Speak, Lord, Your Servant is Listening


At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD, because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet. The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time. Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am. You called me.” Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth. So he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’
"When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

by Fr. John A. Welch, M.S.

There is a wonderful story in the first book of Samuel (3:1-10) about a young man being
called by God. He was called several times but thought it was the voice of his teacher, Eli:

authorMy name is Fr. John Welch, M.S. I have been a priest of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette for fifteen years. I am presently Vocation Director for our community. My story is similar to that of young Samuel. I also had trouble hearing God’s call.

I grew up in Salem, Massachusetts. I am one of four children, having a twin brother and two sisters. My family was active in my home parish the Immaculate Conception Church. Frequently we had parish priests over for dinner and I wasalways comfortable with discussion centered on religion. Although no one ever asked me to become a priest, I eventually learned that God does the calling and we need to be open to the call.

When my brother, Rick, and I were young people, we would make a lot of being “the twins”. My mother dressed us the same and we began school in the same classroom. Early on I had a
difficult time with studies. As a result, I was kept back twice— in first and third grades. But
the only thing that bothered me was that I was no longer with my brother.

I had a tough time as a child. Kids can be cruel. They started calling me names. I could not
understand why. When I was in third grade, I remember trying to figure out why “my friends” we so unkind. Only when I got older did I realize that the pain and hurt that I experienced would eventually assist me in helping others who felt the same.

As I progressed in school, my desire to help others only grew. I eventually finished my studies and became a Social Worker. I enjoyed working at a Medical Adult Day Care Center for the elderly and disabled. I somehow identified with them in their need. During this time I would go to daily Mass. From time to time, it would occur to me that I somehow wanted to do what he did. However I kept pushing these feelings aside.

Frankly, I was afraid. The thought of other kids calling me names overwhelmed me. This inner battle would continue for nearly ten more years.

While in my early twenties, I taught Confirmation class in my parish. One of the parents of a student was always insisting that I go with their family to the La Salette Shrine in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where they often worshiped and where she was involved with a Prison Ministry Group. I kept putting her off, making excuses why I couldn’t go.

On the evening of the Confirmation celebration, I met Fr. John B. Good, a La Salette priest, who directed the Prison Ministry Group. Also on that evening, I met another young man, Brian Schloth, who was in the process of applying to enter the La Salette Missionaries, and who is a
priest today. After meeting both of them, I joined the Prison Ministry Group and began worshipping at the Shrine on Sundays. There I met other happy and friendly La Salette priests, brothers and seminarians. I felt that I had found a new family.

I did not know very much about the story of La Salette. I soon began to learn more about this
tearful, Beautiful Lady who appeared to two young children in 1846 in France. As I read her words to the two children, “Come near, my children, don’t be afraid”, I could hear her speaking to me. Surpisingly, her words and message spoke to my heart, to my experiences. I felt called to be a La Salette Missionary but, like the children, I was afraid. The desire to become a La Salette priest persisted. In Salem, there was a parade in August to celebrate the end of summer. During this time, I was saying a nine-day novena to St. Theresa of the Little Flower. Since roses were so special to St. Theresa, I asked God that I receive a rose as a sign that my priestly vocation request was answered. I felt that if I didn’t receive a rose, this meant I should remain a Social Worker. As the parade rolled by, a float happened to stop in front of me. With my head down, I saw twelve plastic roses land at my feet. Someone had thrown them from the float. I smiled to myself and said a little prayer: “O.k., God, I’ll take plastic”! The next day I applied to the La Salette Missionaries and, as they say, the rest is history.




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