Image: Newlyweds in Paulatuk
Our first reading today speaks about commitment and vocation. We find the prophet Elijah choosing his successor and, as he does so, young Elisha is hesitant. He asks for a chance to say good-bye, to put things in order before he takes up his new task.
We cannot blame the new recruit, after all this is a call that comes suddenly out of the blue and is going to require that he give up everything that he knows and take up something very difficult about which he knows little. But then Elisha does something amazing. He gathers the animals that he uses to plow and, with the wood from his farm implements, he lights a fire and offers a feast for the community. In doing so, he commits himself fully to the vocation that lies ahead of him.
You have probably heard the expression, “Don’t burn your bridges”. It refers to the wisdom that it is best to leave a path open behind you when you set off on a new venture, the idea being that you will be able to turn around and retreat if things do not work out. For Elisha this was not an option, there was no turning back as he burnt everything and walked off into his new life with Elijah.
The idea of this kind of commitment is not something that we see very often anymore. Lifelong careers are not all that common as people tend more to move from job to job as opportunities present themselves. Relationships with friends and acquaintances are short lived as people move here and there. Even marriage, that life-long commitment between husband and wife is becoming a rarity as couples choose to live together and see if things will work out or choose to divorce when things do not.
I do not offer this as a judgment but only an observation that as long as we have a lot of opportunities to choose from staying with one course is not easy, especially if that path becomes different from what we had been hoping for and more challenging than we expected. My own Mom and Dad, who were married for more than 50 years often said that they got through some difficult points in their marriage not because of how strong they were but because they had no choice, they were poor and needed each other too much to go off on their own.
There is a lot to be said for opportunity and being able to have choices, but it is not the choices we have that make us. It is in the choosing that we set the direction for our life and it is being committed to the path we choose that ultimately brings value and meaning.
Reflecting on my own vocation as a priest, I can easily say that, at the beginning, I hesitated much more than Elisha. It took me many years to answer the call and there were a lot of starts and stops before I got fully on board with the idea. I thought that if I went in one direction, and gave up all the other possibilities, that I would be missing out on so much. Now looking back, I realize how rich and blessed my life has been and what I would have missed if I had continued to keep my options open.
In the end we do not choose a vocation for life, because that which we choose will evolve and change. All we can do is set off on the journey and commit to being open to what God places in our path along the way. In faith, God will give us what we need as we grow in our vocation and in our relationship with Him.