Our first scripture for Holy Mass is a dramatic, memorable excerpt from an Old Testament text called the First Book of Samuel.
The First Book of Samuel is the first volume of a two part telling of the events that lead up to the establishment of the Kingdom of David. King David is the paradigm of what is means to be a ruler of Israel, and his significance for the Church is that he is a foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus- you can’t really understand who the Lord Jesus is and his unique mission if you know little or nothing about King David and his kingdom.
The Book of Samuel is considered to be one of the historical books of the Bible, which means it is recalling real events and real people. The Bible is not fantasy fiction. Samuel is one of these real people, in fact, the story of David’s kingdom does not begin with David, it begins with Samuel.
Samuel was one of the greatest of the prophets of Israel. Now some might think of a prophet as someone who foretells the future, and the prophets of the Bible often do this, but this is not the simply what the biblical prophets were all about.
The Biblical prophets, men like Moses, Elijah and Samuel, were chosen by God for a particular purpose and endowed by the Lord with supernatural gifts so that they could accomplish the mission that God gives to them. In other words, the prophets are forces to be reckoned with and history changes because of them.
The witness of the prophets highlight an important article of our faith- that we believe that God is active in the world and intensely interested in human affairs. God is not for the Christian a distant, cosmic force or an idea or an emotion- God is a living, divine person who acts in our lives and in the world. He makes himself known in history and we can know God and have a relationship with him.
Our scripture from the First Book of Samuel for today is taken from the third chapter, so we miss the set up that would enable us to make sense out of the excerpt we heard. Samuel is born at a time when the people of Israel are in the midst of a period of spiritual decline. The people have little interest in or memory of the covenant that God had made with their ancestors (by covenant here, think “relationship”) and so many of the Israelites have become spiritual drifters or what we call “nones”. This situation is not helped by a corruption in the priesthood of the religion of Israel, of which the priest Eli and his sons are examples. Eli is indolent (lazy) and his sons use their priestly office for personal gain. Many of the Israelites were de facto pagans, participating in the cults of false gods and didn’t seem to think this was at all a problem.
What we have in all this is the biblical vision of spiritual corruption, a kind of cause and effect, the Israelites drift away from the practice of their religion, dabble in pagan cults, raise a generation indifferent to God, this corruption is reinforced by an indolent and corrupt priesthood. This is the way the Israelites decline and fall. It is the way the Church declines and falls.
Dare I say, that the situation described in the opening of the Book of Samuel bears a lot of similarities to the situation of the Church in our own time.
Even from before he is born, God sets Samuel apart, and chooses him to set right this disastrous situation. Today’s scripture represents Samuel, at a very early age, coming to terms with his mission- the mission God has given to him which will be the meaning and purpose of his life.
God chooses Samuel. God sets Samuel apart. It is God who gives Samuel his purpose. It is God who decides Samuel’s mission.
And there is the lesson: Many in our culture and in the Church have been deceived by the idea that the meaning and purpose of our lives is self created and self directed. Who we are and what we are to do is a matter of an exercise of our own will, and usually this means, our will to acquire wealth, pleasure, power and honors.
A man in full, a woman of distinction is the one who has done precisely this. Thus do we heap attention and honors on the celebrity, the politician, the financier and those associated with them (we long for the scraps that fall from their tables!)- for they represent the realization of the ideal that we aspire to: the ideal that the best life is self-created, self-directed- and self interested.
All this is contrary to the Biblical vision, that insists that meaning and purpose in life is not self directed, but God directed. Wealth, pleasure, power and honors are full of false and empty promises and the man in full and the woman of distinction is not the celebrity, the politician, or the financier, but the saint- and the saddest thing in life is not to be a saint. The primary pre-occupation of the saint is not himself or herself, but God. The saint is daring enough to live out searching for the answer to the question: what does God want for my life.
There are many corruptions in the Church today, and most of these corruptions are the result of Christians living self directed, self interested and self created lives, and thinking that this doesn’t matter. It does matter. It begs the judgment of God.
The worst consequence of this is that it traps the Church in a spiritual malaise, an indolence, a lazy self-pre-occupation that is like the priest Eli, can’t attend to the Samuel and help him, because he would rather go back to sleep. The Lord God is in his sanctuary and Eli just can’t be bothered!
Samuel would accept the Lord’s call and would rise up in Israel as a force to be reckoned with. Samuel would be a saint. What about all of us? What about you?
If you would accept the call of the Lord and become who he intends for you to be, that is, a saint, then this means that you belong to God. This is the essence of St. Paul’s message to us from the excerpt we heard as our second scripture for today, from the First Letter to the Corinthians.
And what belongs to God are not just your ideas and feelings, but your body. Our bodies are given to us by God so that we might accomplish the mission that he gives us. All the practices of the Christian way of life involve the body.
You won’t be at all effective in your mission as a Christian if you think that being a Christian is limited to having ideas about God or having emotional experiences about God. You get the Christian way of life right when you immerse your body into the practice of your faith. What you do with your body matters- to God. It’s his gift to you and it is a gift given for a purpose- it is given to you for the sake of your mission.
How ready is that body of yours for the mission that Christ gives to you?
If we asks you to move, can you move? If he asks you stretch and bend will you just break? If he asks you to fast can you do it? If we asks you lift a heavy burden, do you have the strength? If he asks you to serve, are you ready and waiting? If he asks you to love, are you willing to make the sacrifice? All of this happens in your body.
How ready is that body of yours for mission?
Finally, and lastly, Christ’s Gospel describes the call of his first disciples. Once called, he gives them a name, and that name indicates a mission.
Each of us has been called by Christ, summoned into relationship to him through our Baptism. That baptism was not just a quaint customary welcome to the community, it was like God’s call to Samuel- it has set the agenda for our lives, gives our lives meaning and purpose, which is for each of us to be a saint. Some will be saints in ordinary ways others in extraordinary ways, but all of us, are summoned to be saints- no exceptions.
Called by Christ, we have been given a name- the name Christian. His name. This means that we are to be for others routes of access to the life and presence of Jesus Christ. That’s our mission. That’s our call. That’s the meaning and purpose of our lives. Be a saint!
The saddest thing in life is not to be a saint. There is enough sadness in the Church and in the world. We don’t need any more of that. What the Church needs and the world needs are saints. You be that saint.