Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
... And then we must listen: Vocations 2006
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the Oct. 5, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
The late Sister Bernadette Botch of the Sisters of Providence spent her last few years ministering to the Diocese of Spokane as head of Diocesan Business Affairs. She had a remarkable background before she came to us, with a wealth of experience, including time helping nurture orphans in Montana. She knew children backwards and forwards, inside and out.
One of our lay employees, a new parent, was talking to her about his pre-school daughter. “I’m starting to worry about my daughter’s hearing,” he said to Sister Bernadette. “She just doesn’t seem to hear us when we talk to her.”
After Sister Bernadette’s shoulders stopped shaking from laughter, she said, “There’s nothing wrong with that child’s hearing. Go whisper ‘ice cream’ near her and see what happens.”
It was positively miraculous, of course. The daughter had simply figured out how to convince her parents that she really hadn’t heard what they said – especially when they wanted her to do (or stop doing) something that was contrary to her own pre-school plans.
I noticed it again this summer. In my neighborhood – and probably in many of yours as well – there’s a sort of chorus that begins as nightfall approaches, when parents call their children in from the excitement of play in the longer daylight hours of July and August. If you’re very careful, if the wind is just right, maybe if the atmospheric conditions are just right, you can hear something like an echo of parents’ voices here, there, and back over that way, too. Calling to their children, the voices carrying on the dry summer breeze, sounding out above the traffic, rising above the fences and the bushes and the trees, mingling into something very like an improvised jazz cantata, completed by the small running steps on the pavement, the bike wheels thrumming, the scooters whirring their riders home.
As a car enters a tunnel, many drivers sound the horn, to the delight of the children (and probably some of the adults, too!). The resulting noise, pulsating off the concrete and stone, is really rewarding!
Or consider a nearly-empty building at night, with tiles in the hallways and marble on the walls, that lets you know what your footsteps sound like, and bounces those footsteps all around the structure. You might pause and listen for the repetition. If you’re quite sure you’re alone, you might even test the acoustics with a whistle, or a few notes of song, or perhaps even a shout.
The conditions have to be right, because listening requires more than simply paying attention. You have to be able to hear what’s being said. You have to devote some energy to the message. You need to be receptive, and you need to be honest. Ignoring someone who’s trying to talk to you doesn’t really do either of you any good. Keeping yourself in an environment where no one can speak to you in any meaningful way doesn’t help, either, whether that means the voice of family or of friends, or the voice of God.
At its very root, when we talk about vocation, we’re talking about a call – that God calls an individual. We’re all called to a life of faithful service to the Gospel. We’re all called to be disciples of Jesus. God really does call each and every one of us. There are different gifts, says St. Paul, but the same Spirit. Some of us – most of us – are called to be married. Some are called to be single laity. And some of us are called to be priests, or Religious.
I have to wonder at our world that is so full of noise. Some of it is quite a gift to us: the technology that allows us to share great works of music, or communicate instantaneously of great distances. But some of it is simply noise – a distraction that stops us from considering things too deeply, from living too deeply, from connecting too deeply with God and with one another.
Without the right atmosphere – without the right opportunity – we cheat ourselves, and we cheat God. God will speak – God will continue to speak – but we have to allow ourselves to be in a place in our lives where we are able to listen – and then we must listen.
In October, we celebrate God’s call to priesthood and Religious life. I am deeply grateful that so many young men have made the time, created the opportunity, cleared the space to listen to the call of the Spirit, and have answered that call. We have so many good, faithful priests in our diocese. Their journey to priesthood began very similarly: by listening for God’s loving invitation, and answering that invitation. If you are considering the possibility – if you are hearing the echoes, if you are truly listening, if you are ready to answer – I pray that you will act on God’s invitation.
Your first step: Listen.