Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila at the 80th Serra International Convention, Chiang Mai, Thailand, June 23, 2023
Our convention is a good time to reflect on the reality of vocation in the life of every disciple and the whole Church. The theme chosen for this international gathering, “Come and see,” comes from the Gospel according to St. John 1:35-39. Let us allow the Gospel to awaken in us the flame of vocation.
“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon” (John 1:35-39).
In the passage that we just heard we see the interplay of divine and human elements in every vocation. We realize that every vocation is also a mission that awakens God’s call in other people.
Let us begin with John the Baptist. He is clear about his vocation: he is the one who will prepare the way for the Messiah to come. His vocation is not to be the Messiah, but the forerunner. Therefore, when Jesus appears, John fixes his gaze on Jesus and directs his followers to Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God.” The two disciples do as John told them. They follow Jesus. This is our first lesson: like John the Baptist, we are called to look to Jesus and direct others to Jesus. This is our fundamental calling as Christians: to look to Jesus and to bring others to Him. But do we spend our time looking at Jesus? Or do we prefer to look at our cell phones, fake news and commercial advertising? The way we look affects our sense of vocation.
Then it is Jesus’ turn to look intently at John’s two disciples. That penetrating look is followed by a penetrating question, “What are you looking for?” This is the second lesson we learn: a vocation involves not only looking at Jesus, but allowing Jesus to look at us and lead us to look at what our hearts desire and seek. In the prophet Hosea 2:16 Lord says, “Behold, I will lead her into the wilderness and speak to her heart.” We often avoid the restlessness of our heart. We are busy with many things or are probably afraid to enter our own hearts . Jesus brings us to the truth about ourselves. He looks at us. We look into our hearts with Jesus’ eyes.
The two disciples realize that they are looking for where Jesus lives, where he stays and where he dwells. They want to know where they can find him. To their heart’s desire, Jesus responds with an invitation, “Come and see.” They go with Jesus, see where Jesus lives and stay with him. This is our third lesson: beneath our many desires is the desire to know Jesus. He will not frustrate this desire. But he will not force himself on us. He will gently invite us to come and see for ourselves. Our response must be active: come, see and stay. This is the path of discerning one’s vocation in Jesus. We must examine ourselves: where do we prefer to go? What do we prefer to see? With whom do we prefer to stay?
The story continues in John 1:40-51. Andrew, one of the two disciples who went, saw and stayed with Jesus, now seeks out his brother Simon and leads him to Jesus. Jesus looks at Simon carefully and gives him the name Cephas, which means Peter. Jesus invites another person, Philip, also from Bethsaida, to come and follow him. Philip in turn seeks out Nathanael to inform him of Jesus. Philip uses Jesus’ own words, “Come and see.” This is our fourth lesson: a Christian vocation is always a mission to share with others our experience of Jesus, the way he has looked at us and invited us, and what we have seen, heard, and touched about Jesus. A vocation that proclaims Jesus through mission generates other vocations.
Conversely, a vocation that does not seek other people to lead to Jesus is bound to wither away. Then we will have a vocational crisis. A vocation crisis is often rooted in a missionary crisis. To whom do we take our families and our young people? To a concert? To a movie theater? To a shopping mall? Please include Jesus as an important destination. In the history of the Church Jesus looked and continues to look at many men and women and made their hearts burn with a passionate love. Our saints and martyrs, our ancestors in the faith, many of whom are quiet workers in the Lord’s vineyard belong to the long line of disciple-missionaries who were faithful to their vocations and inspired others to discover Jesus’ unique call for them.
It is up to us to continue the story of vocations through our mission. “Come and see” is Jesus’ invitation to each disciple. “Come to Jesus, see Jesus, and stay with Jesus” is every disciple’s missionary invitation to other people.