Since I was a seminarian, I have always thought of priesthood as a vocation (from the Latin word vocare, which means “to call”). I was called by God, and I answered: “Here I am.” I imagined myself like the first apostles in today’s Gospel (Matthew 4:12-17), whom God called by name.
Why God called me remains a mystery, however. Why does God choose men who are not perfect specimens of humanity, and often flawed, weird, strange, even toxic? Sometimes, looking at myself in the mirror, I complain like St. John XXIII who, when he was elected Pope, sighed: “From all eternity, God knew that I was going to be pope. He had eighty years to work on me. Why did he not make me more handsome?” He found consolation in Jesus’ words to St. Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2Corinthians 12:9- 10).
Yes, together with the joyful thought that I was called is the painful knowledge that my vocation does not automatically erase my ugly and dark side, nor does it exempt me from suffering and sacrifice. It does not even shield me against temptations. Well, not the temptation to commit my favorite sins, because the devil is wiser now. He tempts me to feel virtuous, holy, and morally superior to others. He tempts me to crave being at the center of attention, to be loved,adored, even worshipped. He tempts me to transform myself from a servant of the Word to a preacher of my word. He tempts me to indulge in little pleasures that eventually become addictions. Worst of all, he tempts me to surrender to mediocrity, to settle for the easy life, and become a prisoner of privilege and comfort.
That is why, these days, I experience my “calling” in a quite different way. More often than not, I am the one calling and God is the one who responds. And He never fails to answer my every call, as he once promised the Israelites: “Long before you called, I shall have already answered; long before you stopped speaking, I shall have heard” (Isaiah 65:24).
Usually, God answers through the words in the Bible. When I’m sucked in by the pressures and anxieties of life, wondering if I have chosen the right vocation, I hear God’s words to Peter: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). When I am paralyzed by fear, scared to take risks, His words resound in my ear: “Be not afraid, it is I” (John 6:20). When the desire for the good things in life overwhelms me, I hear Jesus’ question to Peter: “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15).
When praying and saying the Mass becomes a mechanical and joyless obligation, and my mind wanders in all directions as I try to live up to the expectations of others, God reminds me in the words of consecration: “Do this in memory of Me” (Luke 22:19). It is as though Jesus is telling me: “Whenever you offer the Eucharist, please remember ME. It is I who called you by name, not the crowd whom you wish to please.”
by Br. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, OP – Published in the Manila Bulletin on January 21, 2017