IN A CERTAIN MINOR seminary, a zealous pious boy was eager to hear the voice of God. He prayed and fasted that God would call his name one day and tell him if he was actually called to be a priest. Every recollection day, he listened aptly to the reading on the call of Samuel. He had been taught that in the seminary, the young boys are to discern their vocation and there they are tested to know if God is truly calling them. He had also heard that God calls in different forms.

It was very early in the morning on a recollection day. He had prayed almost all through the night. He got up very early, took his shower and was going to the chapel with his Manual of Prayer clutched in his left armpit and his right hand running through the beads of the rosary. Passing through the seminary orchard, he heard in a near distance the hoot of an owl. It was so solemn in its dim inuendo. The holy boy lowered on his knees, with hands joined on his breasts, head bending on the left side and eyes closed, he prayed passionately, "speak Lord, your servant is listening." Hmm! The fate of those obsessed with the supernatural. To this I say, the call of God begins with the desire in us to be a priest. This is the voice of the soul.

Today we read about the call of Samuel. 1Sam 3:1 says that time the voice of God was rare and vision was uncommon. The boy Samuel was already ministering to the Ark of the Covenant. The voice of the Lord was not clear to him. He had a master Eli. Both Samuel and Eli represent two different stages in our spiritual maturity. Eli when consulted by Samuel did not replace the voice of God in him. He only told him how to discern this voice. In these two figures we see humility in discerning the voice of God at a time of crisis. Samuel acknowledged that he was still a neophyte while Eli acknowledged that he is not the final bus stop. Like Samuel he too is a servant. He only served as a midwife in helping Samuel listen to the voice of God. A big lesson for preachers and prophets of today. God speaks to everybody and not necessarily through human intermediaries. We also see the same humility in the Gospel reading. John the Baptist did not make himself the final bus stop. He must point to the Lamb and his disciples must follow the Lamb. In his words, "he must increase while I must decrease" (Jn 3:30). John the Evangelist beautifully captures this in an imagery. John the Baptist was at a place in the Jordan baptizing while Jesus is on the move. By being at a place, the leadership of John has come to an end, for a leader is one on the move. Jesus is the true leader and his emergence brought to an end the role of John as a forerunner.

Like the poor seminarian, we always long to hear the voice of God. Like Samuel God always speaks to us. Added to this is the task of knowing that God is the one speaking. He speaks to us in various ways and forms. There is thus the need to listen to the voice of God. It is our task to decipher the voice of God in the events of time. This reality comes out most vividly in a time of crisis. It is a time when the sufferer literally asks God some questions. It is a time when the psychic and biologically sick questions the presence and power of God in the face of suffering and injustice. Moments of crisis are when we are forced to bend our knees in prayers if not to lie flat on the ground groaning in pain invoking and questioning the all-powerful and all-knowing God. The crisis of the sufferer reflects the crisis of Samuel in an era when the voice of God was rare and vision uncommon. The role of Eli reflects the role of pastors and spiritual directors in moments of crisis. It is a role that is both accompanying and normative and not dictating and compulsive. Today, the danger is that pastors of souls now impose their mind and wishes on the client. It is an era of hasty conclusion. The clients are no longer led through the path of discernment. They are not allowed to discover by themselves what God is telling them. The case history of the sufferer is no longer taken into consideration. We see this more in spiritual healing homes where the sufferer is harassed and intimidated with a kind of confess-or-you-die brouhaha.

The legitimate cries and groans as well as the questions addressed to God by the sufferer are termed a sign of faithlessness. The consequence is that this cathartic and therapeutic path is blocked and the sufferer suffers unimaginable depression appearing at the end worse than before. This is a kind of corporate religiosity - a business oriented pastoral - a kind of create problem so as to solve problem, keep on creating more problem and solving them so as to always remain relevant and at point of reference. This is against the spirits of Eli and of John the Baptist.

More to this, is telling the sufferer that he or she is not supposed to complain because the cross is part of our daily life as Christians. But whoever shows me the cross must show me how to carry it. Whoever preaches suffering to me must first prove to me that he too is a fellow disciple of Christ, called to reject himself, pick up his cross and follow the son of man who has nowhere to lay down his head. This is not usually the case. What we have is normally an ideological abuse of the cross. Those who preach the cross construct it for others without carrying any. Preachers become oppressors with gospel of intimidation. The Gospel is Good News and should be liberating. When the Gospel denies the suffering of people and encourages them to embrace an unnecessary cross, that  gospel is less than adequate. It sharpens piercing swords, constructs heavy crosses, fashions manipulating and  crushing  hands  and creates unjust structures and institutional evil.  God frowns at such.

In John 1:35-42, we encounter two Christological titles. John the Baptist addresses Jesus as the Lamb of God. As soon as his disciples left him, they addressed Jesus as Rabbi. Put side by side, the Lamb becomes our teacher. He suffered for us, leaving us an example. Hence, pastors of souls must know that they must be at the forefront of following the Lamb that was pierced. In doing this, discernment must be the watchword. We must allow the sufferer to hear the voice of God himself by pouring out his soul before him. We must be sorrow sensitive, sorrow conscious and sorrow proactive. We must bear in mind that suffering is not always as a result of one's own sins. It may be as a result of the sins of others. It may be as a result of unjust structures in place. It may also be mysterious. In all these, let us not be in a haste to talk. Failure in this regard brings about oppressing the sufferer, turning the Word of God to a curse and the cross an ideological weapon of oppression. We look unto the cross of Jesus Christ himself both as a consequence and as a means. It is a consequence of his proclamation of the Kingdom of God and his corresponding actions which contradicted the expectation of the Pharisees and Scribes and questioned their authorities and traditions. It is also a means to salvation. In the cross is healing and liberation. This liberation is not to be seen only from the post-Easter perspective. In fact in the words and deeds of Jesus while proclaiming and inaugurating God's kingdom, the liberation was already taking place for he dismantled unjust structures of his time, healed the sick and fed the hungry. We too must follow the same path. We should not only remind the people that their reward is great in heaven. Our first attitude should be to confront the unjust situation giving rise to the sufferings, and to attempt overcoming it if possible. If this is lacking, then our fervoring will be empty words lacking roots in reality. Preachers must have healing tongues and in humility profess ignorance in certain situations instead of complicating issues. Most of the time God prefers speaking to the sufferer direct instead of through us. Let us not block this cathartic and therapeutic pathway. Let us learn from Eli. We are only God's instruments. Let us stop playing God. We should desist from commercializing evangelism and spirituality.

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