The Bible (opened)
Sermon - Year B

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

I hope this question isn’t too intrusive… How long have you been a Catholic? I guess a good chunk of us here can be classified as “cradle Catholics”, born to Catholic parents, baptised as a baby and raised in a family where Catholic traditions were the bread and butter of everyday life. On top of that, in my case, I can add regular weekly religion classes in my local parish during my primary and secondary school years – about ten since you’re asking. So far, so much like Samuel’s early years. Like him, I have slept in front of the Blessed Sacrament, though only occasionally and accidentally (out of tiredness). In Samuel’s case, it was his regular dormitory. From the wider biblical context, we know he was brought up in a religious family. And yet, despite having been brought up in a religious household, serving the high priest of the time and living in very close physical proximity to the Arc of the Covenant, the biblical author made an astonishing remark: “Samuel had as yet no knowledge of the Lord and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” This is where I see my personal story reflected in Samuel’s. Having been brought up in a religious house, educated by a small army of truly committed catechists, I knew something about the Lord, but I didn’t know Him. Just like the young Samuel.

This started changing around my late teenage years. I started going to youth group meetings in my local church because (to be honest) I was a bit jealous of my girlfriend, who had been a regular member. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, my acquired, inherited religion transformed into a much more personal, close relationship with Jesus. I got to know God, not just to know about God. However, I cannot take much credit, if any, for such a transformation. Again, like Samuel, I was very fortunate to have people around me who helped me make sense of my spiritual experiences and pointed me in the right direction: “If someone calls, say, Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

Samuel’s story doesn’t uniquely reflect my spiritual journey; it’s a universal tale of spiritual coming of age. At different stages in our lives, we can find ourselves in different roles. At one point, we can be those looking for the meaning or purpose of our lives, most often at a younger age. As we have gathered more life experience, we can become those who help others find their way. This was particularly notable in today’s gospel when we saw a spiritual “chain reaction”: John the Baptist pointed at Jesus and described Him in a way that any Israelite would instantly understand as someone special: “Look, there is the lamb of God.” Two of John’s disciples followed Him and accepted Jesus’ invitation to spend time with Him. Having done that, one of them, Andrew, shared his experience with his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus. This spiritual “chain reaction” would continue through centuries and generations all the way to our time. Now, it’s our turn to keep it going.

When I was talking earlier about my spiritual transformation, some of you might have thought that I had dismissed my early days of religious upbringing and education as meaningless and pointless. But that would be a mistake. In fact, it prepared the ground for that later change in my life. All the efforts by my Mum, priests and catechists gave me the religious language, terms and imagery. That’s what we all try to do: you as parents, our great catechists and the entire community – we provide children with the religious environment for their spiritual growth. What we say, what we do and – most importantly – how we live out our faith can influence and impact those around us.

Now it’s time for a shocker: never give a good example! Don’t even try! It never works. Good examples are fakes, pretended behaviours or attitudes aimed at others in order to get them to replicate them. However, we are quite good at sensing such fakery; sooner or later, we can see through it and reject it. As Christians, we are not called to give a good example but to be witnesses of the gospel. The difference between those two stances is authenticity. We honestly try every day to live as close to the standards of the gospel as possible in a way that’s reflected in our words and actions, attitudes and behaviour. We don’t always succeed; every now and again, we fail or make mistakes because we are not perfect. But that’s a vital, indispensable part of authentic testimony. Good-example-givers pretend to be perfect; warts-and-all-witnesses are convincing because it’s possible to identify with them. The best way to be an authentic witness is by adopting Samuel’s attitude every day: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”