When Fr. Chakrit Micaphitak approached Rory with a child sized Redemptorist-like vestment and special rosary for altar serving training, Rory did what any wise person would do when called to serve God. He ran away crying and hid under a pew. The parishioners who know Rory and welcome him to Mass every day responded by rallying around him to offer comfort and support. After his mom dug him out from under the pew and reassured him as only mothers can, Fr. Micaphitak came back and talked to Rory. After Mass, Rory and his mom prayed to St. Peter for his intercession. The next morning found Rory dressed in his special vestment and eager to serve. Rory has never looked back and is eager to serve every day with his mom. He says that his favorite part of altar serving is “handing the chalice to Father.”
Rory’s response to the call to serve the Lord strikingly resembles the response of Jonah. And if we are honest with ourselves, our reactions usually do, too. In the story of Jonah, God called Jonah to go serve in Nineveh. Nineveh was a city of violence, sexual perversion and horror. Unlike Rory, Jonah had good reasons to fear for his life amidst the horrors of the city. So, sensibly, he ran and hid. As both Rory and Jonah learned, God will find those he called. But just as for Rory and Jonah, God sends people to support them. The people on the boat with Jonah were his supporters; their role was to suffer the storm with him. Their appointed role was to obey God’s prophet himself, and so to throw Jonah overboard. The people on the boat did not know what they were getting into when Jonah joined them on the boat. But nevertheless, God used them as well.
God may call us to places that are terrifying, scary, lonely and stressful. Fr. Micaphitak and Fr. Rafael Rodriguez at St. Michael were both called from their home countries of Laos and Venezuela, respectively. They were called to this foreign country to serve in downtown Milwaukee and to conduct Mass in languages that are not their own. They were called away from their friends and family. Their support and the support of the parishioners at daily Mass allowed Rory to respond to God’s call and to face his fears.
We are all called to support one another in this life, and the support we provide can look different for each person. Sometimes we are the ones taking a more direct support role, but sometimes we may have a more indirect support role. It can be easy to forget how important those indirect serving roles are. A smile, a word of encouragement and a prayer are essential supporting roles that can so easily be overlooked.
When we are in the position of responding to a call from God, we should not take this call lightly, and we ought to humble ourselves at the task. It is an honor to receive a call of service from God, but when we encounter trials within that call, we sometimes grumble and complain. We can feel that God is being unfair. But these complaints come from our human fear and our human weakness. When we try to rely on our own human strength, we will fail. When we are called to service, we can expect trials, we can expect suffering and we can expect to be uncomfortable. We can point to any of Jesus’ followers as examples for this. But we can also see that God was with them throughout all these trials. When Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:24, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me,” he means we need to deny ourselves the façade of earthly comforts. We need to let go not only of being comfortable and getting what we want, but we also need to deny ourselves when we indulge in our fear.
When Jonah was swallowed by the great fish, he finally turned to prayer. And when we find ourselves running away or boasting of our own strength, we need to turn to prayer. We can join with Jonah in saying, “The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.”
No matter where we are, what gender, race or age, when God calls us, we might be afraid. But we should allow others to support us, and we should firstly, not lastly, turn to God in prayer. For “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress.” (Psalm 46:1) Like the loving and supportive parishioners and pastors at St. Michael, let us love and support one another in our callings.