By Brother Matthew Schaefer, C.PP.S.
I was 30 years old when I heard the voice of God. Okay, that might be an exaggeration; I didn’t actually hear a voice and it wasn’t so dramatic. I don’t even remember the details of the moment. But I know God was telling me to look at my life. At the time I was living on my own, working, dating and going to church on Sundays. Everything in my life was orderly, easy to maintain, and nicely compartmentalized. I even had God confined to that one hour a week I was at Mass.
There wasn’t anything terribly wrong with my life, so what did God want me to do? At the time my prayer life was very basic. Not basic in a simplified and direct way, but rather in a passive, if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it way. I prayed for others, but never for myself. It wasn’t easy for me to begin talking to God in a personal way. I began going to Mass sometimes on weekdays and staying behind to sit in the quiet. This was a time I could be alone with God.
One day, to my surprise, I interrupted my silent prayer by asking aloud, “What do you want from me?” As I sat in the empty cathedral, my ears were burning, but I was calm. I could almost see my question rising amid the diffused light and fragrant air of the sanctuary, swirling around the canopy above the altar, and then descending back to where I sat. God had turned my question back on me, asking, “What do you want from me?” At that moment I entered into a more personal relationship with God and I began a spiritual journey that continues to this day.
In today’s Gospel reading, two disciples of John the Baptist begin to follow Jesus, who turns to them and asks, “What are you looking for?” This is not a simple question about the disciples’ needs or interests at the moment. Jesus is addressing their deepest desires. The disciples were certainly curious when John refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God. The image of the sacrificial lamb of Passover would have been familiar to the disciples. Did they wonder how this man could become a sacrifice? They clearly thought he had something to tell them, for they refer to him as Teacher. The next day they call him Messiah. And a few lines later (not in this reading), Jesus is called the Son of God and King of Israel.
The Gospel seems to show the disciples’ growing understanding of Jesus. But what did they understand? They could not have anticipated what the Teacher was going to ask of them, nor the true meaning of being the Son of God, nor how their King was to suffer and die.
When Jesus asked, “What are you looking for?” the disciples called him Teacher and followed him—in effect answering Jesus with the question, “What do you have to tell us?” The disciples only followed Jesus because God impelled them to do so, through the ministry of John the Baptist and the presence of Jesus. St. Bernard wrote, “The soul seeks the Word, but it does so because the Word has been seeking the soul.”
When God turned my question back on me in that cathedral 25 years ago, I had no idea what that would mean for me. It would still be a couple of years before I got a glimpse of a future vocation. But I knew my life would be different from that day forward. God had been looking for me and I finally responded. I knew I could no longer keep God confined to that one hour a week. Once we have been called by God, we are not left to wander aimlessly trying to discover God’s will for us. We learn from God because God desires us to have knowledge. We find comfort in God’s presence because God first welcomes and embraces us. No matter the doubts or questions that circumstances create in us, we find comfort in knowing that we seek God because God first sought us.
To view the full scripture reading, click here.
Brother Matthew Schaefer, C.PP.S., is in ministry at the Downtown Dayton Parishes, which include Emmanuel, Holy Trinity and St. Joseph.