Growing up, if my mom or dad had to call me by name three times—each time in a louder voice, each time using more of my full name—it usually meant I was in serious trouble. In our first reading, the Lord had to call Samuel by name three times. He was not in trouble, however; someone else was. Although our reading skips the verses where we learn this, the Lord was calling Samuel to deliver a message of doom, doom for Eli and his sons. 

At the time, Eli was high priest in Israel and his sons were priests as well. But Eli’s sons were wicked. They stole the sacrifices which were meant to be offered to the Lord and they committed sins of unchastity (1 Sam 2:12-14, 22). They sinned grievously against God and neighbor. Because of this, and because Eli didn’t do anything to stop them, the Lord decided to take the priesthood away from them and their descendants. This was the message that the Lord called Samuel to deliver. 

In many ways, the times in which Samuel lived were not unlike our own. They were dark days. Two verses before our first reading begins, it says that when “Samuel was minister to the Lord under Eli, the word of the Lord was scarce and vision infrequent.” God seemed silent in Samuel’s day. He spoke no word and sent no vision. We can often relate to this complaint. “Why does God seem so silent? Why doesn’t He say something? Why doesn’t He do something?”

But one verse—or, actually, a half a verse—before our reading begins, a glimmer of hope is offered. Samuel was sleeping in the temple at Shiloh where the Ark of the Covenant was. And the text says that the temple lamp “was not yet extinguished.” Though the days were dark, the lamp still burned. God had not abandoned His people. The Ark, and therefore His Presence, was still among them.

God did not promise the Israelites that He would always be with them through the Ark, however. And the Israelites would eventually lose the Ark. But God has promised to be with us always until the end of time. And He has given us a new Ark to contain His Presence and new lamp to remind us of Him. Though the days are dark, the lamps that burn in the sanctuary of our churches are still lit. They are not extinguished. God has not abandoned us. His Presence, His Real Presence, is still among us.

But God doesn’t just want His Presence to remain here at church, behind golden lock and key. “Our Lord does not come from Heaven every day to stay in a golden ciborium,” St. Thérèse of Lisieux said, “He comes to find another heaven, the heaven of our soul in which He loves to dwell.” Perhaps the reason why God seems so absent from the world today is because we’ve left Him behind at church. We haven’t been the tabernacles that we’re meant to be in the world. Perhaps the reason why the world seems so hopeless, is because we’ve let our lamps go out. Our faith, hope, and love have been extinguished. And people are no longer reminded of God’s presence when they see us. 

There is hardly anything sadder than an empty tabernacle. There is hardly anything sadder than a sanctuary lamp that has gone out. But a soul which no longer contains God’s presence, a soul in which the light of faith, hope, and love have been extinguished, is just as sad. It’s a soul in which it is always Good Friday and never Easter Sunday. Perhaps our souls have become like that. And perhaps that’s the reason why the times we live in are so bad. Perhaps the times are bad because we are the times. That’s what St. Augustine said sixteen hundred years ago: “Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times” (Sermon 30 on the New Testament).

The hope of the gospel, however, is no matter how dark it gets out there, no matter how dark it gets in here, the Lord has not abandoned us. And He never tires of calling us. He’s willing to call us once, twice, and even three times. He’ll even call us more if He has too. He had to for Simon Peter. Jesus first called Simon, son of John, in our gospel today. But he had to call Him three more times at the end of the gospel. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:15-17). Simon Peter betrayed Jesus. But the Lord didn’t give up on him, and He hasn’t given up on us either.

The Lord still calls to us today from the tabernacle. He asks me, He asks you: “Do you love me? Do you love me enough not to leave me here at church? Will you bring me out into the world? Will you proclaim my message? Will you be a bearer of my Presence? Will you bring faith where there is doubt, hope where there is despair, love where there is hatred and indifference?”

May we have the grace this week to hear the Lord’s voice, calling us by name. And may we have the courage to answer: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Amen.