The Vocation To Life | Fr. Charles Klamut | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Like the apostles, I first said “yes” to Christ because of the total answer he provided for my human need, and only within this context did a specific vocation to serve as a priest gradually begin to reveal itself.
A few years ago, during a retreat for priests, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete shared with us a story of his friend, Cardinal Angelo Scola. When asked by a journalist about the shortage of vocations to the priesthood in Italy, Scola replied that the problem stemmed from a deeper crisis: the problem, he said, was that life itself is no longer seen as a vocation.
Albacete reflected on this insight for the next few days, calling it very important, explaining to us what he thought Scola was getting at. The call to life is something given, something prior to our thoughts and schemes. It’s even prior to the particular vocations like marriage and the priesthood. We did not choose it; it’s just there. Within the human heart is a cry for life, real life, eternal life: life properly so-called. The New Testament, using a more nuanced Greek vocabulary than our modern-day English, used multiple words for “life:” bios to refer to material, physical life; zoe to refer to a more comprehensive, metaphysical, all-encompassing life, such as the kind promised by Jesus. The heart cries for infinite life, not just bios, but zoe. The heart cries for a freedom and happiness which, alas, we cannot give ourselves. In short, the heart cries for God.
This call to life which our heart always hears, even if we don’t (affected as we are by reductionist cultural forces), is awakened and answered by the exceptional presence of Christ. Jesus Christ is the infinite made visible and historical, the answer to the heart’s cry for life: “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
Albacete spoke of the experience of the first apostles as recorded in the Scriptures. For them, Christ provoked a total human awakening, provided a total human answer, not just a spiritual one. From Christ’s first question to John and Andrew, “What do you seek?” he was engaging them on the level of life itself. Their response to his question was: “Where are you staying?” This suggests their longing for a lasting place to be with him, to share life with him. Only with time would the call of Christ reveal itself in its ecclesiastical specifics, as a logical extension of the vocation to life.
A number of priests at the retreat were puzzled that so much time was spent on the general theme of the call to life, and they were wondering when the specifics of the priesthood, such as the Eucharist, would be addressed. Albacete insisted that the vocation to life, and subsequently, to Christianity, provided the solid foundation on which the vocation to the priesthood is built. Without the former, the latter will be unstable and will eventually crumble, as we have all sadly seen so many times in recent years.