Homily for Wednesday of the 1st Wk in Ordinary Time, 12 Jan 2022, 1Sam 3, 1-10, 19-20, Mk 1:29-39
If there is one biblical character who should be emulated by our altar servers, it is none other than the young boy Samuel in today’s first reading.
I still remember the orientation that I got when I first got involved in the ministry of altar servers as a young boy. The master server kept repeating instructions like, BE ATTENTIVE, STAY FOCUSED, REMAIN ALERT, etc.
I thought it was quite easy until I experienced serving in an actual Sunday Mass and the Church was full. It felt different when I stood there by the altar. I suddenly became very self-conscious and thought that all my acquaintances, relatives and town-mates were looking at me.
You have probably seen some funny videos of altar servers and the kind of bloopers that they sometimes commit while serving. There was this boy, for example, who was serving in a Simbang Gabi Mass. He must have felt sleepy while the priest was reading the Gospel and he was holding the candle next to him. He began to nod his head too closely to the candle fire that he burned his hair and the priest had the presence of mind to tap his head, both to turn off the fire and wake him up.
There was this other server who washed the hands of the priest with wine instead of water. Oh, most of the bloopers have to do with incensing. There was this server who loved to exaggerate swinging the censer until it ignited and the fire caught his surplice. And another server who rang the bell for consecration when it was just the offertory part.
These bloopers are bound to happen if the server is not yet well-trained and has not yet developed the discipline of attentiveness and alertness to the needs of the presider at the altar.
We heard from our first reading that Samuel had been dedicated to the temple from the time that he was a little boy. Obviously, through time, he had also developed the discipline which the boy scouts call “LAGING HANDA”—always ready and disposed to be of service.
Samuel said HERE I AM three times and ran to the priest Eli in the middle of the night because he had heard his name being called. By the way, the Latin for it is “ADSUM!” It is the same response given by the candidate for ordination when he is called and presented to the community. Lately, the reply has been simplified to “PRESENT!”, but I honestly prefer the more traditional HERE I AM!
It wasn’t until the third time Samuel came and said “HERE I AM!” that the old priest Eli realized the boy was being called by God. It was then that he taught him to say, “SPEAK LORD, YOUR SERVANT IS LISTENING.” Meaning, more than paying attention to old priest’s call, he taught the boy the more essential discipline of paying attention to God’s call and having the alertness and the proper disposition to respond.
That is how his prophetic vocation and mission began, according to the writer. You see, even if prophecy is about proclaiming God’s message, the most essential component of a prophet’s ministry is not the proclaiming but the listening. How can he relay God’s message if he has not, first of all, listened carefully to what God is asking him to proclaim?
Sometimes though, there really are circumstances that can affect the quality of our attentiveness, such as when we are not feeling well or when we are troubled by many concerns. Mahihirapang maglingkod ang isang taong tuliro o wala sa sarili. You might keep on saying, “Huh? What were you saying again?” Or you might end up saying what you were not asked to say or doing what you were not asked to do.
In the Gospel, Mark says as soon as Jesus laid his hands on Peter’s mother-in-law, the old woman stood up, and she WAITED ON THEM. Meaning, she was ready to serve again. What is the point in asking God to cure us of our illnesses or to restore us from being unwell, if not to regain our sense of mission and purpose in life, or our capacity to be of some service to others again?
Samuel’s answer was made into a song. It is a more elaborate version of Eli’s instruction to the young boy when he heard God calling him again:
“Here I am Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord if you need me. I will hold your people in my heart.”