A Priestly Calling: A Series of Reflections
The priesthood, as St. John Paul II said, is both a gift and a mystery. He taught that the foundation of any calling to the priesthood begins in baptism, which for the Holy Father, was the most important event in his life of faith. Over this year I will offer a series of reflections on a priestly calling. Following the lead of St. John Paul II, I will begin with a reflection on discipleship. I would suggest that the Gospel of St. John provides a model in the call of the disciples in Jn 1:35-51. You may wish to read Jn 1:35-51 before continuing with my reflections in this article.
John 1: 35:51
In the first chapter of the Fourth Gospel we hear of John the Baptist sending his disciples to follow after Jesus. As they do so, Jesus, who has been described in the Prologue as the Word “who is with God and the Word who is God,” turns around and speaks a human word for the very first time. He asks, “What are you looking for?” It is a simple question, but one of the most fundamental questions of life. The two disciples call Jesus by the title “Rabbi” and answer the question of Jesus with the question, “Where are you staying?” At a surface level their question is also simple – they want to know in what place Jesus is spending his time. At a deeper level, a level always present in the Fourth Gospel, the reader is directed to look where Jesus always stays/dwells. His true dwelling place is with God. He is the one that the Prologue has already described as “ever at the Father’s side.” Jesus’ response is that they should, “Come and see.” Again, at one level this is a simple instruction to follow after him for a time. At the deeper level, it is an invitation to be with Jesus who is God’s very presence among us. The Gospel then rather matter-of-factly tells us that the disciples stayed with him that day.
However, there is one more element in the disciples’ encounter. The Gospel describes how the first thing that one of the disciples, Andrew, did was to go to his brother Peter and tell him that he had found the Messiah. He then brings him to Jesus so that Peter too may have his own encounter. With this movement the encounter of the first disciples with Jesus both ends and begins again. The Gospel story sets out a series of movements in the encounter. These movements involve an invitation from Jesus, and a response from the disciple which includes recognition of who Jesus is. After that recognition, a communion, or staying with Jesus, follows which then sends the new disciple forth to bring someone else to Jesus.
This pattern repeats itself with Philip who, after encountering Jesus, brings his brother Nathanael to Jesus. He tells him we have found the one spoken of in Moses and the prophets. In his encounter and dialogue with Jesus, Nathanael grows in his understanding of Jesus and calls him, “the Son of God and the King of Israel.” Each disciple in this scene encounters Jesus and establishes a relationship with him that leads to further insight and strength for mission. But more goes on in this paradigmatic story. The titles given to Jesus by the various disciples are progressively more solemn. We move from Rabbi/Teacher, to Messiah/Anointed, to the one who fulfills the law and the prophets, to the Son of God. In this model encounter described by the Evangelist we, the readers, receive an instruction in who Jesus is for us too. However, this Christological lesson does not end with the mere human insights of disciples. In the last verse of the chapter, Jesus, the Word of God, speaks a solemn conclusion not just to Nathanael but to all the disciples that have gathered around him. He says, “Amen, Amen I say to you, you will see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” Jesus speaks with divine authority and reveals that he is the true and only connection between God and human beings. Using the image of Jacob’s ladder from Genesis 28, Jesus shows how God and humans are now in union through and in his very person and presence. The description of this union is the end of the story of the call of the first disciples; the union itself is the goal of all discipleship. This call and its ultimate union with God continues with you.
I hope this first brief reflection helps you to think about God’s call in your life. As his disciple you will then be open to his voice, which may be a silent as a whispering breeze, which will call you to deeper commitments to him.