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Bible Reflections View Comments

The Expectations of Our Calling
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, June 24, 2012
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My great-nephew was baptized on the feast of John the Baptist five years ago. I was one of the lectors and was blessed to be able to read that wonderful passage from Isaiah: “The Lord called me from birth. From my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” That Evan was being baptized on this feast and that his name is the Welsh form of John just added to the significance.

The homilist used the birth and naming of John the Baptist to talk about baptism and our calling as Christians. Evan’s mom sings in the parish choir and the parish music director commented wryly afterward, “That’s a lot of expectation to be putting
on a small baby.”

The Christian calling is a high expectation, and I was also struck by the fact that one of my own godchildren is now little Evan’s godmother, while my nephew and his wife are godparents to her oldest daughter. I could not help but be moved by the connections among us that are not only blood ties but also bonds in the Spirit.

But I have to admit that sitting behind the ambo during the Gospel, looking at family from out of town in the pews, the line “all these matters were discussed throughout the hill
country of Judea,” set me to thinking less about the wonders of God than about how often in families even the smallest detail, especially if it’s in someone else’s life, gets talked to death
by everyone else.

The commitment of Zechariah and Elizabeth to name their child John in the face of family and community tradition and expectation is sometimes a special source of encouragement to those who choose to live their lives and their faith in their own way. While we share one faith and one baptism, the cultural expressions of that faith can vary greatly.

One of the deepest rifts in Catholicism today lies in an ongoing struggle over the way the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, are celebrated. Too often these disagreements
focus on the accidents of language, music, and other cultural expressions and miss the essentials of preaching the gospel message and changing water and wine into the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Christ. And far too often we engage in heated arguments
that quickly lose sight of Jesus’s central command to love one another.

As John the Baptist grew to adulthood, his way of living and proclaiming his Jewish faith differed greatly from his father’s work as a priest in the Jerusalem temple. As Jesus began his ministry, he often upended the expectations of his cousin John, whose whole purpose was to prepare the way for the Messiah.

Whether in our own families or our family of faith, we need to remember that what matters more than anything else is hearing and doing the word and the will of God. John learned this from his parents. And their faith in God’s plan made it possible to let him go his own way, fulfilling his call from God in ways that they could only imagine.

We, too, need to let our children, our families, our friends find their own way to hear and do God’s will. We have support networks, we have the framework of tradition, we have our Scriptures and the teaching of the Church to guide us. But ultimately our calling will take us in a direction that only our God sees clearly.


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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