of Priestly and Religious Vocations, must we all not also wonder how the Lord may be speaking to the hearts of young men and women in our world today. How can these remarkable young people clearly hear and generously respond to the voice of the Lord that is calling them in the midst of the many and confusing voices to which they must also take notice of each day?
Vocations to the Priesthood or Religious Life rarely come to any person with the transparency or with the assurance with which Jesus summoned Saul into His service. Would that they did! Alone on that well-worn road to Damascus, Saul was caught up in his own plans conceivably like so many young people in today's world. Perhaps he was contemplating those murderous threats of violence against that small community of Christians that he would find in Damascus. How could Christ select and call such a man? In the first chapters of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, Saul is truly the villain and a very dangerous man. Vocations frequently simply do not make much sense. Perhaps that is the first lesson that we must all learn or remember from our own journeys of Faith.
God regularly chooses and summons the most unlikely people to accomplish His Will. Just consider me or any of the other Bishops, Priests, or Religious present in this assembly! In the depths of our hearts, we all know and must confess that God could have done better! We priests can all remember the many wonderful young men who were our contemporaries, our friends, and our fellow students who were so much better candidates than we were! God routinely calls those that most others may overlook. Vocations to the Priesthood and Consecrated Life are not lacking in our world but, discernment, listening, acceptance, and trust; however, do seem to be in short supply.
What if Saul had dared to respond to the heavenly voice in the negative! What if Saul had simply said that he had other things to do and among those were included the crushing of the infant Christian community? He perhaps would have remained blind. Saul's summons led to the restoration of his sight. But Saul's vocation eventually also led to enlightenment in Christ for countless billions of other souls. Saul was all too similar to young people in today's world who may be blinded by the attraction of life's pleasures and joys. With eyes wide open, so many young people do not see what God is calling them to become for others. Paul's vocation was to become the Apostle of the Gentiles - that's you and me - in case you didn't know. What if Paul had said no? The rejection, the disregard, the postponement of a vocation is not merely a personal matter. God calls not just for personal reasons but for the very life of the world.
In our Vocations Conference, we need to remember and to remind others that vocations to the Priesthood and Consecrated life are not simply personal privileges. Each vocation is for the good of the one called and the Church and the world in which we are called to work. Vocations are the means by which people come to see and to believe. Many of us are blinded by the light that God casts into our lives by way of the vocations to which we are called. I have always thought that the real purpose of Saul's call to have been an invitation to restore first his sight and then to become a light for the nations. Saul was blind until he began to see what God wanted him to do with his life for the life of the world. Many of us are blind to what the Lord may be calling us to do for the sake of His Kingdom.
The Church cannot exist without the ordained Priesthood. We cannot possibly dine upon the Bread of Life that Christ offers without ministers who act in His name and in His person. Christ has designed the Priesthood to be the very means by which He feeds the great and ever hungry throngs of humanity. Jesus Christ gives Himself as Bread and Wine for those who are hungry and thirsty - often without knowing the true depths of their hunger or thirst. The Eucharist is Gift and Grace; it is the source of Life with the Father because it is the very Life of the Son given for us. The Ordained Priesthood is the vehicle that brings the Church this Life Giving Bread. We Priests offer the Gift that is far greater than ourselves not because of our sanctity or faultlessness, but because the One who is given chooses us to be the channels of His power. And since we have already acknowledged that God's choices are often hard to fathom, we need look no further than Paul or any of us to see just how wayward God's choices often may be.
Saul, when the Lord Jesus blinded him became meek and docile. The great terror of the Church became humble and submissive. Vocations somehow reduce us all into accepting God's Will. We become blind and needy because the Lord calls us to Himself. Vocations are gifts even in their disturbing demands. But they are never intended to be a selfish victory. Vocations to the Priesthood and Consecrated Life are for those who are hungry for the Bread that causes them to live forever and to witness the holiness of life to which Christ calls the entire Church. We already know that God likes to choose the unlikely, what we ought to do in this Eucharist is to see if God's pattern of selection is still as off target as it always seems to have been - perhaps even calling some of the young men here to Priestly Service or some of the young women to Consecrated Life. Do not think that God could not possibly be inviting me - look what He did with Saul who became Paul and through whom the Gentile World first heard the Word of Life. God likes to do unusual things with the most likely people - perhaps even you!