The Biblical Experience of Vocation

Chapter 3

 The Biblical Experience of Vocation

            Experiencing a vocation is always a personal and unique event. But in the vocational process of some people called by God to carry out a special mission, as can be seen in the Bible, we can find elements that shed light on discernment of our own vocation and a faithful response to it. Therefore, it is worth the effort to make an excursus into Sacred Scripture, choosing some vocation narratives that are most important for us.

            These narratives will be read and interpreted from a Claretian perspective, presenting, on the one hand, the influence that these biblical personages had on the vocation and mission of our Founder and, on the other hand, how our charism is spiritually attuned to theirs.

            This chapter is developed in two parts:

    I. THE BIBLE, INSPIRER OF VOCATION

     II. THOSE CALLED IN THE HISTORY OF SALVATION

I. THE BIBLE, INSPIRER OF VOCATION

 1. The Word of God, Inspirer of Claret’s Missionary Vocation

             St. Anthony M. Claret acknowledges how he was deeply impressed one day, as a young man in Barcelona, when he was attending Holy Mass, upon recalling that passage from the Gospel he had read in his childhood: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose himself in the process?” (Mt. 16: 26)[1]. This Scripture passage made him question the meaning of his life, his future, his vocation.

            But Claret also found inspiration and nourishment for his vocation in the vocations of certain personages he knew from reading the Bible[2], primarily the apostles, the prophets, and, especially, Jesus Christ Himself[3]. These models of holiness aroused his admiration and stimulated him in his following of Christ[4].

 

 2. Biblical Vocations That Are Models for Our Missionary Vocation

             The Constitutions allude several times to various biblical vocations. In the first place, to that of the apostles. They state that the Claretians have been called to follow Christ the Lord just as they did[5]; that we must imitate their communion of life with Christ[6]; that we must share in their ministry with an evangelical and prophetic lifestyle[7]; and that they are, along with many other holy men and women, our Patrons, whose memory we venerate because of the truly missionary spirit[8]. Likewise, in chapter X, dedicated to the novices and their novicemaster, they mention the faith that burned in the prophets, the apostles and the martyrs, as an example of the living faith that should animate the novices so that they can respond to their own vocation[9].

            Consequently it seems appropriate for Claretian novices to get in touch with Sacred Scriptures in order to know about these models that so greatly animated our Founder, and to whom the Constitutions allude, and to analyze and animate their own vocational process in the light of these biblical vocations. The choice of vocational narratives offered here is for that purpose.

3. Vocation in the Bible: The Vocation Narratives

            The Bible expresses no doctrine about vocation. It speaks about vocation in an existential way, as it is incarnated in specific people.

            In the Bible we find literary forms that are called vocation narratives. Exegetes have discovered that these narratives have certain common characteristics:

1.         Introduction: the narratives begin by describing the situation: date, place, people and the historical conditions of the vocational episode[10].

2.         Theophany: the appearance or manifestation of God, who calls the person. The biblical narratives contain two essential elements: vision and audition. God reveals Himself, above all, through his word. He comes to the person and engages in conversation. The reaction of the person to this challenge from God includes a certain fear or holy awe. Thus, God urges the person He calls to trust, with an expression such as: “Don’t be afraid”[11].

3.         Mission: The one called must do or say something as assigned by the Lord. The common or most frequent reaction is an objection. But the Lord insists and promises to assist the one called: I will be with you. But this does not mean that carrying out the mission is going to be easy. It often appears that he actually meets with failure when viewed from the outside[12].

4.         Sign: intimately linked to the confirmation of the mission a sign appears as an assurance to the chosen one that it is God who is calling and sending him: a solemn investiture or consecration that makes him able to fulfill the mission[13]. But the sign is not generally an immediate confirmation; it may only be a promise for an indeterminate future.

5.         Conclusion: the narratives usually end by taking up some basic theme again, once more confirming the mission and thus concluding the narrative as a literary unit.

            Let us, then, look at the vocation narratives that interest us from a Claretian point of view.

II. THOSE CALLED IN THE HISTORY OF SALVATION

1. The Vocation of Abraham

            The vocation of Abraham is one of the most meaningful vocations. Abraham, the father of believers, is one called. A man to whom God speaks and whom he calls by name. And Abraham responds. He is a “friend of God” (Is. 41: 8). We find God’s calling of Abraham in Gn. 12: 1 and Abraham’s response in Hb. 11: 8. In the vocation of Abraham we can discover the elements of every true vocation.

1.1. The Call of Abraham

            God calls Abraham. He invites him to leave his native land in order to carry out in him and through him the blessing of all the nations of the earth. This is the narrative of the vocation of Abraham:

            “Yahweh said to Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth will find blessing in you”… Abram went as Yahweh directed him and Lot went with him”. (Gn. 12: 1-4ff.).

            In the first 11 chapters of Genesis, it appears that human beings destroy God’s original project through sin. The original blessing is transformed into a curse…But here, in Genesis 12, a definitive solution springs forth that God proposes, in the person of Abraham, as an alternative to the curse human beings deserved.

1.2.      Abraham’s Response

            Abraham’s immediate reaction (Abram went forth, as the Lord commanded him) is already a faith response that proves that the promised gift is already being carried out. As the Letter to the Hebrews says: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called, and went forth to the place he was to receive as a heritage; he went forth, moreover, not knowing where he was going. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents…” (Hb 11, 8-9a). Abraham is the father of believers because he lives by faith. His way of proceeding to set out on the journey is to entrust himself to God beyond appearances, persisting in seeing as a blessing what appears simply as a curse. Abraham has received a call from on high and he entrusts himself totally to it, hoping that what is promised him will be fulfilled.

1.3.      The Meaning of the Blessing

            “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth will find blessing in you.” (Gn 12, 2-3).

            In order to understand what the blessing God promises to Abraham consists in one must understand what his departure or going out means. Abraham is blessed because he departs, because he sets out on a journey. Abraham leaves with his possessions and his family, but he leaves his native land behind. His departure reveals a deep meaning: it implies for Abraham a complete uprooting, as a consequence of his assent to God’s call. He really has no home. Abraham becomes a Ger (a stranger): he lives in a country that is not his own, has no rights, possesses no land; the only thing he has is a promise from God, to whom he entrusts himself completely. Everything in Abraham’s story seems contradictory and shrouded in mystery.

            What does Abraham do when he gets to the Promised Land? Abraham built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. Abraham, always faithful to the Lord, believing in the promise despite everything, will be the cause of blessing because in his cursed condition he does not curse God, but rather blesses Him, raising an altar in his honor.

            The Bible shows us God’s project for humanity through the person of Abraham as God’s attempt to recover a human reality that seems irrecoverable. With creation, God began his project of goodness, his blessing for humankind. But human sin upset everything. With the call of Abraham and his faithful response, things straightened out again. Once more God’s blessing would be made possible for the whole human race.

2. The Call of Moses

            God also calls Moses. God calls him by name and entrusts him with a special mission (cf. Ex 3: 4ff.).

2.1. The Story of the Vocation of Moses

            In the Book of Exodus we find the story of the vocation of this extraordinary man and the story of his people, whom he is called to lead at a crucial, watershed moment in its history.

            a. The Vocational Texts

• The most complete narrative has been included in chapter 3 of the Book of Exodus: there are accounts of the call (v. 10), the objection (v. 11), the signs and the promise of protection (v. 12).

• In Ex, 4: 1-7, the vocation is traced according to a model which combines two different, but complementary images of Moses: that of a wonderworker and that of a prophet, with two objection and two signs.

• Finally there is an account—less dramatic, but more theological—of the vocation in Ex. 6: 10-12, included in a concentric pattern: vocation, mission, objection (repeated in vv. 28-30).

            b. Analysis of the Vocation of Moses:  

• It is God who speaks to Moses: Moses, lost in the solitude of the desert, remembering and lamenting the situation of his brothers and sisters, one day hears the call of God, who wants to entrust him with a mission of liberation. God reveals Himself to Moses with the purpose of entrusting to him the promise of salvation for his people (cf. Ex. 3: 6-10; 6: 2-8). It is God who takes the initiative, not Moses. It is God who calls.

• Moses’ reaction: he is afraid and feels unworthy. He takes off his sandals (cf. Is. 6: 5; Lk. 5: 8). God calls him to a difficult task on behalf of his people, an enterprise that involves serious difficulties: liberating his people from Pharaoh, to lead them through the desert, forge them into a nation despite their rebellion. This is the mission entrusted to Moses. Moses is afraid and feels overwhelmed, weak, unworthy, incapable.

• Objections out of a feeling of unworthiness and inability: Moses is a poor speaker, does not know God, fears that the Israelites will not believe him because of his former ties to the palace of Pharaoh, etc. God insists and promises his efficacious and dynamic assistance. But there is no palpable proof that the vocation comes from God. Moses is not able to resolve all his doubts.

•He is given a sign that the vocation is genuine; but it is not a matter of a palpable sign that authenticates the God’s presence. The rod for working miracles will only be given to him later on (cf. Ex. 4: 1-5). The only sign or indication which is alluded to (cf. Ex 3:10) is a reference to future events that have not yet come to pass.

 

• Moses’ initial attitude to this form of God’s action is ambivalent: he is overwhelmed by God’s mysteriousness, but also filled with fear because he is aware of his own unworthiness. He knows that neither the act of removing his sandals, nor any other purification, can make him fully able to carry out his mission[14].

2.2. Traits Characterizing the Vocation and Mission of Moses

            The vocation of Moses, seen from God’s perspective, means the beginning of the liberation of a people—Israel—oppressed in a foreign land. It is God’s plan that this is to be carried out through one person, to whom God reveals Himself and makes the recipient of promise made earlier to the Patriarchs, assuring him of his assistance and, despite the people’s persistent rebellion, entering into covenant with him.

            The vocation of Moses and the fulfillment of his mission on behalf of his people manifest a series of characteristics, coinciding with those of other vocations also raised up by God to save his people. But, in Moses’ case, the following peculiarities can be observed:

• Moses faces a mission that bears the imprint of sorrow and weariness. God’s action often appears as if it is in direct contradiction to the mission that He Himself has entrusted to him. At least this is how the one sent experiences it. The biblical narrative very realistically presents this situation. Moses is the prophet with doubts.

• On the other hand, in relation to the people, Moses is the prophet of rejection and rebellion. His role as mediator is carried out in the midst of conflict, of real struggle, of lack of understanding. His people do not understand him. Moses lives under the constant pressure of criticism[15].

• This is a mission that requires the one sent to radically opt for the project of God, to entrust himself to it. If one starts specifically from the difficult situation Moses finds himself in, one can appreciate the degree of confidence he has in God, since he has no more support than the word that God has given him: “I will be with you”.

• It is a mission that marks a change in his personal attitude (cf. Ex 3: 13ff.). Beginning with the experience of God that Moses has, his tactics for liberating his people change radically. His way of acting when he was still in Egypt was based primarily on his own efforts to liberate them, trusting in his own abilities, in his wisdom and influence. Now, feeling his totally incapable of carrying out the mission entrusted to him, he has to trust only in God.

• Moses does not appear as a political leader or commander of guerilla forces. Using words that David will later use, he says “I am going in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies” (1S 17: 45). He no longer relies on his own powers, but looks in another direction, seeking only the good of his people and letting it be God who acts.

 3. The Vocation of Jeremiah

            Jeremiah is also one chosen, one called by God to be a prophet. For more than 40 years he dedicates himself to fulfilling his prophetic mission through tireless activity on behalf of Israel[16]. His vocation is presented in two parts:

3.1. Part One (Jr 1: 4-10): Narrative of the Vocation of the Prophet

            a. The text. The Bible presents the vocation of Jeremiah in the form of a dialogue between God and the prophet:

            “The word of the Lord came to me thus: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. ‘Ah, Lord God,’ I said, ‘I know not how to speak; I am too young.’ But Yahweh answered me, ‘Say not “I am too young.” To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord. Then Yahweh extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying: ‘See I place my words in your mouth. This day I set you over nations and over kingdoms, to root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant’” (Jr 1: 4-10).

            b. Analysis of the Text: Jeremiah is saved from deportation, while the people are destined for exile. In a context of desolation and apparent death, Jeremiah is a sign and promise of salvation for the people. Let us analyze the elements of narrative of his vocation.

• I have consecrated you (predestination of Jeremiah): the expression used by God to Jeremiah indicates a predestination. God wants to reserve Jeremiah in order to make him a prophet.

• Before I formed you in the womb: God’s plan for the prophet predates his human conception. This indicates that his vocation and mission do not happen as something added to his being. His being coincides fully with the prophetic vocation he receives from God.

• I have called you to be a prophet to the nations: i.e., I have entrusted you with a gift or charism for the salvation of all, not for your personal benefit.

• The prophet’s objections: faced with the call, Jeremiah says: I don’t know how to speak, I am too young. This is a very reasonable and logical objection: the prophet has to speak, while Jeremiah is aware that he is still too young and inexperienced to do this with authority. And this is not only because Jeremiah is in reality a young man, but also because no one is really at the same level as the extraordinary gift of the prophetic vocation.

• God’s insistence: “Yahweh said to me, do not say: “I am too young”, to whomever I send you, you will go, and whatever I command you, you will say” (Jr 1: 7). God does not dismantle the prophet’s argument; he does not say: Go, you certainly are able to!, etc. God accepts what the prophet has said: I am too young; but adds: go. This is what allows the person called to know that he is not going to do his own thing, but something of God’s. He is aware of the divine origin of his vocation. With this conviction he can then accept the mission entrusted to him.

•God’s promise that he will be with the prophet: “Do not be afraid, I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord”(Jr. 1: 8). God promises the prophet a protection that does not consist in delivering him from all further danger. Rather it means that the prophet will experience God’s closeness, despite having to go through hard times, safely emerging from the tests unharmed. God’s presence, promised to the prophet, will be his strength.

• It is a matter of fulfilling a difficult role:

 “Then Yahweh extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying: ‘See I place my words in your mouth. This day I set you over nations and over kingdoms, to root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant’” (Jr. 1: 9-10).

• The Lord’s gesture of touching the prophet’s mouth comes to transform the prophet’s bodily nature: Jeremiah’s mouth will speak God’s words. Thus he is invested with the authority he needs to carry out his office, which will specifically consist in: rooting up, tearing down, destroying, demolishing, rebuilding and planting. This is a most difficult task.

• The experience of suffering: both for the prophet and for the people, salvation must be preceded or accompanied by the experience of sorrow and something quite different from salvation. In order to announce that God is going to save them, the prophet must bring the people to probe the experience of death: only thus, in light of the experience of total destruction, will the people be able to feel the need for salvation. Only when Israel experiences its condemnation will it understand and be able to show it is receptive to the experience of salvation.

3.2. Part Two (Jr. 1: 17-19): Narrative of the Vocation of the Prophet

            a. The text:

            “But do you gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not afraid on their account, as though I would make you tremble before them. For it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land: against Judah’s kings and princes, against its priests and people. They will fight against you but not prevail over you; for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord” (Jr 1: 17-19).

            b. Analysis of the text:

• Gird your loins: the image alludes to the disposition for carrying out some task with speed and agility, in this case the present prophetic mission[17].

• Stand up: is the same disposition, courage, spirit, valor.

• Don’t be afraid, as if I would make you tremble before them: the prophet is urged not to let himself be carried away by the fear that he logically may feel and put his trust in God. God will transform his weakness into strength. The prophet will be transformed into a different person. What kind of person? Into a being as strong as a fortified city, as a pillar, or as a wall: “a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land“. Let us examine these images:

Pillar: this words wants to convey something that has a strong foundation and thus is difficult to overturn. Saying the pillar is of iron means it is indestructible.

Wall: in an Egyptian context, the expression wall of brass is a metaphor applied to Pharaoh. To say that Jeremiah is a wall of brass is the same as saying that the prophet is for the people of Israel what Pharaoh is for Egypt, i.e., something that surrounds the people and protects them.

a fortified city or place: Jeremiah is as strong as an impregnable city. Jeremiah is ordered to announce to the people that they are going to be destroyed, made desolate; yet he is presented as a fortified city that no one can destroy. He speaks words of misfortune for the people and is the carrier, at the same time, of a plan of salvation. In the midst of the holocaust, Jeremiah signifies that one who listens to the Word will not die forever, even though he passes through a death experience[18]. Death does not have the final word, because God’s plan, set down before the appearance of life on earth, is going to be carried out, despite the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the Temple at the hands of the pagans.

            But Jeremiah, in the final analysis, will likewise undergo in his person the crucial time of the passion. He will be condemned to death and the prophet will also thus be transformed into a sign of life for all.

 4. The Vocation of Isaiah

            In chapter 6 of Isaiah we find the description of the vocation of the prophet.

            We can divide our anaysis of chapter 6 into three parts: 1) the vision (Is. 6: 1-4); 2) the purification (Is. 6: 5-7) and 3) the mission (Is. 6: 8-13).

4.1. The Vision (I saw the Lord…)

            The vision of God—into which the vocation of Isaiah is set—emphasizes the divine majesty and sovereignty, lending a special atmosphere to the entire narrative.

            The literary elements that the author uses in the first part are typical of theophanies (shaking, voice, smoke) in order to express the sweeping effects of this encounter with God that changes his whole life.

4.2. The Purification (One of the Seraphim flew toward me…)

            I am a man of unclean lips, says the prophet. Nullifying this objection that Isaiah raises, a seraph cleanses his lips. This is a symbolic action that alludes to the purification of his entire person. Thus, the prophet not only has clean lips, but his blame has disappeared and his sin has been forgiven. Isaiah no longer has any excuse for not accepting the mission God wants to put in his hands.

            Likewise, the people are also in a similar situation and that is what concerns the prophet: not to be upset by either the sins or impurities of his people, etc., or by their hardness of heart, their attitude of rejecting God, their inability to understand the project of Yahweh. The people want to go their merry way, without revering God as their true King. This constitutes the basic sin of “that people” (Is 6: 9; 8: 12), and that is what Isaiah denounces[19].

            Thus, faced with the question posed by Yahweh himself—almost as a lament (Whom shall I send?), Isaiah no longer has the excuse he has alluded to and offers himself as a volunteer: “Here I am, send me” (Is 6: 8). God opens his heart in light of such generosity on the part of the prophet and reveals the siatuation to him quite bluntly, a situation the prophet was already experiencing in his own flesh.

4.3. The Mission (Go and say to that people…)

            Isaiah hears the call and accepts the mission. He offers himself without really knowing what he is offering himself for nor where he is being sent. This is total availability for the service of God. But it is interesting that Isaiah feels the need to be sent. His response is not I am going, but send me. God immediately accepts his offer and tells him what his mission is to be—a very strange one for sure. He must announce a preemptory order and carry out a series of actions that provokes—paradoxically—the people’s hardness of heart, so that they will not be converted and be saved.

            The prophet Isaiah fulfills his mission of blinding the people and of announcing punishment and promise with his words, with his witness, with his silence. And his total behavior is considered as the saving work of Yahweh.

            Judah is heading toward finding what it is looking for: its own destruction. All the branches of the kingdom will be destroyed. Only when it seems all is lost, when all that remains is the stump, the holiness of Yahweh will return to appear in human flesh: a holy shoot shall spring from the stump[20].

            This unquenchable faith in God’s salvation, in history and transcending history, will not only sustain Isaiah in his prophetic vocation and in the carrying out of his almost absurd mission, but will inspire his pen to leave us such vivid images of it that they will never cease to echo in the hearts of the people.

 

5. The Vocation of Mary

The vocation of Mary is described in the scene of the Annunciation (cf. Lk. 1: 26ff.). A dialogue is established: there is a proposal, a plan on God’s part, and a definite and trusting response is given on the part of the Nazarene virgin. Mary is the greatest example of fidelity to God’s plans. Thus she is considered a genuine model of response to the divine vocation.

5.1. Mary, Called to Be an Instrument of Salvation

            In Israel’s history many women appear who are called to be instruments of salvation (Esther, Judith, etc.). But the call of Mary is unique. Her vocation to be the mother of the Messiah, the Son of God, represents a crucial step in the history of salvation. God asks him to cooperate actively in that plan of salvation and to play an extraordinary role in the establishment of the Kingdom, as we see especially in the story of the annunciation by the angel (cf. Lk. 1: 26-38).

            The evangelist Luke and his community understood that the story of the Annunciation contained an important mariological meaning. In it is contained the narrative of the vocation of Mary. In fact, in this narrative we find characteristics common to the other vocation narratives in the Bible:

• The angel’s greeting of Mary as full of grace, highlights the divine election and vocation of Mary for a specific mission; but this also refers to a personal quality of Mary. The second part of the angel’s greeting (the Lord is with you) also has a vocational theme: like the vocation narratives in the Hebrew Bible, God promises his presence and his assistance.

• Mary’s reaction is also similar to that of the patriarchs and prophets, i.e., perplexity. Mary is disconcerted. The angel speaks of a special presence of the Spirit.

• And Mary’s reponse (Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word) shows her availability for the mission.

5.2. The Vocation of Mary as an Experience of the Holy Trinity

            The story of the Annunciation, nonetheless, is not simply the presentation of a call and a response. It is a clear example of what God means to the person who is called to carry out a mission; it is the narrative of her experience of God. In this story of the Annunciation, specifically, there is a very significant allusion to the Trinity. It stresses the presence of the three divine persons and their relationships to Mary:

•The vocation of Mary presupposes a uinque relationship with the Father. She is graced by the Father. It is God who speaks through Gabriel’s greeting and makes Himself particularly close to her, conferring on her the condition of being graced.

•The vocation of Mary to be mother of the Messiah, Mother of God (Elizabeth greets her as mother of my Lord) sets up a special relationship with Jesus. Their mutual relationships were undoubtedly family ties (those between a mother and her son). But Mary’s faith experience went far beyond her greatness as the biological mother of the Lord. She was the first disciple of her Son. She believed everything that was said to her concerning her Son: blessed is she who believed (Lk. 1: 45).

•Mary’s experience of vocation likewise presupposes a special relationship with the Holy Spirit. The angel’s message clearly highlights the intervention of the Spirit in Jesus’ conception. It is through the action of the Spirit that Mary will conceive and give birth to the Son of God.

5.3. Mary’s Response: Obedience to the Word

            Mary’s response (Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word) reveals to us more about Mary than everything that angel says concerning her. Mary appears as the true hearer of the Word. Not only does she listen to and meditate on the Word of the Lord, but she carries it out with generosity. This is what constitutes true listening: responding and acting as a consequence of it.

            According to Lk. 8: 21, in order to be a true disciple it is necessary to listen to the Word of God and fulfill it. This is exactly what Mary does, with an ever-receptive attitude, from the joyful scene of the Annunciation[21] until the sorrowful scene at Calvary.

6. The Vocation of “the Twelve”

            The vocation of the disciples of the Lord Jesus, the Lord’s call to each of them, away from their own personal, family and work situation to follow Him and to be sent by Him, deserves special attention. All of them also animated the missionary vocation of our Founder[22]. Here we will consider them as one unit, except in the cases of Peter and Paul.

            Jesus, who relied on a certain number of men and women, his faithful followers and collaborators, wanted to join to Himself a smaller and more intimate group of disciples: the apostles, also called the Twelve. All of them appear in the Gospels as expressly called by name (cf. Mk. 3: 13-19; Mt. 10: 1-2). Jesus calls each of them within the concrete context in which their lives were developing and of their daily work: Peter, Andrew, James and John the fishermen (cf. Mk. 1: 16-20; Mt. 4: 18-22; Lk. 4: 1-11); Matthew or Levi, the tax collector (Mt. 9: 9; Mk. 2: 14; Lk. 5: 27-28).

            All of them overcame their logical resistance to leaving everything behind. And all of them, allowing themselves to be captivated by the seductiveness that emanated from the person of Jesus, followed Him and shared his life, his activity and his mission with Him.

            The vocational journey of the Twelve proceeded according to a sound pedagogy imparted by the divine Teacher, passing through successive stages aimed at turning them into the apostles that the Lord wanted:

6.1. Called to be Disciples

            The apostles had to be, first of all, disciples of Jesus, i.e., his followers, which is the distinguishing characteristic of the disciple. Jesus proposed to them that they adopt his way of life, which entails renunciation and the abandonment of their possessions and their former way of life[23].

6.2. Called to be Apostles of Jesus

            Within the circle of disciples, Jesus set up a smaller group: the 12 apostles: “He called his disciples and selected twelve of them to be his apostles” (Lk. 6: 13).

            He called them to be with Him and to send them to preach, with the power to expel demons, etc. (cf. Mk. 3: 13-15). This sending was, in the beginning, still provisional, i.e., limited in time and space: restricted to the area of Judah and only temporary (cf. Mt. 10: 5).

6.3. Called to be Apostles of Jesus Christ for All the World

             The disciples would not be able to limit their mission to that small area or carry it out for only a brief period of time. Jesus would lay out for them the scope of the universal plan of the Father, right after the Messianic confession that they, through the mouth of Peter, made at a specific moment in their formation process as followers of the Lord[24]. From that moment on they acquired an awareness of possessing an expanded apostolic vocation: becoming disciples and apostles not only of Jesus of Nazareth, a person that they much admired, but also of Jesus Christ the Messiah.

6.4. Called to Identify Themselves with Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant

             Jesus was opening his heart to the disciples little by little. He confided to them a harsh reality: he was going to carry out his plan by his sufferings, even going so far as dying nailed to the cross (cf. Mk. 8: 31-32). His disciples would have to accept this plan, identifying themselves with Him, the Suffering Servant, despite the objections that their merely human thought processes would raise (cf. Mk. 8: 32; Mt. 16: 22). To be disciples and apostles of Jesus carried with it a vocation to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (cf. Mk. 8: 34; Mt. 16: 24; Lk. 9: 23). Only in this way could the Twelve be disciples of the Lord Jesus. One of them, Judas Iscariot, would refuse to accept this dynamic of sacrifice unto death that Jesus imposes as a condition. The other eleven, even though they wavered and reacted by running away, ended up accepting it.

6.5. Called to the Fullness of Being Apostles of the Risen Christ

            After Jesus’ death and resurrection, and with the power they received from the Holy Spirit, the Eleven, along with Matthias, recently added to the group of apostles (cf. Acts 1: 15-16), were witnesses to the resurrection. They more deeply assimilated Jesus’ teachings and embarked on the mission He had entrusted to them with greater spirit. They had a clearer awareness of their apostolic vocation, of being sent to the whole world. They ended up sealing the faith they proclaimed with the shedding of their own blood, beginning with James, the brother of John (cf. Acts 12: 1-2).

            We will now pause to consider the vocations of two specific apostles, Peter and Paul, which, by being outstandingly representative, are worthy of being highlighted among these biblical vocation narratives.

 7. The Vocation of Peter

            Called to play a privileged role of pastoral service among the disciples and despite the defects in his personal history (including waverings and denials), Peter represents the prototype of the vocation of the disciples. Thus we are going to start with the very beginning of the vocation of this fisherman from Galilee, called by Jesus to become a fisher of men and who dedicated himself with such zeal and fervor to that mission[25].

7.1. Called to be a Fisherman

            With the freshness characteristic of one who heard the story at one time or another directly from the lips of Peter himself, the evangelist Mark relates for us how one day Jesus “as He made his way along the Sea of Galilee, he observed Simon” (Mk. 1: 16), who was mending his nets. That look from Jesus marked the hour of Peter’s vocation to go fishing in other seas.

            The evangelist Luke broadens the scene and introduces it in another way: Peter had spent all night trying to fish. But, sadly, he had caught nothing. At daybreak, tired and frustrated, he gave up his attempt and allowed Jesus to get on his boat and transform it into a platform from which he began to preach to the people, “who pressed in on him to hear the Word of God” (Lk. 5: 1). The same boat that as a fishing vessel could not catch even a single fish all night, now—thanks to the “words of eternal life” (Jn 6: 68)uttered by Jesus—served to capture the attention of the crowd, who were listening to them on the seashore.

            When Jesus finished preaching, he said to Peter: “Put out into deep water” (Lk. 5: 4). Then he said to him again: “Lower your nets for a catch” (ibid.). Peter, no stranger to manual labor, knew that, on this occasion, he could hope for nothing from the Sea of Galilee. Therefore, he raises a small objection, but immediately gives in to Jesus’ wishes: “we have caught nothing, but if you say so, I will lower the nets” (Lk. 5: 5).

            When they did this, the result was surprising: “they caught such a great number of fish that their nets were at the breaking point” (Lk. 5: 6)—many more fish then they could have hoped for. They then shouted to James and John in the other boat; but, even so, “they filled the two boats until they nearly sank” (Lk. 5: 7). Peter couldn’t believe his eyes; the evangelist tell us that he was amazed (cf. Lk. 5: 9).

            And Peter’s amazement becamse a feeling of unworthiness in the presence of one who exhibited such extraordinary power. Thus he blurts out: “Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5: 8). Jesus counters with: Don’t be afraid and immediately invites him to go fishing in other seas: “From now on you will be catching men” (Lk. 5: 10).

            Jesus’ call could not be more explicit and direct. Peter understood him. Shining through Jesus’ gaze was something divine that irresistibly drew him. Peter, James and John (who were with him) “brought their boats to land, left everything, and became his followers” (Lk. 5: 11). The disciples understood that to follow Jesus was worth much more effort than all the fish in the world.

7.2. The Promised Reward

            That moment of vocation was unforgettable. It left a deep impression on Peter’s life. Mark, through simple but significant details, tells us about the day when Peter spontaneously recalled it in front of the Lord: “Peter was moved to say to Him, ‘We have left everything to follow You’” (Mk. 10: 28); “What can we expect from it?” the Gospel of Matthew finishes the statement (Mt. 19: 27).

            That phrase (he was moved to say to Him) suggests that Peter went on to list, perhaps in great detail, the things he had left behind, since Jesus, in answering him, seems to be repeating those things Peter supposedly has mentioned. But we need to concentrate very carefully on Jesus’ response. According to Matthew’s text, which differs from that of Luke and Mark, Jesus responds: “I solemnly assure you that you who have followed Me…” (Mt. 19: 28). Jesus does not say: You who have left everything and followed Me. Jesus rather says: You who have followed Me.

            This indicates that the main thing is not what one leaves behind but whom one follows. In Peter’s case, as in that of the other apostles and all who respond to the call of Jesus, it does not matter how many things are left behind, but what one receives in an absolutely gratuitous way: the priceless gift that is Jesus Himself, whom one follows, sharing his life and mission.

            It is true that the Gospel goes on to list a series of compensations for the fact that one has left everything (cf. Mt. 19: 28-29), but none of these things compares to the invaluable gift of being called and being able to follow the Lord Jesus.

            On the other hand, Peter’s phrase we have left everything still seems a bit presumptuous, espcially in light of the fact that the fisherman is not a wealthy man: he had little, he left little. While it was certainly a little, it was everything he had. Thus Peter, in order to follow the Lord Jesus, has left behind all the little he had![26].

            God does not ask those to whom He grants the gift of vocation whether they are leaving behind a little or a lot. He asks them to leave everything to follow Jesus. He asks whether they are capable of subordinating all the goods of this world—whether a little or a lot, useful or not—to the superior good of being his disciples.

8. The Vocation of Paul

            St. Paul, the “apostle of the Jews and of the Gentiles”, also is of paramount importance in the life of the Church. According to our Founder, specifically, the figure of Paul, whose zeal always awakened his enthusiasm, exercises a revealing influence[27]. Moreover, our Founder felt vocationally a close identification with the episode on the road to Damascus, as he tells us in his Autobiography[28] when relating the swirl of ideas that led in his youth to the recall of the words of the Gospel: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world…? Because of all this, it is worth while to recall the vocation of Paul of Tarsus.

8.1. The Decisive Experience on the Road to Damascus

            There was an extraordinary event that marked Paul’s life: his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. It was a deeply personal experience, yet, at the same time, an essentially ecclesial one, as can be seen in the exquisite welcome that Ananias gives him while imposing hands on him within the community, saying to him: “Paul, my brother!” (Acts 9: 17). This experience was the determining factor in Paul’s vocation and mission (cf. Ga. 1: 15-16).

            The intervention of Jesus in Paul’s life was a watershed moment, dividing it into what came before the experience and what followed it. The external phenomena that accompany the internal process of conversion, and the terms and metaphors used to describe it, suggest that Jesus’ entrance into Paul’s life was not like a soft, gentle breeze, but rather like a sudden, violent tempest. That experience went on to affect the very foundation of his being. It made everything in his former world crumble, making it possible for a new reality to arise.

            God broke in, leaving Paul lying on the ground (cf. Acts 9: 4; 22: 7; 26: 14). When Paul got up, he was blind, and remained that way for three days (cf. Acts 9: 8-9), after which his eyes saw the light again. He himself tells us that his birth in Christ was not normal. God provoked his birth in a forced and violent way, as if he was being aborted (cf. 1 Co. 15: 8). Paul was not expecting this. Rather, he felt himself snared by Christ Jesus (cf. Ph. 3: 12). Even so, after it occurred, he had to admit that that was what he had always been waiting for. It was for this that God separated him, set him apart, from his mother’s womb (cf. Ga. 1: 15). He lived that as his destiny, his vocation, his mission; he considered that event as the moment God had mercy on him. God welcomed him, when he had been insolent, a blasphemer and persecutor (cf. 1 Tm. 1: 13). It was the moment when God’s grace superabounded in him (cf. 1 Tm. 1: 14). Thus Christ wanted to form him for his service (cf. 1 Tm. 1: 12).

8.2. Paul’s Transformation in Christ

            Now, for Paul, to live was Christ (cf. Ph. 1: 21). It was no longer he who lived, but Christ who lived in him (cf. Ga. 2: 20). Paul knew that he was loved by God: “He loved me and handed Himself over for me ” (Ga. 2: 20). From that time on he wanted to know no other thing than Jesus crucified (cf. 1 Co. 2: 2) and wanted to complete in his own flesh what was lacking in the passion of Christ (cf. Col. 1: 24). Out of love for Jesus he left everything in order to possess Him and to be in him (cf. Ph. 3: 8-9). He also took part in the passion of Christ in order to thus be able to share in His resurrection (cf. Ph. 3: 10-11). He underwent the agony of Jesus in his own body so that Jesus’ life might be manifested in him (cf. 2 Co. 4: 10-12; Ga. 6: 17). In short, Paul lived a complete identification with Jesus dead and risen.

            By virtue of this configuration to Christ, dead and risen, Paul’s life changed completely. For the sake of Christ he bore all things and lived dedicated to him day and night (cf. 1 Co. 13: 4-6). A new factor became part of his life: the liberating grace of God, that had manifested itself in the person of the Lord Jesus, who had loved him and handed Himself over for him (cf. Ga. 2: 20).

            That encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and the subsequent process of identification with Him, was the strongest and most enduring thing in Paul’s life and it lead him to accept Jesus and to acknowledge Him as the Messiah without reservations. Paul reached the conviction that Jesus brought about the fulfillment of the promises God had made to his people long ago (cf. 2 Co. 1: 20).

8.3. Paul’s Universal Mission

            Ananias, immediately after the account of what happened to Paul on the way to Damascus, receives from the Lord an order to welcome him because “this man is the instrument I have chosen to bring my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9: 15). Paul has thus been chosen to be an apostle to all people, Jews and Gentiles alike.

            By accepting Jesus as the Messiah, Paul was not being unfaithful to his people; he was not ceasing to be a Jew. Fidelity to Christ, on the one hand, and to his people, on the other, were perfectly compatible. Paul never felt he was a traitor to his people, even though they accused him of being one. On the contrary, living in Christ he felt himself more a Jew than ever before and in possession of the hope of his people.

            For Paul, Jesus incarnated the fulfillment of his people’s hopes, longed for over the course of centuries. Moreover, he also saw how, through the life, death and resurrection of the Lord, the great mystery of God’s love entrusted to the people of Israel was opened up as a grace given to all peoples, not only to his people. This was the magnificent new thing that Paul discovered in Jesus and that he began to transmit to the whole world[29]. It is true Paul is called Apostle to the Gentiles, since he openly admitted his apostolic preference for them and expressed his willingness to be a true pioneer in evangelization, desiring to work among those who had not heard of Christ[30]. But Paul was aware of the universal scope of his mission—neither only to the Jews, nor only to the Gentiles. He felt he was called to carry the Gospel to all people[31].

            Paul, by a special grace from God—by his vocation to become a universal apostle—, understood the extent of this mystery revealed by God in Christ, this Good News for all humankind. This became his reason for being, the wellspring of his joys and his sufferings, the moving force for his apotolate, as he himself acknowledges:

            “By the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace has not been fruitless in me. On the contrary, I worked harder than all the others; not on my own but through the grace of God” (1 Co. 15: 10).



[1] Cf. Aut 68ff.

[2] Our Founder was an assiduous reader of the Bible, as he himself confesses: cf. Aut 113 and 151; cf. IPM, n. 20-30 and its appendix 3.

[3] “Our Father Founder, Anthony Mary Claret, felt that he was anointed by the Spirit of Jesus. He found stimuli for his vocation in the prophets (cf. Aut 114-120; 214-220) and, especially, in Jesus, a simple and captivating prophet, close to the people. But also a sign of contradiction, persecuted unto death on a cross (cf. Aut 221-222)” (IPM 7).

[4] Our Founder speaks expressly about stimuli that moved him to be a missionary and cites the example of the following prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Elijah and the 12 Minor Prophets (cf. Aut 215-220).He mentions in a special way Jesus Christ, the apostles in general, St. Paul and other saints (cf. Aut 221-232). All of them stimulated him, above all, in his zeal for the salvation of souls: cf. GPF 128.

[5] Cf. CC 3-4.

[6] Cf. CC 10.

[7] Cf. CC 82.

[8] Cf. CC 35c.

[9] Cf. CC 62.

[10] For example, the situation of Moses and oppression of his brothers and sisters is described; of Jeremiah and the threat of invasion; of Amos and social injustices, etc.

[11] For example, Moses (cf. Ex. 3-4), Jeremiah (cf. Jr. 1), Jonah, who tries to run away, and Saul (cf. 1S 13: 3-20).

[12] Likewise, Moses dies on Mt. Nebo before entering the Promised Land; we can also site the case of Saul and the defeat at Mt. Gilboa; or that of Jeremiah and the destruction of Jerusalem; or that of Jesus and Calvary. But God always ulimately triumphs.

[13] It happens to Gideon (cf. Jg. 6: 36-38.40), to Saul (cf. 1S 10: 1-9), to Moses in the Elohist’s account (cf. Ex. 3: 12).

[14] Initially Moses is merely curious. Later, he covers his face and is afraid to look at God. When Isaiah sees the Holy One of Israel and hears the song, something similar happens to him: he is filled with fear (cf. Is. 6: 5).

[15] Before liberating his people Moses has to put up with criticism and misunderstanding (cf. Ex 5:20-21) and after liberating them, three days journey into the desert, they begin to murmur. The waters of Marah are bitter (cf. Ex 15:24; 16:2ff.; 17:3).

[16] Our Founder says of Jeremiah: “The principal trait of this great prophet was his tender-hearted love for his neighbors, a charity full of compassion for both their temporal and spiritual needs, a charity that never let him rest” (Aut 216).

[17] The expression gird your loins refers directly to the custom that existed among men preparing to perform certain labors, tying up their clothes with a belt in order to obtain greater freedom of action or movement. But it is also an allusive metaphor for an attitude of obedience, for the disposition to react promptly to what is required or ordered.

[18] The figure of the prophet comes to say that salvation is only possible by listening to the Lord, since, although everything may be destroyed, although the Babylonians come, they will not be able to destroy the fortified city, the pillar of iron, the wall of brass that God has built in the midst of his people as an indestructible refuge that guarantees salvation.

[19] Our Founder comments on the vocation and mission of Isaiah: “His main object was to confront the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Israel with their infidelities and to announce the chastisement that God would visit upon them through the Assyrians and Chaldaeans, as He did, indeed” (Aut 215).

[20] This is possibly literally realized in Immanuel; Is. 9: 5 is a hymn for the birth and enthronement of the firstborn.

 

[21] Her response to the angel expresses joyous acceptance, not mere resignation. It is a matter of placing herself completely in God’s hands, come what may. We can interpret Mary’s words as an expression of joy, along the same lines or in the same mood as the angel’s greeting, that invites her to rejoice.

[22] “I was also much encouraged by reading what the apostles did and suffered”, says our Founder (Aut 223).

[23] Cf. Other texts: Lk. 5: 11; Mt. 4: 20.22; Mk. 1: 18,20; Jn. 1: 35-42; Mt. 19: 27; Mk. 10: 28; Lk. 18: 28.

 

[24] Cf. Other texts: Mk. 8: 27.29; Mt. 16: 13-16; Lk. 9: 18-20; Jn. 6: 68-69.

[25] “The apostle, St. Peter, in his first sermon, converted 3,000 people, and in the second, 5,000 (Acts 2: 41; 4: 4). With what great zeal and fervor he preached!” (Aut 223).

[26] Nevertheless, we find something curious: after the scene in which Peter leaves his nets and, along with them, all he possesses, the Gospel continues to speak time and again of Peter’s “boat”, Peter’s “house”, etc. Well then, what did he leave? We find the answer in Luke, the evangelist of poverty and divestment. He gives us the key in a Greek word that is very rarely translated as righfully his. He does not say Peter left his nets or boat, as Matthew and Mark tell us, but that he left “what was his”, i.e., something more than his material possessions: his own interests, his ambitions, his plan of life, the security that his profession gave him, etc. Peter, before his material, tangible things (that he continued keeping), changed the orientation of his life: this change began to set up a new and different relationship between himself and all material things: he would undoubtedly have possession but not be dependent on them. One day he would even say, filled with joy: “gold and silver have I none…” (Acts 3: 6).

[27] “But the zeal of the apostle St Paul has always awakened by deepest enthusiasm…” (Aut 224).

[28] Cf. Aut 68-69.

[29] It was a matter of the universal projection of God’s plan of salvation, something already dimly visible on the horizon at the time of the Exile and later until it was fully revealed in Jesus Christ. Of this Paul had no doubt.

[30] “I say this now to you Gentile: Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentile, I glory in my ministry” (Rm. 11: 13); “It has been a point of honor to me never to preach in places where Christ’s name was already known…” (Rm. 15: 20).

[31] There are Pauline texts that give evidence of the universal scope of his apostolate: cf. Rm. 1: 16; Eph. 3: 2; Col. 1: 28; 1 Tm. 2: 1-4. Luke states clearly that on his missionary journies Paul directed his apostolic action both to Jews and Gentiles (cf. Acts 20: 20-21).