What is the 'Call of Christ'?

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Learning from the Saints

Blessed John Henry Newman on “The Call of Christ”

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote extensively on vocation. In 'Parochial and Plain Sermons' , Newman considers what the 'Call of Christ' is and how we can discern what Christ is calling us individually to do. 

We are not in this journey of discernment alone! God calls us through our baptism to be a “living cell” in the Body of Christ, the Church – to be an active member of this community and so to learn from each other as fellow pilgrims on our journey through life. One of the greatest gifts given to us in the Church is the treasury of wisdom of the saints – men and women across the ages who have lived every kind of life imaginable but who have all been united in their common search for God and their desire to be ever more faithful disciples of Christ. There is perhaps no struggle or crossroads which we can face in life which will not be echoed in the lives of different saints and through coming to know their trials and triumphs we can receive light and inspiration for our own journey.

Below is a beautiful reflection from Blessed John Henry Newman, whose whole life was dedicated to knowing and living God’s will. His was a restless soul, always seeking to put out into deeper and deeper waters. Pope Benedict XVI described Newman as “a person always converting, a person in a constant state of transformation, and thus always becoming ever more himself in the hands of God”. Here Newman reflects on this call of Christ, which is a “Golden Thread” woven through our whole earthly life. Enjoy! 

“All through our life Christ is calling us. He called us first in Baptism; but afterwards also; whether we obey His voice or not, He graciously calls us still. If we fall from our Baptism, He calls us to repent; if we are striving to fulfil our calling, He calls us on from grace to grace, and from holiness to holiness, while life is given us.

Abraham was called from his home, Peter from his nets, Matthew from his office, Elisha from his farm, Nathanael from his retreat; we are all in the course of being called, on and on, from one thing to another, having no resting-place, but mounting towards our eternal rest, and obeying one command only to have another put upon us. He calls us again and again, in order to justify us again, again, again and again - to sanctify and glorify us.

It were well we understood this; but we are slow to master the great truth, that Christ is, as it were, walking among us, and by His hand, or eye, or voice, bidding us to follow Him. We do not understand that His call is a thing which takes place now. We think it took place in the Apostles’ days; but we do not believe in it, we do not look out for it in our own case. We have not eyes to see the Lord; far different from the beloved Apostle, who knew Christ even when the rest of the disciples knew Him not. When He stood on the shore after His resurrection, and bade them cast the net into the sea, “that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter: It is the Lord.”

And these Divine calls are commonly as indefinite and obscure as in former times. The accidents and events of life are one special way in which the calls I speak of come to us; and they are in their very nature sudden and unexpected. A man is going on as usual; he comes home one fine day, and finds a letter, or a message, or a person, whereby a sudden trial comes on him, which, if met religiously, will be the means of advancing him to a higher state of religious excellence, which at present he as little comprehends as the unspeakable words heard by St Paul in paradise. By a trial we commonly mean, a something which, if encountered well, will confirm a man in his present way; but I am speaking of something more than this; of what will not only confirm him, but raise him into a higher state of knowledge and holiness. Many persons will find it very striking, on looking back on their past lives, to observe what different notions they entertained at different periods, of what Divine truth was, what was pleasing to God, and what things were allowable or not, what excellence was, and what happiness. I do not scruple to say, that these differences may be as great as that which may have existed between St Peter’s state of mind when quietly fishing on the lake, or Elisha’s when driving his oxen, and that new state of mind of each of them when called to be an Apostle or Prophet.

Act up to your light and you will be carried on, you do not know how far. Abraham obeyed the call and journeyed, not knowing whither he went; so we, if we follow the voice of God, shall be brought on step by step into a new world, of which before we had no idea. This is His gracious way with us. He gives, not all at once, but by measure and by season, wisely. Each truth has its own order; we cannot join the way of life at any point we please; we cannot learn advanced truths before we have learned primary ones.”                                                  

From Parochial and Plain Sermons, viii