Which would you be more likely to say about yourself:
"The Lord called me from birth..... He made of me a sharp-edged sword....You are my servant, he said to me, ... through whom I show my glory"
"I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength..." ?
While I hope you don't often feel the discouragement of the second quote, it is probably more familiar than the first. We tend to think that such a calling could be addressed only to prophets such as Isaiah (who wrote both quotes) or John the Baptist, whose birthday we celebrate today. We don't think of ourselves as prophets.
But it's not just those with the big callings who are called. Each of us is called to do our part in our little corner of the world.
I'm not eloquent or educated enough, you say. I'm not brave enough. It's counter-productive to get on a soapbox, etc., etc.
You don't have to get on a soapbox. You don't have to eat locusts and shout out that the Kingdom is coming. Those were the callings of Frank Sheed and John the Baptist. Your calling is different. Each person has an individual calling.
Each of us is called to give witness—but how and to whom will naturally differ not only from person to person but even from day to day.
Sometimes we have an opportunity to tell someone the Good News, but most people in our country—rightly or wrongly—might very well reply that they've already heard it. More often, we can share how the Lord is working in our own lives, or simply refrain from clamming up about him.
But there's more to it than what we say. As St. Francis put it: "Preach the Gospel at all times, and whenever necessary, use words." We are always called to be ourselves—to be faithful followers and imitators of Christ. Living out our faith is a witness in itself. Quite often we won't even know that we've had an influence on someone.
My uncle is a perfect example of this.
My brother was once approached by an older gentleman who heard his last name and asked if he was related to a frat brother with that last name. Sure enough, it was my uncle. The man (Bill)—forty years later—still remembered Uncle Domingo, though the latter had had to drop out of his first semester of college due to what turned out to be the beginnings of schizophrenia.
It wasn't the symptoms of schizophrenia—if he had even seen them—that Bill remembered. It wasn't as much my uncle's intelligence, impressive athletic and artistic talents, striking good looks, or natural confidence that he recalled. It was Uncle Domingo's character that stuck with him.
On "hell night", they were required to perform a silly, crude, humiliating rite. My uncle refused. He didn't care what the others thought of him; he didn't care if they wouldn't let him in the fraternity as a result. He wasn't going to do something he viewed as immoral.
This made a huge impression on Bill. He was so struck by Uncle Domingo's behavior, it made him wonder what conviction lay behind it. It got him curious about the Catholic faith. A year or two later, he became a Catholic and considered Uncle Domingo to be his godfather (though since Domingo wasn't available, Bill had asked my dad as a substitute).
This probably would have shocked my uncle if he'd known about it. He was at that time undergoing painful and useless treatments; most of the rest of his life was spent in an institution or half-way house. The words, "I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength" would probably have resonated deeply with him. He would never have guessed the impact he'd had on Bill's life.
Nor would he guess that he could continue to witness to Christ. As the years passed, he became haggard and thin; he looked like an aged Vincent van Gogh. Once a star athlete and sharp dresser, in his middle-aged years, he shuffled in his loose-fitting, tobacco-smelling clothes. Perhaps, if he had known about Bill, he'd have thought, "Well, he knew me before all this happened. No one would want me to be their godfather now."
But he was a good godfather. I know, because he was my godfather. He may not have been able to buy me gifts or take me places, write me letters, or whatever typical godfathers might do. But I'm sure prayed for me. (And I know he still does, for when I ask for his intercession, the results are often quick and impressive!) Most of all, he gave me the gift of example. He was the most humble person I have ever met.
His humility also affected other family and friends. Who knows who else he touched among those with whom he lived? Only the Lord, who called him to witness to Christ in a halfway house.
No one feels adequate to God's call. (But that doesn't matter, for it is the Lord who works; we are only his instruments.) No one's life is in vain.
John the Evangelist spoke of the darkness, and called today's saint a "witness to the Light". John the Baptist called himself "a voice crying in the wilderness".
That darkness, that wilderness, is still with us. We too must be a voice, a witness to the Light.