Image: Sunrise on the Road to Tsiigehtchic
A single phrase in today’s first reading gave me a great deal to reflect upon. We hear that as the early Christian community continued to grow two of its missionaries where sent out in a special way to continue their efforts,
“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
What does it mean to be set apart?
When I was a child, being set apart or singled out carried a negative connotation. It brings back memories of the schoolyard where being set apart meant being the last one chosen for a sports team, or the one selected as the target for a bully’s attention. It was confusing to watch as some children, who had exceptional talents, were rewarded with popularity while others who were equally gifted, but in different ways, were ostracized and picked on. It seemed much easier to blend in and be one of the crowd and to find safety in anonymity.
As I matured, as with most young adults, I learned to be more comfortable in my own skin and less concerned with what others thought. I felt free to develop my gifts and to follow my own interests. Yet, conformity with the group was always a subtle pressure. To share common values and goals with one’s peers is both personally advantageous and good for the general health of the group. It keeps things simple.
That simplicity was upset when I discerned a call to the priesthood. I agonized over my vocation for many years. The idea of not having a wife, a family or a life that I could call my own brought back the fears of the schoolyard. Why was God singling me out?
It took time, but I did come to find in the call to ordained ministry not a burden but a gift. In it I have discovered many talents that I might have squandered had I chosen to follow another direction. I also learned that being set apart for service is not the same thing as being set above for glory. Responding to God’s invitation to be “set apart” does not separate me from others but rather it invites me into an even closer relationship with them.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us,
I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.
My call is to help share that light which Jesus offers and I have been set apart to give special attention to that call. But this call is not just for me. It is for all who have been baptized. In the letter of St. Peter which we quote in the Sunday preface we hear,
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people set apart… You have called us out of darkness into your own wonderful light.
As Christian’s we have been set apart. We face the pressures of the world and the temptations to conform to it but we are invited to see the world in a different way. Sometimes it might seem that we are standing on the outside when we face difficult situations because of our perspective. Our call, however, is one which both unites us with Christ and invites us to an even deeper love for our brothers and sisters.