May 21 is a very important day for our Church in Guam. Jose Alberto Rodriguez Salamanca, originally from the Canary Islands (Spain) will be ordained a priest at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica at the hands of Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron. He is the first presbyter from the Redemptoris Mater to be ordained a priest.
Why makes a young man decide for the priesthood? An answer can be found, perhaps, in the Oscar winning 1981 movie – Chariots of Fire.
The story is about a Scottish runner named Eric Liddell. In order to compete in the 1924 Olympics, he must discontinue his studies. A serious inner battle rages within him. What spurs him on to run is his conviction that, “I believe God made me for a purpose; but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure. To give it up would be to hold him in contempt; to win is to honor him.”
So Liddell decides to run – to feel the pleasure of God, to honor God by running. However when he realizes that the final of the 100 meter race is scheduled on a Sunday, he decides to drop out because of his religious convictions. Months and months of sacrifice and training are simply thrown out of the window. Coaches, politicians, teammates, even British royalty, tried to persuade him to run, but he would not budge. Finally, a teammate, Harold Abrahams, who was Jewish and the British 400-meter champion, suggested that he and Liddell swap events. Liddell agreed and entered the 400, a very different and obviously longer event. Abrahams entered the 100. Remarkably, both won gold medals. Liddell set a world record in the 400, which stood for more than a decade.
It’s a great story, and the best line in it is, “I believe God made me for a purpose: but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure. To give it up would be to hold him in contempt; to win is to honor him.”
It is, of course, the most important question of all: What should I do with my life? What am I supposed to be doing? It is the question of vocation. What we should really ask is not so much what I want to do but what does God want me to do? What is the agenda of God for me? A question many never ask and so are doomed to failure!
One of the best and boldest ideas in Christianity is that God does have something in mind for us, each of us, individually. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” Saint Paul would say.
Unfortunately, we are very one track minded when it comes to choosing our future life. If he is a boy, he just thinks girls… eventually marriage and children. If she is a girl, she just thinks boys … eventually marriage and children. The idea of becoming a priest or a nun seems so alien to many. We are so afraid of the unknown that we prefer to walk on familiar ground than to risk.
The pattern is consistent. God calls. The candidate declines. Moses is tending his father-in-law’s flock in the wilderness, when a bush goes up in flames. A voice tells him of his mission to go to Egypt and liberate his people. Moses says, in effect, “Who me? Thanks, but no!” God beckons Jonah to go to Nineveh, and Jonah heads out in the other direction. God calls Jeremiah, and Jeremiah stammers, “I don’t know how to talk. I’m not up to this. I’m only a boy.”
God calls. Candidate declines. God won’t take no for an answer. God is persistent. God keeps after Moses, tracks Jonah down all the way to the belly of the whale, says to a reluctant Jeremiah, “Do not say, `I am only a boy’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you and you shall speak whatever I command you.” Then there is the gracious promise: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”
However some still refuse to follow God’s inspiration and finish where they finish. I love something Frederick Buechner once said about vocation: “The place God calls you to, is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Or, as Liddell put it, “I believe God made me for a purpose; but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure. To give it up would be to hold him in contempt; to win is to honor him.”
After the Olympics, Liddell returned to his theological school, became a missionary in China, and died in a Japanese prison camp just a few weeks before the camp was liberated by American troops in 1945.
God has something in mind for you, work to do, community to create, people to love, lives to save, the kingdom of God to build. The promise is that once you know what it is, there is nothing to fear. God will be with you and will give you the resources you need. Your vocation is God’s precious gift to you. Discover it and once you have discovered it, hold it tight!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.