To Serve God
Written by: Paul Lickteig
My friend Samantha is a South African woman in her mid-twenties. After graduating from law school she felt called to explore other paths than what her education in law could offer her. Samm’s personal discovery of vocation led her to Berkeley where, upon graduating from JST-SCU, she was asked to give the Baccalaureate address. It is reprinted here in its entirety.
A passage from the Gospel of John:
“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
When a theologian was asked if he was saddened by the decrease in current vocations in the Church. He responded by saying, “There is not a decrease in vocations in this Church, we just do not ordain them all.”
Much of my vocation story rests on the imagination of single Jesuit priest. This priest saw a call in me, a vocation, a way to serve God that at the time I could not have imagined. With his help, I began to pay attention to this burning desire I had to work for God, to work for the Church. But I had no idea what to do with it. I felt stuck. On the one hand, I could not be a priest. On the other hand, I was not called to be a religious sister. The opening paragraph of my application to this school, read as follows:
“An entire year of my life has been spent weeping with Mary at the tomb. All Mary wanted was to be with Jesus, to serve him. My desire to join the priesthood has caused me to weep with Mary, my gender has stopped me from serving God the way I desire the most.”
I arrived at JST longing to find Jesus again, hoping that someone would tell me where they have laid him. After three years, I can say that I have found Christ, and Christ is not in the tomb. Christ is very much alive! I found Christ in the lay communities I have lived with, in the parish I have worked at, in the courses I have attended, in the meaningful friendships I have made and most importantly in a deeper prayer life.
I, like Mary Magdalene, was limited by my experience, my imagination. I thought that there was only one way to serve God. Oh how wrong I was! The less I clung to this single way of serving God, the more I began to see all the ways God is calling me. Like Mary Magdalene, Christ is calling my name and wants all of me. My gender, my sexuality, my nationality, my strengths and my weaknesses – all of me – to serve God.
The more I pay attention to this call, the more I realize I want to be a student. I am called to be a student. No, this does not mean I am going on for a PHD or an STL, but rather as a student, I am open to learning. Like Mary, I too want to respond with the words, “Rabboni”, Teacher. To pay attention to what Christ is teaching me, to what Christ is inviting me to learn from, and to learn for.
As we get ready to graduate today, I encourage all of us to remain as students. To be open to learning from all the ways that Christ is in our lives. But more then this, I encourage all of us, to use our Christian imagination. To look to the richness of our Scriptures, of our Tradition, to the lives of the saints and realize that the impossible can happen and it has happened. Christ is not in the tomb, but is alive.
It was this Christian imagination that was at work, when this Jesuit priest saw a future lay minister in me, in a country that is yet to embrace non-vowed lay ministry. It is this imagination that filled the hearts of people like Dorothy Day and Desmond Tutu. It was this imagination that led an old, quiet, seemingly transitionary Pope to shout the word, “Aggiornamento”- open the windows of the Church. It is this imagination that will transform our Church, our world.