1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19
1Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20
"Here I am, Lord, You called?"
"Jesus, I heard Your call and I ended up with a sense of direction. As I look back on my life there have been times that You have used others to get my attention. That still happens in my life.
For instance, I know that fifth grade seems awfully young for a boy to "hear" what would eventually develop into a realization that You were calling me to take a look at priesthood. Our collecting of pennies "for the foreign Missions" during our years in grade school got me thinking: ‘how about my actually going on the Foreign Missions to help these people?’ Then, a Passionist priest came to St. Lawrence grade school to thank our student body for raising funds for our Holy Family parish, made up of African Americans, in Birmingham, AL. But I also heard that the Passionists had missionaries in China! "Here, I am, Lord, you called!"
But more immediately my contact with the Passionist community in Detroit introduced me to a group of young Passionist religious in their college years who appeared to me as men, who are happy, have a great sense of humor, easy to relate to, …and wow, some of them can really play baseball! That was a powerful message to me: they were quite human, easy to relate to, whether they were on a ball field wearing sports clothes accented by a baseball cap and a baseball glove, or walking around the monastery wearing the Passionist habit and sandals. The person mattered. ‘Here I am, Lord, You called!’
So I entered the Passionist Seminary in my first year of High School and continued on with much support from my parents, brother and sisters, and my Passionist family there in the Seminary. Jesus, I remain ever grateful for the interest, trust and challenges that were presented to me during my seminary days. "Here I am Lord, You called!"
Ordination to priesthood came in 1957 followed by a special year in writing sermons, practicing them and finally getting into the pulpit. Remember, Jesus, we wrote a sermon (we called it a "common-fit all occasion" sermon that fit every weekend and so allowed us to preach the same sermon a number of times so we could feel comfortable and sneak a peek at the congregation. So at the end of that year we received our assignments: ‘Dear Father Peter, you are hereby assigned to the Minor Seminary to teach Latin." Whoops! ‘Here I am Lord, but, forgive me, where are you? The Passionists are a preaching Community, are they not?’ ‘ Indeed, you are.’ ‘ Walk your talk, Peter, among the High School Seminarians.’ I ended up preaching in a St. Louis parish on weekends. No, by this time I was writing a sermon that fit the readings of the day! The teaching was fine. I enjoyed the young men. I did this for nine years. "There I was Lord, You called!"
And then, another series of calls via my Superiors:
please become the Director of Christ the King Retreat Center in Sacramento, CA [nine years][ sure you can take 9 months off for a sabbatical in Denver, CO];
please head up the Passionist Student Residence house in Northridge, CA[three years];
please be the Vocation Coordinator on the west coast[four years];
please go to Pittsburgh, PA as Assistant Novice Master [2 years];
please take over the Vocation Recruiting Office for the Province in Chicago, IL [four years][sure, you can take 9 months sabbatical at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkley, CA.][ I really didn’t know that my "yes" included a the heart attack while there!];
please, now that you have recovered and finished your studies, become the retreat Director of Our Lady’s Retreat Center in St. Louis [3 years];
please become associate pastor at the Passionist parish of the Immaculate Conception in Chicago, IL[4 years][again, that "yes" included time out for prostate cancer surgery];
and then, please become the Director of Holy Name Retreat Center[2 years] followed by 6 more years up to the present here in Houston, TX. [I am running neck and neck with Fr. Dennis McGowan, C.P. in Japan in counting stents in our arteries to keep our hearts functioning!] "Here I am, Lord, You called."
There has always been a deep peace within me knowing the Lord is, indeed, with me. His calls have surprised me at times, finding me a bit queasy as to whether I would measure up to the call. I gradually began to say to my Superiors and friends, "You know my gifts AND my limitations. I will give it my best shot." You and I know, Jesus, that a few shots have gone far afield! And there have been both laughter and tears, successes and failures.
Looking back I realize that I was being called by You, Lord, to prepare myself for the future by many who were in tune with Your own wishes. There is great value in having wise counsel when we are aware that we are being called by the Lord.
Join Jesus at the table, talking over His calls to you.
Fr. Peter Berendt, C.P. is on the staff at Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center in Houston, Texas.