Fr. Robert Barron has remarked that authentic love can be defined as “seeking the good of the other for the sake of the other.” This is a thoughtful definition of love and the second aspect is of utmost importance. We are very good at caving in on ourselves in sin and this can even effect our love for another. When I seek the good of the other because I get something out of it (my needs or insecurities are satisfied, my status, acceptance or even power is enhanced) then I am not authentically loving. It is only when I can let go of myself and love the other person solely for the sake of the other person without heeding any benefit or counting any cost that it can be said that I am authentically loving. Love, when it is real, is challenging and it calls for a letting go of self.
This past week has been National Vocation Awareness Week – an opportunity for the Church in the United States to reflect on vocation and pray for an increase in an overall awareness of the universal call to holiness and discipleship and specifically vocations of lives of service within the Church – found in priesthood, consecrated life and the permanent diaconate. The readings for this Sunday with the call of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19) and the disciples (John 1:35-42) are very fitting for this. The readings have much to teach us about God’s call and our responding and one aspect of this, I believe, is to help us recognize that call or vocation is rooted in authentic love. At the beginning (even birthpoint, I would say) of both Samuel’s call and that of the disciples we find the witness of a love lived authentically. This is not a coincidence I believe and is worthy of reflection.
Samuel was a young boy when God’s call came to him. He was assisting the elderly priest Eli. At first Samuel does not recognize the voice of God and neither does Eli, he thinks that the boy is dreaming things. Samuel needs the direction and insight of his elder but he also needs his elder to show an authentic love for him. After the third call, Eli recognizes what is going on – that God himself is calling the young boy. It is here that Eli faces a critical moment – he can be resentful that God is calling this young boy and not himself (the “priest”), he can despair that this is an indicator that his time is over and now it is time for the younger generation, he can try to cling on and deny Samuel his moment. He can do all of this by remaining silent to what he knows and telling Samuel to ignore the voice, that it is nothing. But Eli does not do this and this is to his everlasting credit. “So (Eli) said to Samuel, ‘Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Eli seeks the good of Samuel for the sake of Samuel and not for his own sake. Eli is able to show authentic love for Samuel. He is able to let go of self for the good of the other. And Samuel’s vocation is born.
John the Baptist also stands at a critical moment. The gospels tell us that people from all over were coming to be baptized by John in the Jordan. He had a devoted group of disciples, the religious authorities held a begrudging respect for John, even King Herod feared the prophet. Many would say that John was at the “height of his power.” John knows the yearning of the people and of his disciples for the Messiah. Jesus walks by as John is standing there with two of his disciples. He knows their yearning and he knows that he cannot answer that yearning. It is beyond him. He lets go of self and seeking the good of his two disciples for their good and not his own he points to Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” They have found the Messiah and their calling is born.
We are Church. We are meant to help one another along. There is much concern today about the need for vocations to lives of service within the Church and for our world. Today’s readings have much to teach us. One of the lessons I believe is that the witness of authentic love is the necessary seedbed of vocations. The witness of both Eli and John the Baptist testifies to this.
Love calls forth love.
Our faith as Christians calls us to love authentically – seeking the good of the other for the sake of the other.