In our first reading we heard that Samuel was sleeping in the temple and today I have a story about a man who also slept while the Lord called to him, in fact spiritually speaking he slept most of his life. His name was Andreas Wouters. He was a Dutchman living in 16th century Holland during the Protestant Reformation. Andreas was a priest, but he wasn’t a very good priest. He caused a great deal of scandal. He was a drunkard and a prolific womanizer, fathering many children. Not a good role model. Needless to say the Bishop suspended him from actively serving as a priest. He lived in disgrace.
At that time, June of 1572, Andreas was living in a seaside town by the name of Gorkum. And during that month a band of Dutch pirates captured the town. They had no love for the Catholic Church and so they rounded up all the priests, they captured 18. The pirates had plans of torturing and killing them. The pirates ignored Andreas and given his history he should have run as far away as possible. But he didn’t, he woke up, he woke up to the call of the Holy Spirit. He went to his brother priests where they were being held and he volunteered to join them. The pirates were amazed; they took him in and put him with the other priests.
The 19 priests were tortured and subjected to every type of humiliation and mockery, especially Andreas who was constantly reminded of what a disgrace he was. At the very end all the priests were given a choice, they could save themselves if they would renounce their belief in Papal Supremacy and the Eucharistic Real Presence. All of them refused. So on July 9, 1572 all 19 priests were hanged. Andreas was saved for last and as the noose was being fastened around his neck, his captors kept mocking him. They mocked him to the very end. His last words before entering into eternity were, “Fornicator I always was, but heretic I never was!” The martyrs of Gorkum were canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1865. St. Andreas Wouters woke up and gave great witness and glory to God.
Now as we heard in the 1st reading Samuel was asleep in the Temple, and to read this in the spiritual sense this is a sign of trouble. To be asleep in the presence of the Lord is never a good thing. Think of the 3 disciples who slept in the garden while our Lord prayed. He asked them, “Could you not stay awake for even one hour?”
Now at the time of our first reading Eli was the chief priest of the Temple in Shilo, this was before the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, it hadn’t been built yet. In this Shilo Temple the Ark of the Covenant was housed. Eli was not the best of priests, he was lazy, unfocused, and a bad supervisor of his sons Phineas and Hoffney who were also bad priests. Eli was indifferent to what his corrupt sons were doing. His sons abused the priesthood taking advantage of the people in their care. And it’s in this atmosphere that Samuel sleeps. And so the Lord called to Samuel 4 times and at that last call Samuel finally says “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” His eyes were wide open; he’s awake to the ways of the Lord. Meaning he was ready to do the will of God. And he did, serving as a prophet to the people of Israel.
So what about us? Where are we asleep to the Lord’s presence, a Presence that calls to us. Where do we not recognize His presence? Because He is there! Is it a temptation that we just can’t seem to overcome, an addiction, a place of shame, or maybe it’s a relationship we just can’t seem to mend, a loss, any suffering we don’t bring to him, or maybe we just don’t think God is there for us. Spiritual theologians will sometimes say that these are our places of poverty. And it’s in these places exactly that our Lord calls to us, because He knows we can’t do it on our own. He meets us in our poverty. And so we pray to be open to hearing our Lord in these places of poverty. But it sometimes requires patience on our part and making time for quiet prayer every day. God overcame the barriers of Samuel and St. Andreas. He can overcome ours. The saints, the martyrs, Samuel and St. Andreas came to know that God is always with them.
Let us pray to have that same awareness, to be awake to this reality. Our Lord meets us in the poverty of the crib, the poverty of the cross, the poverty of the altar, and our own poverty. And in all these places he brings the riches of His healing and consoling Grace, let us be humble enough to receive.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley