At home in the sanctuary

Published on 11 Jan 2021

Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him and let no word of his fall to the ground [1].  Living in the sanctuary at Shiloh, guarding the Ark of the Covenant, completely dedicated to God’s service, nothing that Samuel did was without spiritual value.  Just as God’s own word always achieves what it intends [2] so the words and deeds of his servants are purposeful and productive.  When Hannah gives thanks for the birth of Samuel she says that the Lord is the God of knowledge and by him actions are weighed [3].  We live under divine scrutiny but we are also invited and enabled to lead a life which is pleasing to our creator.   Such a life is like that of Samuel: it is close to God.  Such dedication is an answer to the question: what to you want? [4] In such proximity, everything favours hearing properly what is being said and being able to obey promptly and thoroughly.  Attention and focus are necessary because God’s commands although clear are not endlessly repeated. The word of the Lord was rare in those days, visions were not widespread [5].  We try to keep close to God, to be listening all the time to what he is saying and applying his word to our own situation.  We allow him to look hard [6] at us.  On our side there is a complementary inspection of the One who calls us.  John stared hard at Jesus and said ‘There is the Lamb of God.’ [7] There is an abundance of revelation and wisdom, but, the divine will sometimes remains mysterious to us.  We do not understand everything. Samuel had as yet no knowledge of the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him [8].  To bring a whole life into conformity with what God wants can take a long time.  The dedication of Samuel by Hannah to a life of service with Eli had such a worthwhile completeness in view.   

To give our whole life to God we must begin somewhere.  Where do you live? [9], we ask Jesus.  He dwells among us.  His mission is to bring us to his Father to live with him forever.  The whole of salvation could be in his answer to where do you live?  His actual response is an invitation: come and see [10].   Like Samuel, those who seek hear what the Lord is going to say are asked place themselves within earshot.  Already approaching the mystery, they first try to see to whom they are drawing near. A lifetime dedication to the sanctuary like that of Samuel is a succession of moments of close attention.  Ever day they come and see who want to know what they are truly seeking and where Christ dwells.  We are searchers.  We are also finders.  Andrew met his brother and said to him ‘We have found the Messiah’.[11]   Our inquiry leads us to the Lord. They went and saw here he lived and stayed with him the rest of that day [12].   Such a day passes quickly.  There is so much that is new and important.  Finding Jesus and seeing where he is delightful.  To stay with the Lord is no casual lingering.  The dedication of a whole life begins with a coming and seeing and proceeds to a remaining. Eli and Samuel teach us to say: speak, Lord, your servant is listening.  We acquire the habit of going on saying this.  In doing so, we are sharing the fidelity of all the prophets.   Down to John the Baptist,  faith, hope and love enable the prophets to look searchingly and to recognise.

The prophetess Anna promptly recognised the child Jesus when he was presented by Mary and Joseph.  She never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer [13].  There is a night-and-day patient listening which is rewarded with insight.  She spoke of the child to all [14].  The words and the joy with which Anna spoke of Jesus were the fruit not only of glimpsing him in the Temple but also of everything else that she did there.   The disciple’s eloquence is rooted in prayer and other elements of the life of faith.   The integrity, which allows prayer and life to be coherent with each other, is a blessing of never leaving the Temple. Simeon and Anna were not surprised that the one they were waiting for turned out to be not obviously a king, a venerable sage or a general but a little child.   Similarly, Eli is unperturbed by God’s decision to communicate to Samuel and not directly to himself.  Eli then understood that it was the Lord who was calling the boy, and he said to Samuel ‘Go and lie down , and if someone calls say “Speak, Lord your servant is listening.”’ [15]

As things turn out, Eli has to listen to a message, transmitted by Samuel, announcing his own impending punishment.  He does so courageously. He knows that he neglected the moral and spiritual education of his sons, Hophni and Phinheas. What was it he told you. Do not hide it from me [16].  Samuel had been afraid to tell the vision to Eli [17].  We can have a similar anxiety about what the import of revelation might be for ourselves and for others.   By allowing our while life to be consecrated to divine service, we open the possibility that for us, as for Samuel, no word might fall to the ground.  For a long time, Eli had been unable to say to his sons what they needed to hear.  A whole world awaits our sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ.  He put a new song into my mouth [18]. The right words are not, in fact, given only to those who have found their home close to the Lord. However, to have taken up such a station is to be steadily open to what is most important.  Samuel went and lay down in his place [19].   To be at home in the sanctuary is to give unselfconscious attention to a word which is being addressed to us all the time. 

We are ourselves a sanctuary in which we can give ourselves to God’s service.  Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit [20].    The kind of complete dedication envisaged by Hannah, Eli and Samuel at Shiloh and by Simeon and Anna in Jerusalem is possible for us wherever we are.   As disciples of Jesus, we are listening all the time for what he might be saying to us.  Speak, Lord, your servant is listening [21].   We have handed ourselves over to the Lord.    We accept the blessings and the constraints of life in the sanctuary that is our self.  We are comfortable in our own skin and in our dedication.   The Spirit helps us to be as prayerful, as morally upright and as God-focused as we need to be.  You are not your own property [22].  We freely choose the way of Christ, but having chosen it, we are alert to certain truths about our nature and purpose.  

Acknowledging that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, we see that we are meant to be dedicated to prayer and not to wrongdoing [23].   You should use your body for the glory of God [24].  We are invited to engage in all our activities as if they were part of our worship.  God is as close to us as was the Ark of the Covenant to Samuel.  His law has made its home in us, as if we were ourselves that ark.  The source of our being allows himself to be contained within us.  My God, I delight in your law in the depth of my heart [25].  The ordinary daily round is a continual attentiveness to our saviour.  You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings but an open ear [26].   John the Baptist recognised that Jesus is the lamb of God who is sacrificed for us.   Christ hands himself over for us and is put to death.  We hand ourselves over to him and are treated much more gently.  We come and see where he lives.  We stay with him for the rest of the day.  We become ourselves his sanctuary.  Continually, we say to him ‘Speak, Lord.’  We, his servants, are listening.  No word falls to the ground. It is made flesh and remains among us.  God reveals himself to good purpose.  He enables us to tell others what he has shown us.

Homily by Father Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]              1 Samuel 3.19

[2]              Isaiah 55.10-11

[3]              1 Samuel 2.3

[4]              John 1.38

[5]              1 Samuel 3.1

[6]              John 1.42

[7]              John 1.36

[8]              I Samuel 3.7

[9]              1 John 38

[10]            1 John 39

[11]            1 John 41

[12]            1 John 39

[13]            Luke 2.37

[14]            Luke 2.38

[15]            I Samuel 3.8-9

[16]            1 Samuel 3.17

[17]            1Samuel 3.15

[18]            Psalm (39) 40.3

[19]            1 Samuel 3.9

[20]            1 Corinthians 6.19

[21]            1 Samuel 3.10

[22]            1 Corinthians 6.19

[23]            Matthew 21.13

[24]            1 Corinthians 6.20

[25]            Psalm (39) 40.8

[26]            Psalm (39) 40.6