Making sense of the signs
This past weekend I preached at my apostolate, Loyola University Chicago’s John Felice Rome Center. I was preaching to a group of college students currently studying abroad here in Rome. It was my first Sunday homily since being ordained a deacon. Over the weekend I gave two other homilies as well, I didn’t have a text for either of them, especially since I found out I was doing one 30 seconds before Mass. If I have time and remember well enough what I said, I’ll type them up too. As always, these homilies are meant to be delivered, but here’s the text anyway:
October 27, 312, just a little more than 1702 years ago, not too far from this very spot Constantine and his troops were camped out before the famous battle of the Milvian Bridge. That evening Constantine had some sort of a vision, he saw a sign, the Chi-Rho. To us Americans it looks like P-X, they are the first two letters of the Christ in Greek, Christos. So he put the sign on the shields of his men and the next day, despite being outnumbered, won the battle. So as he entered this great and eternal city, he had a problem. Unlike the other Roman leaders, he couldn’t offer sacrifice at the temple of the God who won his victory, because that temple didn’t exist. So he’s forced to go to Sylvester, the Pope at the time and asks what can I do? The first response was, “stop persecuting us!” And so the Edict of Milan was passed in 313. The second time he asked, the response was, “Build us a Church!” That Church, what some refer to as the first Church of Christendom, is known to us as St. John Lateran, the Cathedral of Rome, one of the four major basilicas. All throughout the world people are celebrating the dedication of that Church, and we are so blessed to be right here.
Some of you who are historically inclined might disagree with my more, narrative approach, but I do so for a reason. Certainly I don’t think that any of us can directly relate with all of the elements of this stories because I’m pretty sure none of us have ever been generals, emperors, or had such mystical type of experiences. However, I also believe that there are certain elements of this story that very much relate to each one of us.
We are all looking for signs. For all of you who are in college these are such important years when you are trying to decide what you want to do with your lives, we’re constantly looking for answers, for signs.
We want to know if we are called to priesthood, religious life, or married life. We want a sign, or we say, we haven’t received a sign so therefore I’m not called to priesthood or religious life. If that’s the case then marriage risks becoming some sort of a default, which does that vocation a great injustice. It’s not fair to your future spouse if you see marriage as a default, it is a vocation.For religious life, priesthood and marriage are all vocations. We are all called.
The other problem we have is that we all expect the sign, the call to be some sort of overwhelming experience, much like that of Constantine. We expect some sort of big experience. Or we think it will be like the Lion King and God will appear in the clouds and tells us what we are to do. Or maybe we think of the sorting hat in Harry Potter, you just put a hat on your head and it yells out, “Priest!” “Sister” “Husband” or “Wife.” Rather God calls us through much more simple and subtle signs, which can be difficult to see and hear sometimes.
When I was still in high school, before I would ever have said I was actively considering, or discerning I was serving Mass on Sunday I was sitting on a bench and the visiting priest came over and asked me, “what are you going to do when you get bigger?” I replied, “Be a better lineman.” He asked again, I responded, “Hit harder.” Again, “Block better.” Finally he gave up asking and just said, “what about being a priest!” I laughed at him. I gave it no thought, just laughed. I wonder what he’d say if he saw me now…
See in the moment I didn’t see that as a sign, I didn’t want to listen, I just laughed and dismissed the priest. This wasn’t some powerful experience, some great clarity or great sign, it was a simple, maybe all of a 1 minute conversation. If we walk around this life looking and waiting for a big sign, we’re likely to laugh at all the small signs as they pass us by.
In the story of Constantine even after he had received this special grace, he wasn’t sure what to do. So for us who receive signs in more subtle ways, it can seem even more difficult to make sense of it all, to figure out if we are indeed called to priesthood, religious life, or marriage.
So what can you do if your wrestling with these different signs? Trying to make sense out of life and what God is or is not calling you to do with your life can be difficult. To do this in some way we must imitate the example of Constantine, who went to the Pope, Pope Sylvester, he went to the Church to get answers. Thankfully the Church provides us great help. You can go on come and see weekends, visit with vocations directors, visit with priests (or seminarians) and sisters and other couples that are already married. Hopefully your home campus ministry programs organize events and activities to help you discern and support those who are discerning. In addition to all of these good things organized by the Church, there is one thing that is still much more important, prayer.
I once met a sister from Albania, she grew up under the Communist regime. A country whose regime prided itself on being the most atheistic regime, a regime who imprisoned, tortured and killed many people for their Catholic faith. At the time this sister was growing up, there was no Church, no Mass, no campus ministry, no activities. There was only one thing they could do, pray. And even that they had to do in secret. So when she started to hear a call, a sign, she had only one option, so she prayed and she prayed and she prayed. Eventually, the regime fell, and shortly thereafter she entered the convent, where has happily served the people of God for over 20 years now.
We are all blessed because we do not live under such harsh circumstances, but we too must pray. In prayer we grow in a personal relationship with God. As we grow in that relationship we will be able to see and understand exactly how he is calling each and every one of us, because he is calling all of us. We learn to make sense of all the small signs and calls, so we can better respond more fully.
In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of his body as a temple. The temple is the place where God dwells. In order for him to dwell in each one of us, we must first open up the doors to let him in. For if we let him into our lives, and as he dwells in us, it will become easier and easier to make sense of all the signs and calls, so that we can fully respond to do whatever it is that he is calling us to do whether it be priesthood, religious life or marriage.