The Old Testament contains several examples of what scholars call a “call narrative” or a “prophetic call narrative.” These include the call of Moses (Exod 3-4), Gideon (Judg 6:11-40), Isaiah (Isa 6:1-13), Jeremiah (Jer 1:4-10), and Ezekiel (Ezek 1:1-3:27). God also chooses other leaders in Israel without using the call narrative genre: Joshua (Deut 31:23), Samuel (1 Sam 3:1-18), Saul (1 Sam 9:1-10:13), David (1 Sam 16:1-13), Elisha (1 Kgs 19:19-21), Judith (Jdt 8:1-36), Second Isaiah (Isa 40:6-8), and Amos (Amos 7:12-15).
In the New Testament Jesus directly calls disciples (Matt 4:12-22; 9:9-12; Mark 1:16-20; 2:13-17; Luke 5:1-11, 27-32; John 1:35-51), God sends an angel to give a commission (Luke 1:5-38), or Jesus’ disciples call others to leadership positions (Ananias: Acts 9:10-19; Barnabas: Acts 9:27; 11:25-26; the Christian community: Acts 11:27-30; 13:1-3; 1 Tim 4:14; and Paul: Acts 14:23). Like John the Baptist (John 1:35-37), Andrew (John 1:40-42), and Philip (John 1:43-46), these early disciples served as early vocation directors, calling others to follow Jesus and to take on leadership roles in the church.
The Bible says little to nothing about the process of discernment that occurred in these vocation stories. It prefers to emphasize the willingness and eagerness of those called by God to leadership and service, especially in the New Testament. The Synoptic Gospels note that the earliest disciples immediately and decisively left their families and occupations in order to follow Jesus (Matt 4:20, 22; Mark 1:18, 20; Luke 5:11). Jesus insists that, unlike Elisha (1 Kgs 19:20-21), his followers must make a speedy and permanent commitment to serve the Kingdom of God (Matt 8:21-22; Luke 9:59-62).
However, John’s Gospel hints that the very first disciples may have needed time for a discernment process, for Jesus encourages them to “come and see” where he is living and what he is doing (John 1:39). Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19; see also 2:51), so she seemed to need time to ponder her vocation as the mother of the Messiah. Jesus himself prayed before choosing the Twelve (Luke 6:12), and Isaiah was in the Temple (praying?) when he had his marvelous vision (Isa 6:1).
Those called by God often hesitated and recognized their personal limitations when they contemplated their vocation call (Exod 3:11; 4:1, 10; Judg 6:15; Isa 6:5; Jer 1:6; Luke 1:18, 29). Fortunately they recognized God’s power and presence in their lives and said “yes” to God’s commission (Judg 6:16-23, 36-40; Isa 6:6-8; Jer 1:8-9; Ezek 2:6-9; Amos 3:8). So there are some hints that prayer, reflection, community involvement, and time were all part of the process of biblical vocation discernment.
Reading, reflecting, and acting on the Word of God are important for every person called to serve God in consecrated life or in priestly ministry. It’s not always easy for God to communicate with us in the midst of all the noise and distractions that occur in our daily lives. So spending a little time in quiet reflection over Sacred Scripture may help us recognize that God may be calling us to religious life and/or ministry.
Fr. Tim Lenchak was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He professed his first vows as a Divine Word Missionary in 1972 and was ordained a priest in 1975. Since then he served as a vocation director in Wisconsin (1976-1982), studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome (1982-1986), taught in Ghana (1986-1988), and completed a doctorate in Biblical Theology at the Gregorian University in Rome (1988-1992). For six years he was part of the formation staff at Divine Word Theologate in Chicago and taught Scripture at Catholic Theological Union (1992-1998). In 1998 Fr. Tim was called back to Rome to serve as the SVD generalate biblical coordinator and as the director of the Dei Verbum Pastoral Program in Nemi, Italy. Then in 2004 he was named the rector (religious superior) of Collegio del Verbo Divino, the SVD generalate in Rome (home to 70-80 SVD priests and brothers). He returned to the U.S. in July 2010, had a short sabbatical in Chicago, and on June 1, 2011, became the president of Divine Word College.