(Picture: a typical 1st Birthday Celebration for a Korean child)
Click to hear audio homily
A few days ago I was at home with my parents and my sister and her family to celebrate my nephew’s first birthday. In Korean culture, a child’s first birthday is celebrated in an elaborate way. He is given a big party where he sits before a large table filled with food and gifts. One unique Korean tradition is that the parents place before the child various objects to see what his vocation in life will be. In front of my nephew, his parents placed a brightly colored stethoscope, a golf ball, a pen and pencil set, a bowl of rice, a bowl of noodles, cash, and a rosary. His older sister when she was one-year old picked up the pen and pencil that signified that she would be a scholar. His older brother when he was one-year old picked the stethoscope and the golf ball (and so you know what his vocation in life will be.) I asked my parents what I picked up when I was a child. Did I pick up cash? And they said no. I asked if I picked the noodles, which signifies long life, and they said no. I asked if I picked the rice, which signifies good luck, and they said no. They said that they could not remember what I had picked. When my nephew reached out, he picked the rosary…and everyone exclaimed WOW! The second time he reached out he picked the rosary again, and his parents said Wow! The third time he reached out he picked the rosary again, and the person seated next to me elbowed me and said, Father, you will have your help very soon.
(Picture: A Korean baby choosing "vocation in life")
Many of us sitting here remember what it is that we wanted to be when we grew up. How many of us actually became what we dreamt? Our vocation in life is a great mystery. We sometimes ask God why did you make me? What am I here for? There is a succinct answer given in the Baltimore Catechism to the question, why did God make me? The answer …God made me to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. For me, I did not learn catechism in this manner so I did not learn this question and answer in this way. In my college years when I was not close to God, I believed that my vocation was to either become a pharmacist, like my dad, or an engineer, to be married, to have kids and own a beautiful house. I think the busyness of our lives can prevent us from seeing our vocations from heaven’s perspective and we seek what the world sees as worthy of pursuit. In 2001 when I took a trip to Medjugorje I saw my vocation from the world’s perspective and from God’s perspective. From my worldly perspective, I was asking Blessed Mother, to whom should I marry and which job should I take. Yet, heaven’s answer through Blessed Mother was for a deeper call to love, “Dear children! I am calling you to that love which is loyal and pleasing to God. Little children, love bears everything bitter and difficult for the sake of Jesus who is love. Therefore, dear children, pray that God comes to your aid, not however according to your desire, but according to His love. Surrender yourself to God so that He may hear you, console you and forgive everything inside you which is a hindrance on the way of love. In this way God can move your life, and you will grow in love.” (June 25, 1988)
The other day I was praying before this manger here in the church and I noticed how the Infant Jesus had his arms out toward me and was smiling. I wondered if this is why God sent Him to us…to let us know how much the Father loves us. I glanced to the right, and saw Jesus, as he was 33 years later, on the cross with His arms wide open. He cried out from the cross, “I thirst.” Mother Teresa often said to her sisters, Jesus thirsts for your love and Jesus thirsts for the love of men, women and children of this world, and Jesus wants us to bring Him to them--not to the far places, but right to our families and our friends. Before Mother Teresa began her work with the poor in the streets of Calcutta, she received a mystical vision. In this vision, there were people shrouded in darkness, Blessed Mother was standing next to her and not to far in the distance was Jesus on the cross. Jesus called out to Mother Teresa, “I have asked you, My Mother has asked you, and My children have asked you, will you refuse to bring Me to them?” So Mother Teresa had received a deeper vocation. Not just to be a good pious nun, doing her duties well, but to experience this thirst of Jesus as she personally touched each soul. And so our deeper vocation is to bring this thirst that Jesus has for us to our family and friends. People who go through near death experiences come back and tell us that Jesus is not concerned with how well we succeed in the world but how faithful we are in being God’s kindness, gentleness, patience, understanding and compassion.
When the magi, or three kings, brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, they revealed to us the vocation that Jesus received from the Father, to be Priest, Prophet, and King--to show how the king of kings and lord of lords denied himself and sacrificed himself for the love of us. I hope that my nephew, who chose three times the rosary, instead of money, good luck or long life, fulfills his vocation to know, to love and to serve Jesus in this world and be happy with Him forever in the next.