The obvious theme that clearly runs through both the first reading, which is taken from the First Book of Samuel and the first chapter of the Gospel according to John concerns the call of the Lord to come and follow him. No matter who we are, from a mere youth like Samuel, sleeping in the temple of the Lord, to older, seasoned men of the world, like Peter, the fisherman, the Lord is calling each of us to be united with him in service in the Church.
The call comes from the Lord from the very fact of our baptism into Christ Jesus. In our baptisms, we are forever united with Christ, anointed with and in him, as priest, prophet and king. We all share in that common priesthood of Jesus Christ. Citing Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us:

871:?“The Christian faithful are those who, inasmuch as they have been incorporated in Christ through Baptism, have been constituted as the people of God; for this reason, since they have become sharers in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and royal office in their own manner, they are called to exercise the mission which God has entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world, in accord with the condition proper to each one.” 

872:?“In virtue of their rebirth in Christ there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality with regard to dignity and the activity whereby all cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ in accord with each one’s own condition and function.

And, among those baptized, Christ calls some “with a brother’s love” (Preface of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Roman Missal), to serve as his ordained ministers: deacons, priests and bishops. And, thanks be to God, men still are responding to the call to serve the Lord in these roles of ordained service.

It is the Lord Jesus who calls us to his service in ministry. It is the Lord Jesus and he alone who is the source and summit of the call to the priesthood, and we stand in response to his call. However, that call of the Lord Jesus is mediated to us through Peter, through the Church.

It is not enough for the one who feels the call to service of the Lord as his priest to say Ad Sum (“Here I am”), and to get in line to have hands laid on him. No, he needs to have that individual call of the Lord to which he responds affirmed by the Church, which can only come about through years of priestly formation. It is a double discernment, if you will — the seminarian discerning his call to the priesthood and the Church, in and through the process of formation, through the agents of formation, vocation director, formation staff, rector and, ultimately, the Bishop.

An old adage in seminary formation is “the seminarian you are, the priest you will be.” In a recent document on seminary formation, The Program of Priestly Formation, Fifth Edition (2006), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated:

“The goal is the development not just of a well-rounded person, a prayerful person, or an experienced pastoral practitioner but rather one who understands his spiritual development within the context of his call to service in the Church, his human development within the greater context of his call to advance the mission of the Church, his intellectual development as the appropriation of the Church’s teaching and tradition, and his pastoral formation as participation in the active ministry of the Church.”

The Program of Priestly Formation for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Fifth Edition, (2006) #137 states: “The basic principle of intellectual formation for priesthood candidates is noted in Pastores Dabo Vobis (Pope Saint John Paul II’s 1992 Apostolic Exhortation on the formation of priests) no. 51: ‘For the salvation of their brothers and sisters, they should seek an ever deeper knowledge of the divine mysteries.’ ” The document stresses that disciples are learners. Like Pastores Dabo Vobis, The Program of Priestly Formation describes four “pillars of formation,” each of which involves a lengthy learning process. These pillars are: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.

Pray for these young men in seminary formation. Pray for them intentionally, especially if you might know one of them. Pray for those who are open to the call to the priesthood. Like young Samuel in the temple, they are hearing the voice of the Lord, but may not have the means to interpret the call. Do not be afraid to be Eli for them, guiding them gently to recognize the Lord’s gentle love for them in the discovery of their own particular vocation in the Church.