Reluctant Samuels

Samuel and Eli John Singleton Copley
“Samuel and Eli” by John Singleton Copley


Our first reading at Holy Mass Sunday comes from the first book of Samuel the prophet. We hear about the young Samuel. While he was still a boy, he lived in the temple.

The Lord spoke to little Samuel. But the prophet hesitated to think that a revelation had come to him. Instead, he thought that the old priest sleeping nearby must be speaking.

When it comes to making bold pronouncements about ‘the will of God,’ we Catholics tend to operate like the young Samuel. We will not be the first to insist that we know God’s mind, that we have the answers, that we get to speak for Jesus.

In other words, holy rolling is not our way. We take a humbler tack. A Catholic thinks to him- or herself: “I have to worry about getting myself to heaven. That’s more than enough work for me. I don’t need to worry about conveying divine communiques, telling other people their business. Let them follow their consciences, as I strive to follow mine.”

We come very honestly by this Catholic approach. We have the experience of many holy souls through dozens of generations before us–souls who struggled with all their might, through their whole pilgrim lives, to discern God’s will. They have bequeathed to us the legacy of quiet humility when it comes to trying to listen to God. The greatest saints of our past, at the height of their spiritual experiences, insisted on how little they could really claim to know about God.

Wilt ChamberlainIndeed, we human beings know very little about the all-holy Lord. The grandeur of His plan—it surpasses our minds altogether.

Very few people even begin to understand how the power grid works, or the internet—or the human digestive tract, for that matter. All of that esoteric knowledge is less than a grain of sand, compared to God’s glorious scheme for the unfolding of the entire creation and all of history.

So: We tread lightly when it comes to declaring that Thus and So or That and Thus are The Will of God! God’s mind dwarfs our own by such an order of magnitude that we have to smile at anyone who claims to speak for the Almighty. We smile, because it’s like we are looking at a parakeet trying to tell Wilt Chamberlain how to play basketball.

That said, we Catholics are no agnostics. Young Samuel presumed the first and second time that he was too insignificant, too puny to merit the direct attention of the Holy Spirit. But: The third time, Samuel accepted the truth. The Lord had a mission for Him. The Lord was speaking to him, and intended to speak to others through him. Samuel then proceeded to spend his life declaring the Word of God, standing his ground fearlessly, calling the faithless Israelites back to the worship of the Lord.

We Catholics do not propose to have special personal insights into God. But we do have objective divine revelation which has been entrusted to us as a Church. God has spoken through the prophets and apostles. Scripture bears witness, and Sacred Tradition preserves, the facts—the facts of what God has done. God has acted in history; he has intervened in the lives of men and women. In fact, He Himself became a man.

As a man, He founded a human institution. A human institution, subject to all the normal human foibles, but which nonetheless always thrives somehow, by the power of the Spirit of Christ Himself. The Church of the seven sacraments, the Church with one Argentinian Pope—this is the very institution that God founded for the sake of the salvation of the human race.

st_peter_basilica_vatican_01So: with all humility, without any delusions that God has made us His personal mouthpieces; not thinking for a moment that the vagaries of my own feelings and moods have anything to do with God’s sublime wisdom and will; considering ourselves no-count little guys, when it comes to the things of God, like young Samuel did: we nevertheless find the ground on which we can and will take our stand.

God became man and gave the world one Church, this Church. God became man and revealed His unfathomable mind. The unfathomable mind of God intends this: that everyone should find their way to heaven, by being a part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Being a Catholic is easy; being a good Catholic is very hard. We find ourselves somewhere in the great middle. As Catholics, we stand in the middle of the enormous, hapless human race—a race that cannot, no matter how tempting it becomes, forget altogether about God.

And we Catholics are ready—we have to be more than ready; we have to be lovingly attentive, like a dutiful waiter at a fancy restaurant: we have to be perfectly poised and ready to meet the human questions about God… Who is He? How do I know Him? He totally transcends me, yet I know He must have some kind of plan for me… We listen to whatever anyone says about God, carefully, and with a loving smile, we say:

Yes, brother. Yes, sister. God is real; He does have a plan. Jesus Christ has the answer to every question any of us could ever have about God. He has the answer to every question any of us could ever have about life, about love, about marriage, about money, about friendship, about eating and drinking and sleeping and working and resting. In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

And we walk alongside Him, alongside Christ, towards the goal that only He knows, by practicing the Catholic religion, week in and week out, from now until death.

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