Breath of the Spirit Reflection: Called to Relationship
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January 17th, 2021: Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19
Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20
Reflection from Jeff Vomund
At times, I feel awkward when someone tells me that God has “called” them to do something. It’s not that I doubt Love calls to us, but when someone simply declares such a calling it can be a conversation stopper. After all, if the Almighty has contacted someone personally with a job description, what are we mere mortals to say? Also, crystal clear callings have a mixed track record. Mother Teresa famously felt called by God in 1946 to minister to the poor and dying, but it seems Torquemada felt the Divine call to torture and kill heretics in service of doctrinal purity during the Spanish Inquisition. Given the evangelical nature of his political base, I suspect some of our fellow citizens who desecrated the Capitol last week felt called by God to support President Trump’s claims of a stolen election. Not to mention, then-Cardinal Ratzinger ended his 1986 letter, “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” citing God’s “call” that the Church “minister to every man, woman and child with the pastoral solicitude of our compassionate Lord” (18) as he kicked all but the most docile LGBTQ+ groups off Catholic property.
The trouble with the future pope’s (and others’) calling to minister through eviction and violence is not that it is cynical but, I assume, sincere. As humans, we have a deeply rooted capacity to blame God for what we want. I doubt the future pope was exempt from that temptation, I certainly am not. Our Scriptures, however, do not depict the divine calling in such quid pro quo terms. As if a call happens when God says, “Jump!” and true disciples respond, “How high?”. God’s persistent calling to Samuel in Sunday’s first reading was only to listen and, it seems, to keep living with, and learning from, Eli. When Jesus calls Andrew and another disciple in the gospel, the invitation is only, “Come and you will see.” No big jobs, no herculean tasks. Just listen and look around.
In the Scriptures, God’s call is always first and foremost an invitation to relationship, which is to say, intimacy and vulnerability. Even the famous biblical calls - for Moses to set God’s people free, for Abram to be the founder of God’s people, for Jeremiah, Isaiah, and others to prophecy – were grounded in regular intimate and vulnerable conversations. Insofar as we can tell, God called Ruth to discipleship primarily through the loving friendship of her mother-in-law, Naomi. We see the pattern for that in today’s psalm. The Psalmist notes that they wait upon God, listening for the sacred conversation which dwells within their heart. Only at the end of the psalm, after waiting, listening, and treasuring God’s loving presence, does the Psalmist mention announcing God’s justice to others. Similarly, only after years of being with Jesus day in and day out do we hear that the disciples experience the Spirit’s call to preach.
It’s not that Love’s call cannot knock us off our horse or appear as a burning bush; however, even these calls did not produce any public action without significant Divine-human – and human-to-human – conversations. Paul addresses this critical human-to-human dynamic in today’s passage from his First Letter to the Corinthians. He is chastising the Corinthians for their overly permissive approach to sexuality, but he does so by invoking their responsibility to their own bodies and to the Body of Christ. Paul grounds our moral calling in our responsibility to ourselves and to each other.
From the mix of meditation and rationalization that can serve up some of our clearest “callings,” our actual relationships must provide a much-needed check on our zeal. How might a particular call affect my partner? His happiness is certainly a part of my role in the Body of Christ, I cannot just push it aside when it is inconvenient. How could any callings that I perceive impact my family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors? Paul is clear that our callings must not harm the Body of which we are members. We are required to discern our callings by grounding them in vulnerable, intimate conversations with each other. This necessarily changes our perspective. I can’t know what people need, unless I know their perspectives. This is what the hierarchy misses when it ministers to the LGBTGQ+ community without first talking to us. It is the mistake politicians make when they fight more for their vision of our country, than the people in our country. It is also the mistake we, who our society has privileged by our whiteness and/or maleness, make when we tell those who have been historically minoritized what they should be doing, when we have not first heard how they have been doing. And it is the mistake that I make when I am so full of some great new idea or goal that I am “called” to accomplish, that I do not consider how this new change could affect the people in the world for whom I have already been called to care.
When we discern our callings from within the Body of Christ as opposed to something we do for, or to, the Body (In plain language: when we have authentic, intimate conversations about our plans with our loved ones), it requires courage – a lot more courage than simply declaring we have found a new mountain to climb, or an election to overturn. Those discussions about our callings can feel awkward as well: not because they stop conversation, but because they invite us into a new and deeper level of it.
Jeff Vomund is a member of Dignity/Washington and currently lives in Arlington,VA. After 15+ years of full-time parish ministry and 7 years of teaching students with particular learning needs, Jeff now works at George Mason University as a Graduate Research Assistant and a Graduate Lecturer, while pursuing a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.