The first reading today speaks to us of the call of Samuel. In examining it, we can see what it is that makes a great prophet. Put more theologically, we can see the ways in which God’s graces form a great prophet. Samuel was surely one of the most significant prophets of the Old Testament and lived at a critical time, as Israel shifted from the time of the judges to the time of the monarchy. Ultimately, it was he who would see Israel through the difficult time of Saul’s reign and prepare and anoint them for David’s kingship to follow.
What then are some of the ways that God prepares Samuel and every prophet (this means you) for his mission? Consider these five.
1. The CLOSENESS of a great Prophet – In the first reading, we find the young Samuel sleeping in the temple of the Lord. In those days, the temple was not yet in Jerusalem nor was it a permanent building; it was a tent structure in Hebron. Samuel, as one in training for temple duties, is sleeping near the Ark of the Covenant, which carried the presence of God. Thus we see that a great prophet begins and remains so by staying close to the Lord.
We who would also be prophets must do the same if we wish to be great prophets to our family members and friends. How will a priest preach with authority and power if he does not stay close to the Lord? How will parents give prophetic witness to their children if the Lord is a distant God to them?
How do we draw close to the Lord? Daily prayer, daily and devout reading of Scripture, frequent confession, weekly reception of Holy Communion, and a spirit of wonder and awe. Ask for these virtues. Stay close to the Lord. Great prophets stay close to the Lord.
2. The CONSTERNATION of a great Prophet – The first reading depicts Samuel as struggling with some confusion as to what and whom he is hearing. God is calling, but Samuel doesn’t get it. He struggles to figure out what is happening to him. A look at the call of most of the great prophets reveals that most of them struggled with their call. Moses felt old, inarticulate, and inadequate. Jeremiah felt too young, Isaiah too sinful. Amos would have been content to remain a dresser of sycamores. Most prophets felt overwhelmed and experienced consternation.
Samuel, as we see, eventually figures out who is calling him and begins his journey. He had to listen for a while to to do it, however.
How about you? Many of us, too, would want to run away if God made it clear He had something for us to do. In a way, that is a proper response, for pride is a bad trait in a prophet. To experience a bit of trouble, consternation, and anxiety helps to keep us humble and leaning on the Lord.
What is the Lord asking of you? Perhaps, like Samuel, you struggle to understand at first. But stay close to God. Things will eventually become clear.
The great prophets struggled. But that is the point; they struggled with God for an answer and for a vision.
3. The CONNECTEDNESS of a great Prophet – Notice that Samuel does not discern alone. He seeks counsel from a wiser man to help him. Though Eli is not a perfect teacher, God does make use of him to help Samuel.
So, too, for us, who ought to seek good, strong, spiritual friends and clergy to help us discern. Scripture says, Seek counsel from every wise man (Tobit 4:18). It is a bad idea to try to discern alone. We should cultivate relationships with wise and spiritual men and women in our journey.
Great prophets are connected to spiritual leaders and teachers. Prophets read and consulted other prophets. God does not just call us to a vertical, private relationship with Him. He also directs us to a horizontal relationship with others. Seek wise counsel; great prophets do.
4. The CORE of a great Prophet – Samuel is advised by Eli to say to God, Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. A great prophet listens to God. And God does not always say easy things. He often challenges in what He says and in what He wants to send them. But great prophets listen; they listen very carefully to God. They do not try to bury His Word or forget what He says. They take seriously what they hear and do not compromise God’s Word.
And what of us? It is too easy to avoid listening to God or to compromise on what we have heard. But great prophets listen carefully to God by reading and studying His Word, by looking at how He speaks in creation and in the events of their day, by studying the teachings of the Church, and by carefully, prayerfully listening to the still, small voice within.
Do you want to be a great prophet? Listen.
5. The CAPABILITY of a great Prophet – We see in Samuel’s life how be became gradually transformed into a great prophet, one who never compromised God’s Word. The text says, Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect. Because Samuel was close to the Lord, faced his consternation, was connected to the wise, and had the core virtue of listening, he became a great prophet. The actual Hebrew text, translated more literally, says that not a word of his fell to the ground.
Being a great prophet is a work of God. But we, who would and should be great prophets ourselves, ought to pay attention to the way God works to make great prophets. Learn from Samuel; study all the prophets and you will see what God can do.
And while most of us wish our words had greater effect, it is less clear that we are willing to undertake the process to get there. Ask for the gift. Ask for the gift to stay close to God, to struggle and accept some of the consternation that comes with being a prophet. Seek to be connected to wise counsel; learn the core value of listening. And thus will God bring about in us a conversion such that none of our words will ever fall to the ground.
This song says, “The Lord gave the Word. Great was the company of the preachers.”