Serving at God’s call
Scott Boyle | Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Once upon a time, in a place far away from the United States, a little boy was born to a modest, immigrant family. And he grew up quite quickly, like most little boys do. He discovered passions for soccer, chemistry and the Tango. But as he grew older, he found a deeper passion that united these three interests: his faith.
In that capacity, he desired to become a priest. He worked and studied for many years and took the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. But he made an additional promise as well: to not pursue or desire higher ecclesiastical office within the Church.
But God had other plans for him. Higher powers desired his leadership and wisdom in service to the Catholic faith. He was made an archbishop, then a cardinal. And just under a week ago, he was called by his brother cardinals to follow in the footsteps of Peter, the humble Galilean fisherman and the “rock” upon which Christ built his Church. Cardinal Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires became Pope Francis, universal pastor to a billion followers around the world.
To many observers, Francis’ journey to the papacy seemed unlikely. He came from humble beginnings and pursued chemistry until he heard a call to the priesthood. He also suffered from a bout of life-threatening pneumonia, an illness that compromised one of his lungs. When his name was announced, news outlets were scrambling to find his name on the list of cardinals.
But is Francis’ call really something astonishing? Throughout history, God has been full of surprises, often working in the most unexpected of ways. Those who Jesus called to be apostles, after all, were often people who no one could have anticipated: lowly fisherman like Andrew and James or detested tax collectors like Matthew.
God’s plans for us too are, at least initially, sometimes incomprehensible to our mortal understanding. A line from U2’s song ‘Mysterious Ways’ can be used to describe God: “[He] moves in mysterious ways.” And don’t forget Woody Allen’s famous quip: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
Francis’ election may have been surprising, but his elevation demonstrates another powerful truth: God does not always pick frontrunners. Rather, God loves and desires to work through each one of us, frontrunner or not.
Francis’ example reminds us that God does not overlook anyone. No matter our perceived suitability, God reminds us, over and over again, that we all are loved and called to greatness, called to use our gifts in service to His kingdom.
Obviously, few of us will ever be called to positions like the papacy. What really matters, however, is our response to God’s individual calls for us. And we are faced with the challenges of responding to these calls every day. Acceptances, rejections and wait-lists for colleges, jobs, volunteer programs and the like force us to confront our perceived directions. Perhaps our own desires for our future do not match the options God has presented us.
But no matter what lies in front of us, truly hearing the voice of God requires us to silence those inner clamors of pride that put our directions and wills above God’s will. We are in need of humble hearts to remind us that it is always “thy will [Christ’s will,] be done.”
Francis’ “Accepto” to his election as Pope demonstrates that humility. Chances are Francis did not desire the papacy, a position that requires enormous amounts of time and energy. Perhaps Francis, having passed the traditional retirement age of 75 for bishops, was looking forward to a quieter life after the conclave. At this point, however, we’ll never know.
What we do know, to be sure, is that he accepted his call. And from the moment he first appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, the extent of his humility immediately became apparent. He said, “And now, we take up this journey: Bishop and People. A journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity.” Francis’ words demonstrate that he does not see himself first as the Pope, but rather as a bishop united with his flock, a shepherd and fellow follower of Christ on pilgrimage to heaven.
Most importantly, Francis’ decision to accept reminds us that our call is never really ours, but God’s. Francis, like us, does not know what the journey ahead will hold. Yet his acceptance reminds us that it is only a trusting and loving heart that will be capable of transforming the human race into a heavenly fraternity. Then, there will be no divisions among us, but we will all be made one in Christ Jesus.
Scott Boyle is a graduate of Notre Dame and intern in the Office of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.