One of the best things about our annual priest retreat is having the opportunity to sit back during our sessions and listen, to reflect, and to ponder in one’s heart the mysteries of our faith. Sister Timothea Elliot continues to give my brother priests and I food for thought and prayer that I hope will also be of benefit to those we serve when we return to our various ministries in the diocese.
Our first evening she shared with us the common elements of the prophetic call in the Scriptures. Today she shared with us the parallels between this prophetic call and the call received by Mary, the Mother of God. I can’t help but think that each of these elements also apply to each of us who are called by God to live the Christian life and we can recognize them if we are paying attention.
1. The call comes during a time of crisis. Mary’s call comes to her during a difficult time for the people of Israel. She is a poor young woman, living in a land which is under Roman occupation. It is a time when the people are looking for the Messiah. Do you feel like we are living in a time of crisis? If so, watch out! God is likely to come calling.
2. Those called are engaged in normal activities when they receive it. We don’t know exactly what Mary was doing when she received the message that she was to become the Mother of God, but it is safe to say that she was simply going about her business when God burst into her life and changed it forever. God is just as likely to speak to you while you are on your way to work or when you are doing your laundry than He is during your hour of Eucharistic adoration. Be ready!
3. Those called have a clear experience of the supernatural. I’m not sure that anything could qualify more as an experience of the supernatural than a visit from the Archangel Gabriel, or any other angel for that matter. Sorry X-Files fans, but visits from God’s heavenly army are right up at the top of the list of things that will quickly get your attention. When God speaks to you, you will know it. Once again, be ready! He will speak to you.
4. God calls us by name. “Rejoice, O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” (Luke 1:28) Catholics might recognize this line as we often quote Scripture when praying, Hail Mary, Full of Grace! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our true name, the one he has written on our heart.
5. Those called are given a mission. Mary has the most important mission of all, one shared by the prophets in that she is to bear God’s Word to the world. But her mission stands head and shoulders above theirs as she is to clothe the Word in flesh, to be united physically to Him, to nurture and raise Him, to love Him, and to stand by Him through his suffering and death. I truly believe each of us has been given a mission. It is up to us to listen to God in order to know that mission and then follow the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary in carrying it out.
6. The call is always accompanied by an objection or question. “How can this be, since I do not know man?” (Luke 1:34) Mary’s question to the angel has always seemed so much more gracious to me than the questioning of the prophets who preceded her. Even though she didn’t understand what was about to happen, she trusted the Lord completely and without reservation. My response to God’s call has often been met with serious objections and questioning of God. I wish I had the kind of faith that Mary had.
7. An assurance is given. “Do not fear, Mary. You have found favor with God. You shall conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus. Great will be his dignity and he will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever and his reign will be without end. (Luke 1:30-33) God always provides encouragement and support when we need it.
8. A sign is given. “Know that Elizabeth your kinswoman has conceived a son in her old age; she who was thought to be sterile is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:36-37) Those who have the eyes of faith see God’s signs everywhere. Those without faith are blinded to those same signs.
It is my firm belief that we are all called to give prophetic witness to the world. This call sometimes involves sacrifice, but we need only open our eyes to see God’s call right in front of us. The only question is will be answer like Mary did,
“I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”