Vocation: The Call is Lifelong – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Luke 5:1-11

There are two ways we can hear this Gospel account appointed for today: This is a two-thousand year-old story about Simon Peter, James, and John who fished by trade on a lake in Palestine. This is history – rather patchy history – about how Jesus began assembling his inner ring of 12 apostles in the northern region of Galilee.

or:This Gospel story is autobiographical. Like Peter, James, and John, we each have been summoned by Jesus. Jesus has caught our attention, and we have followed him. This story gets us in touch with our ownstory. It’s part of the backdrop of why we’re here today.

Is this Gospel story about them, or is it about us, about you?  The answer is “yes.” 

On the one hand, we’re introduced to Peter, James, and John, who continue to figure into Jesus’ life and story. These three leave everything to follow Jesus. Sort of everything. Peter is married, and he doesn’t leave his wife. None of the three leaves his ego behind. That will become obvious. All three of these men are shown to have very mixed motives for following Jesus. Complicated. Sometimes quite duplicitious. Tradition has it that all three ultimately and willingly accept martyrdom for being followers of Jesus… but we’re a long ways from that when we first meet them here in their boats.

We also don’t know the back story. Clearly these three – Peter, James, and John – were searching in life for more than fish. They were fishing for meaning in life. They were fishing for a way, or a place, or a person to whom to belong. They were fishing for hope. They were fishing for forgiveness. We don’t know their stories: their families of origin, their education, their health, their habits of heart, their successes and failures in life, whether they had an active religious practice, or whether they were “lapsed” Jews, or whether they even “did” religion at all. We don’t know. But they had life stories as real, as wonderful, and as complicated as you and I do. It’s safe to say Jesus’ calling the three of them, and their each “leaving everything” – well, mostly everything… except their own personal baggage – did not happen in a vacuum. There’s a back story to this Gospel story, and we don’t know it. What do we do about the back story that’s missing?

Ignatius of Loyola, the fifteenth-century founder of the Jesuits, developed a series of “Spiritual Exercises” to help people deepen their relationship with God.[i]  This is a fascinating way to experience the Gospel in a very alive, personal, revelatory way. Pray the “back story” of this story. Ignatius would say:

  1. Ask God to touch you through this passage of Scripture, to speak to you today.
  2. Do some homework. Read this passage slowly and carefully several times. Let the details of the story emerge. Let the questions and insights occur as you notice more with each reading.
  3. And then, this is what is fascinating: Let the drama slowly unfold in your imagination. Let what happens, happen. Don’t control the story. Let yourself experience what happens.  Do not moralize by trying to glean lessons from the story, or attempt to wring teachings or clever applications from it. Simply allow yourself to be affected by the words and actions of the story. Picture yourselfin this Gospel scene. Where are you in this story? 
  4. In this Gospel story, Jesus is speaking to Peter, and to James, and to John… and to you. What is your conversation? What do you hear? What do yousay? What do youdo? That is your prayer. The otherwise-unknown “back story” of this Gospel passage will fill in with your life story. 

This is a fascinating and illuminating way to pray, to meet Jesus today through the doorway of the Gospels. The “back story” becomes alive with your life story.

And this is not just a story that comes from your own life history. This is not just a story about why you went to church when you were 8 years old, or 28 years old, nor just about why you dreamed about becoming a certain person, nor just about why you majored in whatever in college, nor just about why you pursued that first job… and second job… and third job, nor just why you married or partnered with a certain person. All of that, and more, forms your life story, but this isn’t just history. Our life vocation – “vocation,” from the Latin, vocaremeaning “calling” – continues all our lives. Jesus keeps calling us daily to co-operate with him.

I’m not denying that our individual vocations include very significant personal relationships, nor am I denying that our individual vocations are about what we do or have done for a living, nor am I denying that our individual vocations include avocational interests and hobbies that mean the world to us. All of that and more comes under the banner of our individual vocations: to whom and to what we have been attracted and committed in our life history.

But there’s another element about vocation, about our calling, that is very much now. Given all the givens in our life, what is Jesus’ call for us now?  When we are younger, our vocation – our calling – is more about what we are todo. When we are older, our vocation – our calling – is more about what we are tobe, given the givens. Matthew Kelty, the Trappist monk and sometime Abbot of Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky, said that “the vocation of a monk is to be real.”[ii]That rings very true to me: true to life. The vocation of everyoneis to be real. And it’s to be real now. What are you being called to be, now? I’m speaking here about vocation as invocation: of God’s breaking through to you, coming to you, calling you now.[iii]What are you to be?  You will know the answer by uncovering or discovering the truth that is within you. What are you to be, now? The clues probably come from your own early life.

I’ll tell you a little story from my own life. The single, greatest, most formative influence on my own life came from my paternal Grandmother. If you ask me what I learned from her, I could speak for a long time, in between smiles and tears of gratitude, about somuch I learned from her. Anything particularly special, you might ask? And I would answer, “kindness.” Be kind. My beloved Grandmother, who lived on a modest income, in a tiny stucco house, an immigrant with an 8th-grade education, had suchpower, and authority, and formative influence on me and on so many others because she was so kind. I learned kindness from her. You would rightly ask me: So, are you kind? And I would answer, “yes.” “Yes, I am kind… except when I am not.”  Momentarily we will have opportunity to make our confession of sin… which I need because of my own lapses, which are sometimes egregious. I am clear, though, that I am to be kind. That’s my vocation, that’s my calling now. What about you? What are you to be, now? What is your vocation? What is your calling to be, now. From where, or from whom, did you learn this. What is yourback story?

Your vocation, your calling in life, what you are to be now, will come out of your greatest strength and your greatest need. Jesus, after all, calls us to follow him. He doesn’t point us on the road to independence to figure it out. He calls us to follow him. And to follow Jesus will be a melding of our strengths and our needs. We have to have enough clarity and strength to say to Jesus: “Yes, I will follow you.” We need enough weakness to remind us we that we mustkeep following him or we will otherwise get lost. Jesus is the Savior we need. What about you? What are you to be, now? What is your vocation? What is your calling to be, now? Claim you vocation for now. You must. And you must have Jesus’ help.

In the Canon of Holy Scripture, we have four Gospels, four versions of encounter with Jesus: The Gospel according to Matthew, then there’s the Gospel according to Mark, and to Luke, and to John. There was, of course, also the Gospel according to the Samaritan woman and to any number of lepers, the Gospel according to Mary Magdalene, according to Peter, according to merchants and shepherds, according to Elizabeth and Simeon and so many others. So many unwritten Gospels about personal encounters with Jesus. The version of the Gospel which probably has greatest authority for you is the Gospel according to You. What has been revealed to you, what has proven inviting and necessary for you? What is essence of Jesus’ work and words embodied within you? That is soimportant for you to hear, remember, and claim. It’s your vocation. It’s why you are still alive, today.

There is an ancient Hasidic wisdom about a Rabbi Zusya. When he was an old man, he said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ Rather, they will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”[iv]Vocation is about accepting our true self, and it is like none other. Our vocation is our calling. You have the truth within you. Listen. Listen. Listen.  What do you hear?

[i]Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), a Spaniard and founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), was born into nobility, had vain longings for chivalry and a heroic life, became an officer in the Spanish army, was wounded in battle… which became the portal for God’s breakthrough in his life.  He developed a series of “Spiritual Exercises,” a compilation of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practices to help people deepen their relationship with God.

[ii]Matthew Kelty, OCSO (1915-2011).

[iii]“Invocation,” from the Latin, invocare: “to call upon, invoke, appeal to.”

[iv]Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters (1975), p. 251.

Support SSJE

Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.

Click here to Donate


  1. Rebecca Taylor on January 30, 2024 at 10:43

    Brother Curtis, I am frequently amazed at your ability to echo my heart, and even better, to expand, explain, and clarify what I struggle to put into words. I thank God for your dedication, your honesty, and your amazing gifts.

  2. Randy LaRosa on January 30, 2024 at 09:50

    Thank you very much Brother Curtis for your bringing this Gospel home.

  3. Gail Marie Warner on January 30, 2024 at 09:24

    I am grateful that I took the time to read and listen to your inspirational words this morning. It is very timely and resonated through me as I thought back to my life story, “The Gospel of Gail”. As a member of Daughters of the King I will be sharing this with my group of women as a small retreat to “LISTEN” to the voice of Our Lord, and the truth within us so that we may better serve HIM. Thank You.

  4. Carney Ivy on January 30, 2024 at 06:39

    Dear Brother Curtis,
    Thank you for this beautiful sermon. Your words, your kindness and your humility have such a centering effect on me that I find myself strengthened to face another day in a more positive manner. You are truly gifted.
    Again, thank you.

  5. Bobbi on February 21, 2023 at 11:51

    Br. Curtis, I continue to pray on your words. Your grandmother taught you about kindness; my mother taught me about hope. Today I would say, “I am hopeful…except when I am not.”

  6. Sue Davis on February 15, 2023 at 10:18

    Thank you so much. Every blessing to the brothers at SSJE for their insight and the way in which they enlighten and inspire. I am thankful that I am able to access your daily wisdom here in rural England.
    Brother Curtis has such gifts of clarity and communication and I needed to hear the message of being as well as doing. It was a privilege to share this with some of my fellow Christians – just beautiful.

  7. Jeff Lowry on February 13, 2023 at 21:20

    Thank you, Br. Curtis, for another wonderful sermon/homily. So much ” grist for the mill”,
    as they used to say in my counselor education
    program. What is to be my vocation – a counselor,
    a priest, a monk? captivated my 20s and 30s.
    I now find myself in the second half of life, married, living in AL ( having grown up on the other side of
    The Mississippi in Des Moines), retired from work
    in acillary Healthcare and an ordained Presbyterian elder.

    I knew of Ignation long retreats through a
    Quiet Day t30 years ago. However it was not until a couple of years ago and the Advent of phone apps that I learned of the Daily exercises and the Ignation method of reading the Scriptures. Wow, what a help they have been!

  8. Maida on February 23, 2020 at 23:08

    Oh sweet Brother Curtis,

    I just listened to this and am in tears at the poignancy-

    Thank you so much for helping us always – and most especially for your KINDNESS!!!!❤️

  9. Bobbi on February 6, 2020 at 10:07

    Kindness, one of the fruits of the spirit. God is calling me to gentleness. Yes, I am gentle except when I am not. Thank you that phrase that offers hope in answering God’s call.

  10. Nan Holcomb on February 5, 2020 at 17:04

    Thank you, Brother Curtis. Reading this, and praying over the gospel reading, was a blessing in my life today. After centering my life around choral and solo music, primarily in the Roman Catholic tradition, but also as an Episcopalian, I find that I no longer have the ear or the skill to continue. So at 71, I’m searching for my new vocation, but am finding it very hard to get myself out of the way so I can listen. Your reflection was just the encouragement to step back and LISTEN for what God and I can do with the rest of my time here.

    • Gary Freeman on February 6, 2020 at 09:41

      Nan, I’m a singer, too, and understand your plight. At 69 I just don’t have the abilities, the ease or the agility I used to have; and my director is always reminding me to watch my wobble. It’s heart breaking, in a way, and singing was what brought me to God, or to church anyway. Yet I feel that our love of the Lord, our “vocation,” and our mission to follow Christ doesn’t depend on our own talents–I don’t think our true vocation is something that falters as we age. My years of singing were a joy for me and gave me and others much pleasure. But this holy sermon by Br. Curtis has shown me that our vocation isn’t something we earn or acquire by rehearsal and practice (although an argument certainly can be made for “practicing kindness”), it’s a blessing or virtue that fills us with the need to be Christ-like. Perhaps our singing voices are just outgrowths of our need to be with God, to praise him and to help others do so, too. I never really thought that my voice was my vocation; perhaps I could have. I’ve been searching for my vocation/mission for years (and taking an educational course to help). I’m always asking God for answers, and often finding them in the oddest places and times. So I, too, need to step back and continue listening for God’s voice.

      Don’t give up singing, Nan. Perhaps you should limit solos but sing in a group where you can still feel the joy of the music, but you don’t have to worry so much about your limitations. I think that’s the direction I’m going. Best, Gary

      • Nan Holcomb on February 6, 2020 at 22:43

        Hello Gary, and thanks for your response. I still sing in the congregation, and I pick out the alto part when the organist/choir director is not using alternate harmonization. And I love it. It’s an esp joy when he drops out on the final verse and the entire last verse is in 4 parts, both by the congregation and by the choir. As I told one of my singing friends, I can still tell when YOU are not on pitch, but my ears are just not good enough to let me hear the center of the pitch when I am singing. But I do still sing! It’s just no longer my main ministry. All the best to you too, Gary!

  11. James Rowland on February 5, 2020 at 08:45

    Thank you Br. Curtis. There is so much to think about in your words. To follow Jesus: “melding our strengths and our needs” resonates loudly at this time of my life. And you say, it’s important to Be as well as Do. I find it terrifically ironic that my early religious life as an “evangelical “ and the problems of believing in a certain kind of “Jesus” that turned me off to all Christianity now finds me a member of a Fellowship which has the name “Evangelist” and a ministry in which I will carry Jesus to others in the Bread and Wine ( Eucharistic Visitor). Who would have thought?
    I will be reading your sermon as a constant signpost for the future.

  12. Richard Dixon on February 5, 2020 at 07:15

    Thank you Brother Curtis, this spoke so clearly to me, and I needed to hear it.
    Thank you.

Leave a Comment