By Fr. Ed Dunn
The following is a recently homily given by Father Ed Dunn, a professor emeritus of St. Ambrose University in Davenport and administrator of St. Mary Parish in Oxford and St. Peter Parish in Cosgrove.)
“I have waited, waited for the Lord. . . .” We heard those words at the beginning of the responsorial psalm. In today’s reading from Samuel, and from the Gospel from John, we find two examples of the importance of having someone who cares for us, who guides us on our way to “finding the Lord,” to “finding the deepest meaning of our lives.” Each of us deep inside yearns for self-worth, for companionship, for family, for love.
Samuel is a young boy whose parents dedicated him to the Lord to live and serve in the temple. When Samuel hears a voice in his sleep, he awakes and goes to the old high priest, Eli, and says, “Here I am, you called me?” “No I didn’t call you,” says Eli, “go back to sleep.” This happens three times, and each time Samuel returns to Eli and says, “Here I am, you called me.” Finally, Eli realizes that the young fellow is experiencing the Lord’s call, an answer to the searching, the longing Samuel has within. Eli says, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’”
Old Eli guided young Samuel to the Lord to find deeper meaning and fulfillment in his life. That is what the Lord wanted for Samuel. That is what the Lord wants for each of us. Samuel went on to speak on behalf of the Lord to his fellow Hebrews at a critical time in their history.
In the Gospel passage, John the Baptist, seeing Jesus at a distance declares: “There is the Lamb of God.” Two of the disciples of John, one of them Andrew, were curious about this young man from Galilee and trailed after him. Jesus, realizing he was being followed, turned and asked, “What are you looking for?” What were they looking for? Meaning, fulfillment, purpose in their young lives. They answered his question rather awkwardly, “Where are you staying?” Jesus said, “Come and see.” And they did. They stayed with him all day.
John the Baptist pointed those two disciples in the direction of Jesus. After they spent the day with Jesus, Andrew went to his brother, Simon Peter, and said, “We have found what we have been looking for! One who made us feel like we were really worth something. Jesus is his name; he must be the Messiah, the Christ. Come on, you’ve got to meet him!” Andrew encouraged his brother, helped him, guided him, he brought him to the Lord where he would find meaning and fulfillment and purpose in his life.
“You are a rock,” Jesus said, when he saw Peter. And that is what I am going to call you.” Peter had solid character inside himself, but through Andrew’s help, he found out what he was really capable of being and doing when working with the Lord.
What does Jesus want for us? What does Jesus want for each one of you, each child, each adolescent, each teenager, each young adult, middle-aged, elderly person; what does Jesus want for you? Your happiness, your well-being, the realization that you are special, that you are needed, that you are loved.
A number of years ago on Public Television’s “Frontline” there was a documentary called “Country Boys.” It is about two teenagers growing up in the coal mining area of eastern Kentucky. They both attended the David School, an alternative school for those who fall through the cracks in the public school system. The school and the documentary had special meaning for me because it is to that school that I have been accompanying St. Ambrose students on a “spring break service trip” for the past 25 years. So many of the places and faces were very familiar to me.
The stories of the two “country boys” are tragic, but hopeful; heartbreaking, but uplifting. Most of all they are examples of the invaluable worth of having someone who cares for you, who guides you, who loves you. It also shows how a dysfunctional family makes it difficult, but not impossible, to achieve one’s dreams.
Cody was the outgoing one, the rebel with pierced body parts and long hair. He did not remember his mother; she committed suicide when he was only 3. His father, who married again, took his own life when Cody was 12. But Cody had a step-grandmother who took Cody in (she was not poor) and basically stood beside him, was there for him as he struggled through those growing-up years. He heard a calling, found a minister who helped him, and he found God. He played guitar and became a part of a gospel group. He also found a girlfriend and her family. Her dad, even though an alcoholic and in poor health, also played guitar and took a liking to Cody. Cody also found the David School and reason to go back to school and get his high school diploma.
Chris, the other country boy, was from a very poor family with an alcoholic father who was so debilitated by drink that he could not work. Chris’ mother, who worked cleaning rooms in a motel, did not encourage Chris in any way. Rather, she expected him, at a young age, to be the caregiver in the family, especially when she moved out. Chris also had a younger sister. Chris was very bright, but with a dysfunctional family and a lack of self-confidence, he just could not go the final inch to accomplish the things he wanted so badly. He attempted to start a school newspaper. After a number of postponements, it finally looked as if the first issue was going to come out. Just at that time, his folks got a little better house trailer than they had, and he had to stay home for two weeks to fix up the trailer and to move in the few family belongings. Then his car would break down and he would stop going to school. Somehow, with lots of help from the school staff and teachers, Chris was going to graduate.
A heartbreaking scene in the documentary, which was three years in the making, was when the founder and director of the school, Danny Green – my very good friend – sat down with Chris and urged him to order his commencement announcements. How many would he want? “None,” he replied. “Nobody will come. My mom moved out and has a boyfriend and I do not want him to come. They won’t let my little sister come.” “What about your dad?” “Do you think I want him here; he would be drunk and probably throw up all over. My grandmother, my mom’s mother, who moved in with us when my mom left, she won’t be able to come; she wouldn’t have a way.”
Chris was all alone. He did not have anyone who really cared for him, neither family nor friends. Danny Green convinced him to get six invitations, and in the end, his mother did come (with her boy friend) but they did not bring Chris’ little sister.
“I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry. And he put a new song in my mouth, a hymn to our God.”
Cody, through the support of those around him, experienced the Lord through them. He married the girl and they both were attempting to go to college.
Chris had a full scholarship to go to college and failed his ACT. His father died. The documentary ended with Chris loading a u-hall to take his grandmother to Florida where his mother was living. He hoped his mother would ask him to stay there with her, but she did not. He came back to David, still dreaming of someday going to college. “I have waited, waited for the Lord. . . .” Chris was still waiting.
Samuel had Eli; the two disciples had John the Baptist; Peter had his brother Andrew, and then Jesus. Isn’t it amazing, isn’t it even scary how we, and especially the young, depend on others to “be there,” to be the “rock,” the support the guide. That is how the Lord works; the Lord works through others who show that guiding care.
“And he stooped toward me and heard my cry,
And he put a new song in my mouth.”
“Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”