What is the meaning of life? It’s kind of a big question, isn’t it? People spend all their time and energy searching for it. It’s something we feel we need to discover. It can be something that evades us our entire lives, except for us young people who clearly have it figured out completely already. What is it? Is it having peace of mind? Is it doing nice things for people? Is it about feeling good about ourselves? What is it?
History is filled with philosophers, scientists, outspoken celebrities, and religious leaders who ask themselves that question, and have been seeking for thousands of years what is the meaning of life – what will fulfill us, what will satisfy us. But really, despite the helpful suggestions given by so many people throughout history, only Christ gives us the answer, and he hints at it today. We hear in the Gospel that Jesus is walking around by the Jordan River, doing his thing, listening to his iPod, and John the Baptist, a man who has dedicated his entire life for preparing for the Messiah and being able to recognize him calls out, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” John and Andrew, who had been John the Baptist’s followers, decide to investigate this, to check Jesus out, and so they follow Christ. Jesus sees them, takes the earbuds out of his ears, and asks them, “What are you looking for?” This may seem like a pretty basic question with a pretty basic answer (“a Wendy’s, “a Target store”, “the All Saints Athletics Fields”). But it’s a very deep question. In it, Jesus is asking them what it is that they seek, what it is that they long for within their hearts, what it is that gives them meaning. The two are awestruck, and don’t really know what to say, so they ask Jesus where he’s staying, and where they can get more information. And Jesus sort of smiles, and looks at them, and says, “Come and see.” Come and see. These beautiful words are some of the most important that we’ll hear in scripture, because they invite him, and all of us, to follow him and to become his disciples. You see, the meaning of life isn’t something out there for us to find. It’s not something abstract that we spend our whole lives seeking to possess. It’s not some strange doctrine to wrap our minds around. It’s a relationship that we enter into. It’s a deep and personal friendship and companionship that we share with Christ.
In the Church, that call to friendship with Christ is called our vocation. It’s the call to the deepest part of ourselves. It’s not just the call to come to Mass, although that’s certainly out there. It’s not just the call to help the poor and the lonely, and those in need. But it is the call to our true purpose, our true mission. It’s a call from someone who knows us more than we even know ourselves, to share intimately in the life of God. Everyone has a vocation, whether you’re a mother or father, a husband or wife, or a single person. And each of us are called in a special way, a unique way, to follow Christ, just as John and Andrew did.
This past week, we celebrated National Vocations Awareness week. Did anyone know that? Maybe we didn’t do the best job of awareness… And while certainly we promote awareness to the married and single life, in a particular way, we promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I think this is something in dire need in our Church and in our parish. It should be part of every young man’s life to think about serving God as a priest, and part of every young woman’s life to think about serving God as a religious sister or nun. But unfortunately, it hasn’t really turned out that way in our world today. I was looking at some statistics for the united states, and in 1965, 994 men were ordained as priests. But in 2003, just 9 years ago, there were only 441 ordinations. You can see this in the class sizes that come out of the seminary especially. In St. Louis, which is a pretty healthy diocese for vocations, Msgr. Whited’s class was made up of 16 people. Just this past May, however, I was ordained as one in a class of…4. What’s going on? Why is this happening? If it’s truly a call, then why is God calling fewer men? Well, my theory is that God is still calling men to follow him, and maybe even moreso considering the need of the Church today, but that it’s become harder and harder for them to hear His call. Other things are blocking that out: consumerism, the sexualization of our society, the emphasis of pleasure over happiness, and the growing idea that faith has nothing to do with life, or that faith is something purely individual. All these messages and calls are going out.
I’m the only priest here today, as far as I can tell, so you might wonder how this affects you in any way. But it’s important, because God needs a little help making his call heard. Samuel had Eli to point it out, and John and Andrew had John the Baptist to point it out. The priests and religious need us to point it out. Do we pray for vocations? Do we make frequent use of Mass, confession, individual prayer? All these are important, especially to give a good example to foster vocations among our youth. So if you know anyone who would make a good priest or religious, PLEASE TELL THEM! It’s not an insult, or a sign of a lack in confidence of them, but a compliment! It’s a challenging life, but a life of great, great rewards and happiness that ultimately gives meaning to my life. The reality is that the Church can’t survive without priests. If it’s a great community, that’s great! If it’s a great social justice organization, that’s wonderful! But the Church isn’t the Church if it’s not built around the Eucharist, and the Eucharist can’t happen without priests.
So as we turn the corner here back into Ordinary Time, we’re entering another long journey. It’s not a boring time, but a time of invitation, a time of that call to get to know Christ and his teachings. That call is for each of us: not just priests, not just religious, not just married or single people, but for all of us. The only way that we’re going to know God’s call in our lives is to listen. So as we come to this altar, as we are called to behold the Lamb of God, then let us respond just as Andrew and John did. Let us put our trust in him, and in his call, and follow him, and let us find the happiness that Christ offers us in our lives.