St. Paul says today, “You are not your own.” That is not really a message that the world is ready to hear. The world says, “It is my body; it is my life; I will do what I want.” And St. Paul says, “You are not your own.” This is not merely true theologically speaking. It is a basic truth that anyone who is not a child should be aware of. We belong to others. Parents belong to their children; they are not their own. Children belong to their parents; they are not their own. A husband belongs to his wife; he is not his own. A wife belongs to her husband; she is not her own. We belong to our communities. When we view existence in terms of what we can get out of it, we have a very shallow, very immature sense of life.
I am concerned that we have so forgotten this basic principle that we are no longer able to think clearly. Birth control, frequent divorce, cheating on taxes, and excessively seeking entertainment are symptoms of individuals who have forgotten their responsibility to the civilization in which they live. It is hard for a self-centered person to understand why these things are wrong. We understand that it is wrong to hurt others, but it is also wrong to be self-centered, to live life as if we were each the center of our own universe.
In November there is going to be a vote here in Minnesota about whether marriage is between a man and a woman, and I am concerned that many people are not ready for that vote. I think that a lot of people, good people, people who want to do what is right, do not know why we are opposed to any other definition of marriage, and I cannot blame them. To understand why marriage is not simply a matter of personal freedom or a choice between consenting adults, it is necessary to first understand that we are not our own, and our culture does not understand that.
Our whole culture, our civilization and our country, are in a decline because we do not understand that. It is as if our ancestors built up a balance in a savings account and we have decided to live on that balance without making any new deposits. When someone tells us that our civilization needs our support, we are confused. We keep spending through capital that was put there by others, and someday that is going to run out.
This past week has been Vocations Awareness Week. We are aware that there is a shortage of priests and sisters, but there is also a shortage of married vocations. The shortage is not of this vocation or that vocation; the shortage is in our sense of vocation. Fifty years ago our president told the country, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” If our president said that today someone would call it socialism. Yet that is exactly what it means to have a vocation. A vocation is not a job. A vocation is the decision to live your life for a reason. It is putting into practice what St. Paul says today, “You are not your own.”
As we have become richer in technology and leisure time, we have lost our sense of vocation. The more we have, the more concerned we become with what we do not have. In the first reading today, Samuel was sleeping in the Temple. He was not doing this because he thought it would be a good place for a nap. He was sleeping there because 3000 years ago people could not afford to waste a perfectly good roof. We might not consider ourselves rich, but until we are all reduced to living in this building, we do not know that kind of poverty.
It was in that kind of poverty that Samuel found his vocation. God called out, “Samuel!”and Samuel jumped up ready to serve. We see how ready he was since he did not even realize that it was God. He thought that it was Eli, and he did not just lie there and shout out “What?!” He got out of bed and went to Eli. Samuel was a servant, and he was ready to serve Eli, so when God called him to be a prophet, he was ready to serve God.
The question of vocation is before all of us at all times. Are we using our lives to benefit the world? But this question is particularly before the young people, people who are the stage in their lives where they are asking themselves, “What will I do with my life?” And although there are many possible answers to this question, at a most basic level there are only two answers: to live life for myself or to live life for others.
Because if our first concern is making ourselves happy as this world sees happiness then we will eventually become a lot of individuals doing our own thing. If our first concern is the public good and the good of our neighbors and the good of our families, then we will be a civilization. Selfishness is uncivilized.
And so that is merely the secular reason for vocation. As I said St. Paul's phrase does not only apply theologically, but it does also apply theologically. As Christians we are not our own because we have been purchased at a great cost: the life of Jesus Christ. How much more, then, does this apply to us, “You are not your own”! Those of us who are committed to a vocation should live that vocation not begrudgingly, not considering it an imposition on our time, but considering it our reason for living.
When John the Baptist points to Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God”, Andrew and Philip follow Jesus. They go get their brothers, and then their brothers follow Jesus. They all followed Jesus for three years, and then spent the rest of their lives preaching the Gospel, until they were killed for it. They did not waste their lives.
Those of you who are not yet committed to a vocation should listen for the call of God. He is calling you to something, and it is not to serve yourself, to see how rich you can become, nor to wander without meaning. Your life will not be wasted if you live it for a purpose, and God knows what he wants you to do.