[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
The First Reading is challenging: Samuel is called in love, then has to deliver bad news to his spiritual father, Eli, but he accepts it in love. And God the Father is calling us to be prophets, too, like Samuel.
Let’s reflect on six points in the Reading. First, “Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was” (1 Sam 3:3). Here we see intimacy with God. Could you imagine sleeping all night in our chapel? A few times, when on youth retreats, we would set up and decorate a tabernacle in a cabin, and some young adults would take turns sleeping there to protect it. They loved that opportunity because it was so intimate! Many of us have this kind of relationship with Jesus. If we don’t have it yet, then ask for it. It will come with time, because this is what Jesus wants, too.
Second, “Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’” (3:4). God calls us by name because He’s a Person, not a force. I was so happy that Luke Skywalker returned in The Mandalorian and was at his best: powerful, humble, and good-natured, and ended his encounter with the polite, “May the force be with you.” But the Force doesn’t love people. Did you know the word ‘Goodbye’ is a contraction of ‘God be with you’? God is a Person, our Father, Who loves us and calls us by name.
Third, “Samuel ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But Eli said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down” (3:5). We often don’t hear God correctly. But He keeps on calling us, and this pattern repeats two more times to Samuel.
Fourth, “Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place” (3:8-9). The fundamental disposition for hearing God’s voice is openness to whatever He wants. Many of us want to know if we’re supposed to get married, what job we’re supposed to take, what we’re supposed to do with our lives, etc. But sometimes we’re not truly open. In essence, we’re saying, “Tell me what I should do, but within certain limits.” The more trusting way is to say, “Whatever You want, Jesus, even if it’s hard.” This is our challenge today: to have this openness.
Fifth, the suffering. Right after Samuel is open to hearing, the text says, “Then the Lord said to Samuel… ‘I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house… I am about to punish his house forever… because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them” (3:11-13). Samuel has been helped by his spiritual father, Eli, and now has to tell him that he’ll be punished. “Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son… What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me…’ So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him” (3:15-18).
Sixth, here’s the love: Eli is mature and accepts God’s punishments because he desires the truth. After hearing the prophecy of chastisement, he says, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him” (3:18).
Love, suffering, love. God is calling us to speak His truth and love, but it’s often hard. Initially when I prayed over the First Reading, I was looking forward to a soft, fluffy homily that would be easy to write and wouldn’t take much research. However, that’s not what the word said.
I was then reminded of a great story about a priest. But, being meticulous about my sources, I thought, “I better check out what happened to this priest, because it might turn out that he was an abuser,” and, you know what, he was! I cannot tell you how demoralizing that was for me because our Church, the Catholic Church, has this huge problem that we aren’t able to purge, partially because we don’t speak the truth enough.
Bishop Robert Barron commented on today’s Reading as analogous to the sexual abuse crisis in the Church: “Over the past few decades, we’ve had priests, not all… not most, but too many, who have been abusing their offices… We’ve had their supervisors, bishops… not all… but too many, who were derelict in their responsibilities, and did not stop the abuse”.
But it’s still happening today. Most people know about the infamous priest-abuser, the former Cardinal McCarrick, and how he was promoted and protected by other bishops. When the Vatican report on him was released on Nov. 10, 2020, there were still massive problems in it: First, it’s not candid: All the information that the executive summary provided doesn’t add up to explain how he was protected and how so many mistakes were made. Even after it was known in certain Vatican departments that he was accused of abuse, he still acted as an agent for Vatican diplomacy (Page 3).
Second, “the… report does not explain why… three American bishops would not regard sleeping with young men as, at a minimum, a serious impropriety and indication of imprudence. Nor does it indicate why Vatican officials, informed of this pattern of behavior, would take the same complacent attitude”.
Third, “measured against… facts—all disclosed in the text—the Report’s insistence that the Vatican had no firm evidence of McCarrick’s sexual predation appears to be based on lawyerly distinctions. There may have been no hard documentation, but there was plenty of reasonable concern”.
Bishop Barron asks the question, “Who is the Samuel even now being raised up, who will speak in that prophetic voice, will act so as to cleanse the Church… maybe in ways that he or she doesn’t fully understand?” The answer is all of us.
Eight years ago, I wrote my licentiate thesis (77 pages of suffering!) on dialogue in the Church, which is Canon 212 in the Code of Canon Law, the Church’s legal system, which is necessary when you have a family of 1.2 billion people. Canon 212 has two paragraphs that encourage Catholics to speak freely but within certain limits:
“The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires”(Canon 212 §2). When a number of you tell me that you want more clarity from Pope Francis, you are within your canonical right. There’s nothing wrong with publicly saying this. When I say publicly that I want greater transparency and more candid explanations in the Church, I’m allowed to do this.
Canon 212 also says, “According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons” (Canon 212 §3). If you tell me that our parish isn’t reaching your children, that’s your right. If you tell me that we’re not celebrating Mass properly, I will listen to the facts you present, but your right to express this opinion also depends on how well you know liturgy. If you see abuse in the Church, it’s your right and your duty to speak up. If you tell me that you think women should be priests, that’s against the defined faith of the Church, so while I’d listen, I won’t agree, and you shouldn’t spread confusion.
There’s more to say about this canon, but, for now, just understand that there needs to be more dialogue in the Church, more openness about speaking the truth, even if it’s hard. Here are three steps to do this:
1) Fix your own sins first. We must speak the truth more, but, as a general guideline, go to Confession first. Before you tell your spouse, me, or Archbishop Miller a hard truth, purify your own heart. In five weeks, on Feb. 18, we’ll be doing 40 Days for Life, praying for an end to abortion. Please think about joining us. But let’s correct first our own sins, then try to correct the sins in the Church, and this will allow us to bear more fruit when trying to correct sins in the world.
2) Pray first. Samuel must learn to listen to God first before correcting Eli. This means to fill ourselves with God’s love, to receive His mercy so that our words of truth are filled with mercy; this means to ask God’s blessing, timing, and fruitfulness when we correct others.
3) I read something from St. Ignatius of Loyola 20 years ago and never forgot it. He wrote that “an important factor in doing [correction] successfully is… [one’s] love—and this love must be perceived. Lacking [this], the correction will be ineffective… Hence, correcting others is not for everyone” (Ignatius of Loyola: Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works, ed. George Ganss, SJ, 354-355).
When you correct someone in your family, is your love perceived by them? If we speak against abortion, is our love perceived? I don’t agree with everything Pope Francis has said but I do love him. When I’ve criticized things in the Church and people don’t feel loved, that explains why they don’t listen to what I’ve said.
God calls us today in love. He’s said, “I, your Father, am sending you to speak the truth.” Suffering will come from this, but it will end in love. Remember, when Eli was corrected, he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” I’m so happy today that God is moving our parish family forward in speaking the truth! Deep down, we all want the truth, because a hard truth is better than a lie. Love, suffering, love.