Set the World on Fire
One of my absolute favorite saints is Catherine of Siena. She lived in Italy in the 14thcentury. Catherine was a mystic who regularly conversed with Christ, often in ecstatic visions; however, she also found the time to write a spiritual work entitled The Dialogue, as well as many letters to various people and priests. Once, she went to the rather weak pope in Avignon and told him to “be a man” and return the papacy to Rome where he belonged. Not a weak woman, Catherine.
In one of her letters, she gives this advice: “If you are that which you are supposed to be, you will set fire to all of Italy, and even beyond.” This has been quoted variously, but the most common rendering is “Be who God made you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
“Be who God made you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
“Who God made you to be” is the definition of our vocations. A vocation, as we understand it, is God’s call in our lives – how we live out our universal call to be holy. When we hear the word vocation, we often immediately think about priests or religious, however, that is a limited view. Everyone has a vocation – and not just our baptismal call to be holy. Rather, everyone is called to be who God created them to be, and we each live that in a different, unique way.
Our readings this weekend all speak of vocation. Isaiah, in the First Reading, has his initial vision of God and receives his call to go and prophesy to the people of Israel. In the Second Reading, St. Paul shares the story of how he was called, along with the other Apostles, to preach the Gospel. Finally, in the Gospel, we hear of Jesus’ call of the first apostles along the shore of Galilee. While each of these could easily be called “religious” vocations, there is much more to them – and this should be an encouragement as well as a challenge to all of us.
I can say with certainty that I was created with a purpose. I can say with equal certainty that you were as well. Therefore, it is our Christian duty to discover and pursue that purpose for the glory of God. Does that mean that all of us here need to head out of church and begin preaching on street corners and town squares? No. However, it does mean that we should become intimately familiar with the One who has called us so that we can more faithfully carry out our purpose.
I had the pleasure, years ago, of being the Vocations Director for the Archdiocese. That meant that I was responsible for accompanying the various seminarians of the diocese as they followed their path toward a priestly vocation. The joy of that was working with some of the finest young men that I have known – all seeking to know Jesus better and to serve His Church as best that they could. Some of them became priests; some did not. However, they are all still pursuing God’s call. Why? Because God’s call does not end when you answer it. Each day, God calls us to follow Him. That was the case for the apostles that we meet today, and it is true for us as well.
Each day, Jesus approaches us, “mending our nets,” and calls us to faithfully follow Him. Each day, our vocations are renewed – whether you are a pastor or a wife or husband or father or friend. Hearing these words today, I am reminded of the absolute necessity of praying for “vocations” – not simply so that we have priests and religious to guide us, but also and especially so that our people can be holy, that they can pursue holiness – especially our young people.
And for the young people, I would give this advice, as far as knowing your vocations:
1. Know that you are always and infinitely loved by God, no matter what. You are not poised to disappoint Him or anyone else. You are His beloved child, and He is pleased with you.
2. Know that your life has a purpose and that you are here right now for a reason. Life is an adventure, especially when you begin is see it through the lens of what Christ is calling you to do in cooperation with Him!
3. If God has called you to a particular way of life, then He will give you the grace and strength – and happiness – that goes with it. If you are unhappy; if your life does not give you joy, then you might not be following God’s call. Be okay with stopping and restarting. It’s all God’s time!
4. Finally, pray. Pray to know what your vocation is and for the courage to follow it. If you feel called to marriage, then pray to be a good husband or wife. Pray for the holiness and virtue of your future spouse – after all, they were made for you and you for them! Pray that God open your heart more and more to see every single event in your life as pointing somewhere; and then follow that with joy.
Paul boldly and gratefully proclaims, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.” He understood that he didn’t have to compare his vocation to anyone else’s. It was all gift, and God knows what He’s doing. So, Paul chose to pursue that call with all his strength. In other words, he was who God made him to be and he set the world on fire. This is our call – our vocation. Let’s give thanks for ours, and for all the vocations that make the Church a place for true transformation. When we live these vocations with joy, we too will set the world on fire!