The Call of God and our Response            (E.J.Tyler)

“Brothers, you have been called and chosen: work all the harder to justify it by good deeds. If you do all these things there is no danger that you will ever fall away. In this way you will be granted admittance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:10-11)

Our human condition

  Consider our human condition. We are born into this world without our having anything to do with it. Prior to our birth we were absolutely nothing. We just, as it were, appeared from nowhere through the agency of our parents and with an eternal future ahead of us. It had nothing to do with us. We arrived on the scene with as yet unknown abilities and qualities which only gradually became apparent as we grew and entered into the business of life. We increased in awareness  as our education and our experiences increased. Finally, perhaps, we stopped in some sense to take stock of ourselves and where we were heading. The circumstances of this pause and taking stock varied from one to the other among us. It could have been a retreat that brought us to reflect on life and its meaning, or conversations with some particular person, or something we read, or some other kinds of experiences. But whatever it was, we were led to a new awareness of the most important and defining elements in our life. We could call it something of a conversion. Whatever may be our story of the arrival of a new seriousness and the new direction that gave meaning to what our life is all about, let us ask ourselves right now, what is the defining element that should shape the direction and understanding we have of life. What is the purpose of our life? Just what we are really here for? We are not here in the way a stone or a tree is here. It does not matter what happens to a stone. It is just there. But we instinctively know that our life is valuable. Our life is brief and of immense importance at least to the person who is living it out. Not so with the stone.

The foundation: God’s call

   Well then, what is the rock foundation of our life on which rests everything and that gives to life its value? Even if a person lives in virtual obscurity and has little observable impact, is there anything that can provide his life with real value? Yes. It is the fact of having a call from God. It is the fact of being called by God our creator to live and act in a certain direction, with a certain goal. We are not here arbitrarily to set our own goals, which is what we may have been tempted to think. Even if we were tempted to think this, there is much in life that would give us pause to correct that notion. Ordinary experience teaches us that we cannot do just whatever we want. From our earliest years we are learning this to our cost in a variety of settings. We must learn to respect reality with its demands and to find what the true goals are that bring lasting happiness. Our conscience intimates to us all along as we grow and advance in age that what is obligatory and binding on us is not something we arbitrarily decide for ourselves. It is something objective we must discover and submit to. So too with life’s great objectives. We come to see that our life is a gift from God our creator, and he too does not act arbitrarily. He has given us the gift of life for a grand purpose which we should make our own. He calls us to make his plan for us our own. It is this which is truly objective. It is this which is the ultimate basis of the reality which each of us is and which we see around us. It is this which is the foundation of true greatness.

The call to sanctity

   The principle and the foundation of everything is that God has created us to know, love and serve him here on earth so as to see and enjoy him forever in heaven. It amounts to a call which resounds in our conscience and in our heart, summoning us to live for that goal, the goal of knowing and loving and serving God in our everyday life so as to be with him forever. That is to say, the most defining thing in our life which we need to become deeply aware of is God’s call to us to love and to serve him. We have received our being from God and he sustains us constantly in being. Without his sustaining action, we would immediately lapse into nothingness. We do not exist of ourselves, despite the appearances. Moment by moment our limited being is entirely sustained by the one who is infinite in being. We are utterly dependent on him for everything that is in any sense positive about us. He gives us whatever we have day by day from the first moment of our existence till its earthly end, and then on into eternity. What defines and gives meaning and shape to this gift of life continually being granted us is God’s call to us to love and obey him. That is to say, the fundamental thing in life is God’s call to each of us to seek to be holy.


  We can get a vague sense of this by reflection and by listening to the intimations of our conscience. Our conscience senses that this call to goodness is obligatory. But it comes through clearly to us in God’s Revelation. God has actually revealed his plan to us. He has told us this by means of his Son Jesus Christ, speaking to us through the Church. In the Old Testament we read God’s clear command, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Our Lord when asked what is the first of the commandments refers to the Old Testament command, that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, all our mind and all our strength, and our neighbour as ourself. St Paul tells us that before the wold began, God chose us, chose us in Christ to be holy and full of love in his sight. That fact puts each of us back in the dim past of eternity. We come from eternity. God always, always from eternity itself, had each of us in mind, and he was always looking forward to the day when he would bring us into being, and with this gift of being there comes his call to holiness and to the love of him.  There is nothing more fundamental about our life than that, and it is that which should be the basis of everything in our life. It is that call of God which is the secure fact on which everything else can be built. 

The call of God versus the call of Satan

  The tragedy is that great numbers of people never hear the call to holiness that God addresses to them. They hear other calls which amount to calls from the world, calls from the flesh which is to say their own personal self-seeking, and calls from the devil. Our thoughts go back to the beginnings of human history, when our first parents found themselves in existence and in the garden of Eden. They did not place themselves there. They simply found themselves there, placed there by God. Now, what was it that defined everything for them? It was the call and the command of God their maker to obey him, to prefer him above all else that might attract them. And so God gave them his command which amounted to a call to love and serve him before anything else. But what happened? They heard another call, whispered to Eve by Satan in the first place, appealing to her pride. It was Satan calling on her in and through her very self, her pride, which we could call "the flesh". Satan proposed to her that she be great, great in place of God. You will be like God, he said. Then the same subtle call was directed to Adam by Eve. We could call it the whispering call to Adam from Satan, appealing to him through his helpmate Eve, who we might consider as representing "the world", or others.

    At work there was, on the one hand, the fundamental call of God to love and obey him. On the other hand there was the call of Satan whispering his his call through what we might call the medium of "the flesh" and "the world". Great numbers have chosen the call of Satan and have neglected the call of God. Of course very many do not realize clearly what they are doing, but nevertheless the fact is that they are not heeding the call of God to seek to love him with all their hearts. This call from God can be snuffed out of our awareness in a variety of ways. Our Lord told the parable of the Sower going out to sow to illustrate this. Some of the seed, which in standing for the word of God also symbolises the call of God because that is what God’s word expresses, some of the seed fell by the wayside and the birds of the air snatched it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and others fell among the thorns. The call of God in these cases was not heard and grasped. It was only the seed that fell on good soil that bore a harvest. They were those who heard the word, the call of God and appreciated it. God’s call was grasped and acted upon. It all means that the defining element in our life, which is God’s call to seek to be holy and full of love in his sight, can be missed and neglected. It can be ignored and passed over. It can come to nothing unless we take it to heart and with it produce the harvest that God intends. The call is the foundation for a harvest. The harvest is the harvest of personal holiness. But it takes real work.

Working at sanctity

  Yes, it takes real work. I remember years ago meeting the brother of a well known television personality in the field of current affairs. They were both Catholics, and the one I was talking to practised his faith well. I asked him about his brother, the television personality. He said that in respect to his Catholic Faith, he did not work at it. When we think about it, among all the projects conceivable which we could take on, nothing is more difficult than the project of attaining through the grace of God personal holiness. There are various tasks in life that can be quite difficult. What is our tendency in respect to those tasks? The tendency is to neglect them, to put them off, to do other things. This is because they are difficult. We need motivation. What might help us is the thought that a day of reckoning is coming. For instance, we might find studying a particular course that we have chosen to do and which is important for our career to be a difficult and irksome course. And so we find ourselves repeatedly neglecting it. The thought of the certainty of having to face the final exams and assessment of our work and progress will probably help us to face up to our daily work in respect to that course.

  So too with the work of personal holiness. How are we to find the generosity that is necessary to work vigorously at holiness when so much of it appears to be irksome? It could be the work of growing in humility, the humility of the heart of Christ. It could be the virtue of working hard and thoroughly at our work responsibilities. Whatever it is that we need to do in living a holy life in the sight of God, the thought of the final judgment of God will help us to get down to it. What will also help is a growing personal love for Jesus. Time is passing rapidly. Life is short, eternity is long. Sooner or later, we will appear before the judgment seat of God to be judged on how well we used the gift of life and of time to fulfil the call which has come from God.

  That call is to be holy and full of love in his sight. It is to be another Christ. It is to love God with all our strength. It will not come naturally. It is an arduous undertaking and we need to put our best efforts into it, using the means that the Church provides, especially the Sacraments and spiritual direction. Yes, it takes constant work and the tendency will be to slacken off and lower our goals, gradually abandoning the high hopes that God himself has for us and which the Holy Spirit is constantly trying to implant in our hearts. So we must keep struggling in a spiritual sense day by day right to the end. The danger will be to slacken off, get tired, become interested in other things, and settle for a mediocre life. If our life slips into spiritual mediocrity, holiness will become impossible, and the golden chance of having lived will have been wasted. I remember hearing of a priest who died a few years ago in Spain. Before he died he expressed his gratitude for having been given the gift of life. We have been given that gift, and it has been given to us for a purpose. The purpose is expressed in God’s call to us to live in Christ, to be united to him in love, to be holy and full of love in God’s sight.

What to do

  So then, having the vocation to love God with our whole heart that we have, we must get down to it generously, taking the means that are necessary. This is why it is so important to have a well thought out plan of life. We cannot hope to live united to God during the day unless we have the habit of making a truly genuine morning offering. So we must begin the day prayerfully, putting time into prayer. Mass must be the heart and soul of our life, the ideal being daily Mass if that is possible; regular Confession, even weekly if that is possible; daily spiritual reading; the Rosary and the most recommended prayers of the Church; daily mental prayer - at least a little, preferably with the help of a Gospel scene; sanctifying all our work and joys and sufferings.

   Two elements of this we could easily neglect: our daily examination of conscience, and the sanctification of our work. It is possible to go right through life with exactly the same faults and at exactly the same degree or even worse. For instance, we have a proneness to impatience when interrupted. We notice that year after year we are just the same in this respect, and as we get older we are becoming even more so. The result is that we are rude to others and very off putting, and certainly not attracting people to Christ in the way we could. We end up bad tempered and impatient at the end of our lives, and a burden on others. Now, if only we had been working on that defect persistently each day, with the patience and humility and meekness of Christ as our model. What progress we would have made if our efforts had been accompanied by prayer and the grace of the sacraments. The daily examination of conscience involves work on our general spiritual life and work on particular areas of struggle. There is no alternative to this if we hope to make practical progress.

   Then there is our daily work and our responsibilities towards others. Our work is a principal means of personal sanctification. We must do it well and for God, serving him and our fellow man by means of it. We must sanctify it, making it a worthy offering to our heavenly Father. We sanctify our work, sanctifying ourselves and others by means of it. The sanctification of our work is a most important part of our plan of life. Let us then take up the work of living our vocation generously.