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BY Ellen Wilson Fielding
“The Second Calling” by Father Ronald Lawler, OFM Cap (New Covenant, June 1999)
Father Lawler writes: “When we are young and inexperienced in the ways of grace, God gives us easier tasks. Then, as we begin to grow up in faith, He gives us more difficult tasks, even trials. … When we first encounter the spring of God's love, everything is fresh and young. We are taught about the Cross, but there is something romantic and even splendid about the Cross.
“When we get older, however, the Cross can startle us. It is not only glorious, it is now also very heavy. We glimpse the Cross as never before — as something frightening and costly. God is moving us from our first call to our second call — a call that is meant to provoke even greater love, generosity and peace.”
Father Lawler traces this pattern of first and second calls in the saints, focusing on St. Francis of Assisi. “St. Francis reveled in the springtime of Franciscanism: in the happy days at Rivo Toto and Our Lady of the Angels Chapel, where there was sharp poverty, care for the lepers and humiliations that led to perfect joy. The Cross, for Francis, seemed robed with joy and grace.
“Then came the second call. The brethren about him seemed to have lost their fervor; the order appeared to crumble; bright dreams became bitterness. Prayer was no longer a joy, but an agony. His bodily pains chased away gladness of spirit. Francis tasted real tears of sadness as the Cross became more earthy and senselessly real. … This time was known as his ‘great temptation’ — the temptation to be sad and give up.” God was offering Francis the choice to “love the brethren even when they seemed unworthy of love. … Only when Francis said yes in this great darkness, when he gave his all, was he rewarded with the sweetness of Greccio and the Stigmata … and the poetry and gladness came alive again.”
Father Lawler also shows us Abraham's response to the two callings. First “Yahweh said to him, ‘Leave your country, your family and your father's house for the land which I will show you.’ surely this called for generosity and faith, to leave all that was familiar and to go on to an unknown land. But this is in the generous bloom of youth: the mood is joy.
“Abraham had a second calling, a very different one. He was old, 100 years old, and the promises made to him seemed impossible to fulfill. Think of how terrible it must have been for Abraham to hear these words: ‘Take your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go into the district of Moriah, and there offer him as a holocaust on the hill which I shall point out to you.’” Abraham obeys “in the darkness of a perfect obedience, an obedience through which all the nations of the world will be blessed.”
Even in Mary's life, we can see two callings. “St. Luke's Gospel speaks of her first acceptance at the Annunciation. Implicitly the Lord asked everything of her then, and she promised all that God would ever require. The atmosphere was one of joy; the sacrifices were suffused with blessings.
“Mary's second call was very different. She stood beneath the cross to see what she most dreaded … the one she loved more than herself being humiliated, crushed, abandoned, in every agony. She is invited to accept this, too, from God. … In this hour, she served God best and reached the peak of greatness.”
Finally, we may see something of the same trajectory in the life of Jesus. “When He became man, taking on our human nature for our salvation, His first human call was a cry of joy. … These are glad years. His food, His energy source, is to do the Father's will. He knows He has a baptism to come, yet He walks steadfastly toward Jerusalem.
“The hour of the second call and the second acceptance must come — the hour of darkness, which is the hour of great love. Betrayed, abandoned, alone — now fully aware of the dreadfulness of sin and its power. Dread, fear, agony … every feeling in Him now wishes to escape. ‘If it is possible, let this chalice pass from Me.’It is in this hour that Jesus is asked to say yes again: ‘Not My will, but Thine be done.’
“What is true of Christ, and of all Christ's closest friends in salvation history, is true also of us. God wants each of us to be great, so there is a second calling when faithfulness is far more sharply tested. …This is the grace of the second calling — to believe and love and say yes when we feel so little like it and all seems so dark. This is the path to the strongest, most saving and most joyful love.”
Ellen Wilson Fielding writes from Davidson, Maryland.