My Catholic Call, and Yours
The first readings at Mass the last two mornings are favorites of mine. Both involve the call of God, one to Samuel, the other to David. David, of course, received a call when Samuel anointed him King of Israel, the youngest of Jesse’s sons. But today’s reading was about a different sort of call—the call to do battle with Goliath.
Samuel’s story is touching (1 Sam 1). His mother Hannah was so distraught at her barrenness that Eli the priest thought she was drunk when he came upon her praying in the Temple. Hannah explained her distress. She had promised God that if He gave her a son, she would dedicate the child to His service. For this, she received the priest’s blessing. She then bore a number of children, including the boy Samuel, who was dedicated to God, and was placed in the service of Eli in the Temple at a very early age. Hannah’s hymn of praise prefigures that of Elizabeth and, more importantly, of Mary (1 Sam 2).
We are all familiar with the simple story of how Samuel was first called by God while he was sleeping near Eli (1 Sam 3). God called Samuel three times audibly by name, and Samuel kept thinking it must be Eli calling him, so each time he awakened Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” After the third time, Eli realized that God must be calling Samuel, and he gave the youngster the soundest of advice: “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for thy servant hears.’”
The Lord’s news was not good for Eli, for he told Samuel he was going to punish Eli and all his house for his earlier failure to restrain his sons, who had blasphemed. In the morning, Eli asked Samuel what the Lord had said, and Samuel told him everything, doubtless with considerable fear. But Eli said: “It is the Lord; let Him do what seems good to Him.”
Thus did Samuel receive a prophet’s call, but Eli’s call at that moment may actually be more important. For most of us will not be called to prophesy, but all of us are called to accept God’s will even when it does not fit our own plans and judgments. We see Eli’s response to this call for him, and we must learn to imitate it.
Later (1 Sam 17), Saul and the army of Israel were encamped in the valley of Elah, and they had to draw up in a battle line to face the Philistines. Then Goliath, the gigantic Philistine warrior, mocked the Israelites and challenged them to settle the conflict by pitting any man who would dare against himself. All were afraid, including Saul, who was old. But David, who was there only briefly to bring some supplies to his older brothers, heard Goliath, and demanded: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
For this his brothers and the other men rebuked him, but Saul heard of it, called David, and David assured him: “Let no man's heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Even Saul thought this impossible, but David repeated both his resolve and the reason for it. Goliath would become like one of the lions or bears David had killed in protecting his father’s sheep, “seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.”
A little later, ready for battle, Goliath taunted David, a mere lad, clearly both smaller and weaker, and coming against a seasoned warrior without armor or sword. And so David replied with a full statement of his trust:
You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD'S and he will give you into our hand.
Note that in all this David too is responding to a call from God. He does not hear a voice, nor is he called by the command of a man who stands in the place of God. But he is attentive to God’s dignity, and to the dignity of his people. He discerns deep in his heart that he is called to defend both, so “that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel”, so that all may also know from David’s obvious weakness that “the battle is the Lord’s”, and not least so that Israel should not be made to serve the Philistines and their false gods, as Goliath said must happen if the Israelite champion lost.
In one way or another, all of us have this call as well, this call from God deep within our souls to stand firm for the Church and to trust in Christ. For Christ is the Lord and Son of God, and the good shepherd who alone can scatter the wolves and the lions. Yes, there is a God in the Church, and the battle is His.
From Samuel, then, we learn to listen carefully to the voice of the Holy Spirit in our souls, to be ready with ears that hear. From Eli we learn to devote ourselves to God’s will even when it thwarts our own. And from David we learn—or ought to learn—the nature of the Christian risk, the supreme confidence that comes from doing God’s will no matter what the human odds.
We are surrounded by Philistines, you and I, and how like Goliath do all of them appear! How overwhelming their power! How fatal their allure! But their grand stature and fierce mien are all pomp and show, for they do not abide in God. We, on the other hand, are Catholics. We are the Lord’s, and we will stand firm in the Lord without even breaking a sweat—indeed, just like David. We must be careful only to avoid mistaking the real task to which we are called. We do not fight so that we can trample our enemies in this life or the next, whether under our own feet or under God’s, except of course insofar as our enemies are our own sins. No, our victory will be to love our contemporary Philistines firmly here and now, and in the end—quite literally—to take them with us when we die.
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Posted by: mary_conces3421 -
Feb. 22, 2017 10:34 PM ET USA
These are indeed heart-twisting times. I suggest reading Gerard Manley Hopkins' "God's Grandeur", written 42 years before Years' poem for some some measure of comfort.
Posted by: koinonia -
Feb. 22, 2017 9:52 PM ET USA
"Then those who follow us might grasp something of the deeply hidden yet always glorious reality of what it means to take the Catholic faith seriously in these our own days." I cannot agree more. In these tough times, one of the great privileges I've realized is the diverse and disparate people from so many different places who, united in baptism, have sought and found one another. So many places, so many people, so much shared. Agreed; it needs to be written. It's too good to be true.
Posted by: Jeff Mirus -
Jan. 19, 2012 11:16 AM ET USA
To John J Plick: Be assured that "firm love" (call it tough love, if you prefer) is not incompatible with strong action. Sometimes we are called upon to stop a predator cold. We still want even the predator to turn and be saved.
Posted by: wolfdavef3415 -
Jan. 19, 2012 12:32 AM ET USA
A fantastic piece, Dr. Mirus! To take them with us when we die. Surely that is the least we are called for. And the greatest.
Posted by: John J Plick -
Jan. 18, 2012 11:31 PM ET USA
I wonder if anyone who has ever had a "serious" enemy would be so benevolent. A "word-picture" perhaps. You are walking through the woods in a darkening twilight on a cold winter's night that is the haunt of wolves. You have the misfortune to be pursued and overtaken by a hungry specimen who pins you to the ground with his teeth inches from your neck. A hunter, returning home, sees the situation and "dispatches" the wolf speedily. The wolf, unrepentant, has been "judged." No pleasure, but relief