IT WAS STARTLING in our quiet church to hear a cellphone ring out the tune of “When the Saints
Go Marching In.”
It was the Sunday between Christmas and the New Year, the Feast of the Holy Family, and Sister Blanche was up at the ambo just starting the second reading from Colossians, Chapter 3. I admired her, the way she kept on reading. She did not blink, pause or skip a beat: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another” (3:12-13).
Father Bernie was shaking his head. Maybe he was taking these words of God directly to heart. Virginia was desperately trying to find her phone. I could see her sitting on the bench behind the ambo. She’d just done such a nice job with the first reading. But now, as she was searching through her pants and jacket pockets, the tune continued.
Sister Blanche proceeded, as calm as can be: “And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts” (3:14-15).
Virginia found her phone at the same moment that Sister Blanche finished reading: “Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17). The sudden silence seemed like a miracle: a gift for which we could all give thanks to God.
I remembered at a previous Mass when Virginia had read from Isaiah, Chapter 6: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am,’ I said; ‘Send me!’” (6:8). The way Virginia read the words “Here I am” had been very heartfelt. She paused briefly and looked up, as if she was responding to God’s call at that very moment, offering her whole self in love and devotion, ready to jump into whatever action would be required of her.
Maybe her cellphone ringing had been God calling her again.
Maybe it was God calling all of us, needing us all to say to him: “Here we are, Lord.”
That’s how the saints responded to the divine call when it came; they were receptive and attentive to God’s presence and holy will. “The humble saints,” Pope Benedict writes in Jesus of Nazareth, “kept their hearts open amid their work and everyday lives, ready to respond to the call of something greater.”
United in Love
In his sermon, Father Bernie talked about how none of us is excluded from the family of God: We all belong. Sitting in my place in church, amidst the sounds of the congregation’s rustling movements and coughing and a baby crying, it felt as if we really were family.
In truth, each time we come to Mass, it is a family reunion. It is a cosmic call to togetherness that goes far beyond the church walls, that touches our community, here and now, but also reaches far back in time.
For with our belief in the communion of saints, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church” (#962).
As the family of God, we are united in a bond that is not only the feeling of mutual love but also a true spiritual bond that is “rooted and grounded” (Eph 3:17) in the love of God.
Before Communion, the priest holds up the host and says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.”
We respond: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
And then we come: We are so happy to be called! We take our place in line and approach the altar. We take quiet but joyful steps, offering to God all that we are. We join the saints and all those who have ever responded to Jesus’ call.
Sharing Jesus’ Love
Whatever difficulties and heartaches we have, we are here. Some of us use walkers or wheelchairs. Others of us have aching feet, or we’re exhausted and it feels like an uphill climb just to get ourselves to church on time. But this is what we are called to do. We come to our church each week to worship God and to pray together and to receive the sacrament of holy Eucharist. We hope to grow in unity with one another and communicate the love of Jesus to the world.
Annie Dillard, in referring to Psalm 24 in her book Holy the Firm, asks: “‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place?’ There is no one but us. There is no one to send, not a clean hand, not a pure heart on the face of the earth, not in the earth, but only us. …”
We make mistakes in our lives; sometimes we falter and fail in our faith, hope and love. And yet, as Dillard writes: “There is no one but us. There never has been.”
And so we keep going. However hard the climb might be, we “strain forward … toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14).
We want to hear God’s voice and feel God’s call. We yearn to keep our hearts open. Our lifelong prayer is “Your will be done”—not as a note of resignation, but as one of desire and hope.
As we become more in tune to God’s will for our lives and to the gift of his love that is always coming to us, “We are carried upwards,” St. Augustine explains. “We glow inwardly and go forwards. We ascend the upward way in our hearts” (Confessions).
Called in Many Ways
We live in response to God’s call. Often, we must be called over and over before we begin to hear its whisperings. But gradually, we realize that we have always been called, from the beginning, “from the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4).
God’s call does not always come to us abruptly in the middle of Mass from a cellphone blaring a background tune during a reading. (I can still hear Sister Blanche’s saintly voice saying: “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. … And over all these put on love. …”)
But come to us it does: sometimes in startling, jarring ways that change our lives forever. We become more than we ever knew ourselves to be. And sometimes that happens in quiet, surprising ways that lead us toward duty and responsibility, or that show us how we are needed by others, bringing us back to faithful, faith-filled living.
Maybe God’s call shows us anew the things that truly have meaning in our lives—family, friendship, preparing food and eating together—and we begin to live in a way that honors all that we hold dear.
Or perhaps we suddenly feel the unlimited power of God’s goodness and we think about what we can do to further it: encourage others, be prayerful and hopeful, build community, create beauty.
Maybe the call directs us to help the poor and increase justice and peace in the world.
Seeing Life Together
Sister Margaret Ormand, OP, discovered her international vocation while visiting people living on a rubbish heap outside San Salvador. When she was overcome by tears, a little girl who saw her crying called to her, touched her and wiped away her tears.
“She showed me compassion,” writes Sister Ormand, “in a way that was transforming” (cited in Why Go to Church: The Drama of the Eucharist, by Timothy Radcliffe, OP).
In our own communities, we might begin a lunch program for the needy or volunteer at a local St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. We may decide to write letters to our elected officials or get involved in political action.
Or maybe the word of God becomes richer, takes on a deeper meaning, and we read or hear the stories and teachings in a new light. We understand, as if for the first time, what it means to live with “compassion, kindness, humility. …” We see how we might help our elderly neighbor, support a niece having a difficult pregnancy or be more patient with our spouse.
Maybe we have a sudden awareness of what it means to “do everything in the name of Jesus and give thanks to God through him.” We see that this is our hope and our joy!
Or we might be called simply to be attentive in a new way to the life around us. We begin to see how everything that comes to us on any given day is sent to awaken our souls and give us a sense of the presence of God. There can be “something holymaking,” writes Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, in her book The Gift of Years: Growing Old Gracefully, about allowing ourselves to lock eyes with a stranger and smile, or about witnessing a person at work or a child at play, or even about a different smell or taste. For God comes “when we least expect it,” she says. “Maybe most likely of all when we least expect it.”
The call takes different forms which are as varied as our “Here I am, Lord” responses, but ultimately call and response are interwoven as one. God calls us to join him in love so that we can be people who love. God calls us to lead transformed lives so that the world can be transformed.
In responding to God’s call, we discover that we are known and precious: “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: You are mine” (Is 43:1).
And we create the momentum we live by, the holy force of goodness and love that sustains us and keeps us marching together—with the saints and with one another—in the beautiful parade of our faith.