A man in Baltimore named Sidney played the flute as part of the city’s Symphony Orchestra; he was extraordinarily skilled at his instrument, but not sure how much of a contribution he was really making. One morning the orchestra was rehearsing, and coming to the grand crescendo of the piece—involving drums, horns, trumpets, percussion instruments, and a full organ. Sidney thought to himself, “What difference does my little flute make with its tiny music in the midst of this thundering roar? If I should stop, I’d bet my playing wouldn’t even be missed.” So, with his flute still at his lips, Sidney simply stopped blowing—but he wasn’t prepared for the reaction he got. The conductor instantly banged his baton, stopped the music, pointed at Sidney, and angrily demanded, “Where is the flute?” Sidney hadn’t counted on the conductor’s sensitivity to the music and immediate awareness that some small but important part of the grand harmony was missing (homily notebook, “Calling,” by Paul Wissink).
This same idea applies to our lives, and to the unique mission each one of us has been given by God. Objectively speaking, God in His perfection doesn’t need any of us; He is utterly and completely happy and fulfilled in Himself. As a loving Father, however, the Lord chooses to make Himself vulnerable to us, giving us the freedom to accept Him or reject Him. He has a plan of salvation for the entire human race, and each one of us is meant to play a role in this plan. You and I all have an important calling from God—and doing our best to answer this call is how we can make a lasting difference in the world.
It sometimes happens that someone sees or hears God, with the Lord revealing Himself and commissioning the person as a prophet or religious leader, or appointing him or her to fulfill a certain task. That was the case with young Samuel (1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19), who was called by God while serving as an assistant to the temple priest Eli, and who went on to become a great prophet. More often, however, the Lord speaks to us indirectly, as we see in the Gospel of John (1:35-42). Andrew and another unnamed disciple of John the Baptist didn’t discover Jesus on their own, but began following Him out of holy curiosity only after John pointed Him out. Andrew was then instrumental in bringing his brother Simon Peter to the Lord. Peter was to become the greatest of the apostles—but this only happened through the ministry of Andrew, and before him, of John the Baptist. None of us can ever say “I’m not that important,” or “God surely can’t use me,” for it may be our role to help bring someone else to Christ—a person who goes on to do great things in God’s service. As far as the Lord is concerned, the little things do matter. That’s why, in his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:13-15, 17-20), St. Paul speaks of the importance of sexual morality. Our society says that sexual sins are no big deal, but Scripture tells us otherwise. Our bodies are supposed to be temples of the Holy Spirit, and any deliberately sinful act on our part—whether physical, spiritual, or emotional—makes it harder for us to accept God’s grace and fulfill our part in His plan.
The great 19th century English cardinal Blessed John Henry Newman, a convert to Catholicism, wrote a famous reflection on vocation and ministry in which he said:
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.
Cardinal Newman fulfilled his mission, and inspired many people, by his educated and thoughtful defense of the teachings of the Catholic Church. Our mission, whatever it may be, is probably quite different from his, but no less important in God’s eyes.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, male or female, still in school or retired, married or single, popular or shy, well-educated or somewhat unlearned, vigorous or in poor health, wealthy or poor, influential or overlooked, or a lifelong Catholic or a recent convert. God has a plan just for you, and it doesn’t end until the moment you take your final breath. It’s important for us to realize and accept this—because fulfilling this plan is the best way we have of making our mark on the world, and our efforts to do so may just make the difference in whether or not we make it into Heaven.
For many of you, an important part of your particular calling is to be the best possible spouse, parent, adult child, sibling, grandparent, neighbor, or parishioner you can be—but there’s always more than that involved. Maybe God intends you to influence everyone in your workplace or school by your honesty and good example, and by your cheerfulness and compassion; these simple virtues on your part might help someone else resist a serious temptation or accept Christ into his or her heart. Perhaps you are called to be a prayer warrior, making a difference in the privacy of your own home by praying each day for persecuted Christians, persons suffering from natural disasters, young people being misled by the false values of our society, world peace, and the conversion of sinners. It’s possible the Lord is asking you to offer up your illnesses, disappointments, emotional struggles, loneliness, and other aspects of the particular cross you carry, as a powerful and valuable sacrifice for any intention you choose. There are so many people in today’s world desperately in need of prayer, sacrifice, fellowship, encouragement, and spiritual support—and those of us who freely offer such things truly perform a valuable service.
Throughout history, God has been conducting a symphony of grace, one which will culminate at the end of the world and the final and complete establishment of His Kingdom—and each one of us has our indispensable part to play. Whether it’s a loud and majestic organ, or a simple and easily-overlooked flute, our spiritual instrument is the one chosen for us by God and best-suited to allow us to make a lasting difference. If we have even the slightest hesitation and doubt about our role, Jesus says to us what He said to the two disciples: “Come and see.” Our inner peace here on earth, and our eternal happiness in the world to come, depend on our willingness to answer this call.