Dear Friends in Christ,
It has been said that if we spent less time comparing ourselves with others, we would have fewer rivals. And there is the rhetorical question: why do we spend so much time living in the comparison? In making comparisons with others, we may in fact be wanting in some way to feel better off than our neighbor, which often boils down to not being satisfied with who we are or the gifts and even limitations that we may have.
The Apostles Peter and John were both close to the Lord, yet each was given a different task and function. After the Resurrection of Christ, Peter questioned Jesus about John’s role, with the words, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus replied, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me” (John 21:21-22). “What is that to you” is a fairly literal translation of the Greek, and a strong rebuke. It my have been a way for the Lord to emphasize that comparison with others is not useful.
Saint Peter’s given task was to shepherd the flock of Christ and to give his life as a martyr, in service of the Lord and the brethren. Saint John’s role was bearing witness to Christ and giving a powerful testimony to the Gospel, by means of a long life of love and service in the Church. Tradition holds that John did not die a martyr’s death.
Which call was superior, Peter’s or John’s? According to Jesus, both are great calls, so we shouldn’t try to say who is better or worse, who has the higher calling. I like to say that the highest calling is that to which we are called. Each of us is called, though admittedly it sometimes takes time, trial and error to discover what the call precisely is. But it certainly should include accepting the daily challenges of life and living in love for God and neighbor. That itself is a noble call!
I am reminded here of New Yorker magazine summer cover from some years back (July 20, 1998), in the form of a color cartoon by Carter Goodrich. A child is portrayed at the seashore, holding a conch shell to her ear, as if holding a phone. The child is in the center of the cartoon, and all around her are adults, also at the beach, but with cell phones in hand or computers on their laps. The clever title for the New Yorker cover cartoon was simply, “A higher calling.” As kids, we also used to put those large shells to our ears, either when at the coast or at home in Portland, and could always “hear the ocean.” That is partly why that particular New Yorker cover grabbed my attention when it appeared twenty-one years ago and has stuck in my mind. As a friend said whom I sent the cartoon to: “That gal KNEW that she definitely had ‘a higher calling’ and was willing to risk being different and doing what she knew she was called to do, namely, listen to nature.”
For us who follow Christ, the “higher calling” is to proclaim the Gospel. This means knowing the joy of the Gospel and never ceasing to dwell on God’s goodness and willingly announce, by our words and deeds, that Christ is Risen and in our midst. Often this is called “proclaiming the Gospel by our lives.”
As Pentecost Sunday draws closer (this year it will be on June 9th), the entire Church awaits the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on people of good will around the world, to be renewed in the proclamation of the Gospel, first and foremost by the lives we live. We were taught as youngsters by our teachers, the Catholic sisters of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus that the bottom line is: “actions, not words.” That should be our policy as well. Put another way, and familiar to many, is the saying, “actions speak louder than words.”
We need to be ready and willing to be who we are, not trying to be like someone else by living in the comparison, and bearing witness, in our own unique way, to the love of Christ that has truly gathered us together as families, religious or parish communities and as the entire Church. The love of Christ is what endures forever in me and in you. Who is to say that they have a “higher calling”? No comparisons with others needed, but just accepting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for each one of us.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB