We move into Ordinary Time and very immediately the focus is on vocation or call and response. In the first reading, we get a glimpse of the vocation of the prophet Samuel. The Gospel gives detailed descriptions of both the call and response of the first apostles.
What does it mean to be called and how are we to respond?
Calling is not something which happens out of the blue. In fact, creation may be said to be a response to God’s calling. He called and all reality, visible and invisible, came to be. That could be considered the most basic response to God’s calling. However, creation, especially Man, the pinnacle of God’s creation, is imbued with freedom. With freedom, morality maps Man’s freedom to respond to God or not.
Today, it would be good to reflect on how we can sometimes unknowingly reject God and maybe understand what it means to respond.
Let us begin with a phenomenon known as lapsed Catholics. I am sure you would have come across people who are classified as non-practising. It is by no means a phenomenon restricted to Catholicism. All religions have their fair share of it. I once had a conversation with a lapsed Catholic and the reason given for being lapsed was that she was disgusted with how poorly people lived their faith.
Disgust may be a strong word. Perhaps discouragement would be a better description.
For example, each year we attract about 100 people for RCIA and give or take the falling out, we might baptise about 80. Statistically, this parish may have the most baptisms in the Archdiocese every year and it is a fact that might just swell us with pride.
The call to discipleship frequently has a kind of trajectory that starts off with euphoria. But, when the euphoria dies down, then the mundane reality of Catholic life sets in. This is the time when the neophyte will encounter real Catholics in whom they will observe a huge gap between what is preached and what is practised. The result may be a faith-shattering dejection and soon enough a cause for staying away from the Church. But this phenomenon is not restricted to neophytes because many cradle Catholics do the same when they cannot reconcile the difference between preaching and practising.
Thus far, I have described a reason for arriving at lapsed Catholicism. To be fair, the reason is not illogical. In Confession, we examine our conscience and ask if we have caused a scandal by our actions or omissions. The etymology of the word scandal is an obstacle meaning that by our action or inaction we have caused people to stumble in their faith. An example of stumbling in faith is what you may have heard uttered ad nauseam—the Church is full of hypocrites.
But, many people also do not realise that the reason for lapsing is really a sorry excuse for the abdication of responsibility. What they are saying is that they will be Catholics only if others behave. Perhaps, in the context of God’s call and our response, let me rephrase the phenomenon of lapsing as, “Hey God I don’t like you and I don’t want to be your friend. Why? Because these people are bastards”. Crude as it may sound but it gets the point across. What sort of response is that?
The call that God has for us, is a call that is personal to us. Everyone is personally called into relationship with Christ the Son. Through the Sacrament of Baptism each one is grafted onto the Vine, called Jesus Christ, Our Lord and God. By our baptism, our response to Him is lived out both personally and corporately. Personally because only the individual can respond and corporately, because we realise that nobody can, on his own, graft himself to the Vine. No one baptises himself. It always happens through the agency of another which makes the grafting process corporate in its nature. The nature of God’s call which is corporate is otherwise known as Church. Church is not something extraneous to calling but it is essentially a component of that call and also necessary for salvation. This is where we differ from Protestants because for them, personal faith is often restricted to an “individual’s” response. For Catholics, our personal response has a corporate structure because salvation comes through the Church. It is through her that Christ’s sacraments come to us. We cannot accept the head who is Christ and reject His Body which is the Church.
This corporate nature of God’s call makes possible the baptism of children because the faith of the parents may supply for the child’s lack of faculty in making personal decision. Parents have a grave duty to form the child to become responsible personally for the faith which they first received from their parents. In a wider circle, it means also that we need to have a greater sense of responsibility to nurture each other’s faith because by our behaviour we may encourage or discourage our brothers and sisters.
Having said all that, it still remains that our response to God is personal. The Sacrament of Confirmation is at times described as the moment when the faith of our parents becomes our personal response. Some of our youths seem to graduate from Sunday School and Confirmation to non-practice. It explains but does not excuse an inability to take personal responsibility for one’s response to God. To a certain extent, part of the blame will lie on the parents IF they did not in the first place train the child for that moment of responsibility. But, the failure to be personally responsible cannot be derived from the corporate expression of God’s call, meaning that one cannot blame one’s parents or others forever. You may blame someone sometime but not all the time because after blame comes personal responsibility for a situation, no matter how dire.
In summary, faith is a personal response to God but always lived corporately through the Church. Maybe, at the beginning of the year, when resolutions are baking out of the oven fresh and aplenty, we might resolve to deepen our response to God, that is, to live our faith personally and independently of other people’s practice or lack of, but always within the bosom of Holy Mother, the Church.