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20 March 2020

Eli, Samuel and intergenerational communication

In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christus vivit, Pope Francis begins by collecting “some of the richness of the sacred scriptures, since they often speak of young people and of how the Lord draws near to encounter them (CV 5). After speaking about Joseph and Gideon, Francis writes: “Samuel was still a young boy, yet the Lord spoke to him. Thanks to the advice of an adult, he opened his heart to hear God’s call… As a result, he became a great prophet who intervened at critical moments in the history of his country (CV 8). A re-reading of the story of Samuel’s vocation might offer us some paths for dialogue between the generations.

The birth of Samuel

After introducing Samuel’s future family, the first book of Samuel underlines the sterility of Hannah, who will become his mother. She prayed, met the priest Eli, and returned home where she conceived and gave birth to Samuel. After weaning him, she went up to Shiloh, where she left the child: “Now I make him over to Yahweh for the whole of his life. He is made over to Yahweh” (1 Sam 1:28). Now these events take place in a very special context. “In those days it was rare for Yahweh to speak; visions were uncommon” (1 Sam 3:1). This reminds us of our own times. But God has not said his last word. “The lamp of God had not yet gone out” (1 Sam 3:3).

In the middle of the night, God calls

“Samuel was lying in Yahweh’s sanctuary, where the ark of God was, when Yahweh called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ He answered, ‘Here I am’” (1 Sam 3:3-4). From all eternity, God is present in our world and in his Church. His lamp has not been extinguished. It shines in our darkness. The Lord continues to dwell among us (see Ex 25:8). And as he did with the young Samuel, he continues to call the young people of today by their name. Even today, God has not said his last word.

A generous response in need of guidance

“As yet, Samuel had no knowledge of Yahweh and the word of Yahweh had not yet been revealed to him” (1 Sam 3:7). Yet he responded generously: “’Here I am!’ and running to Eli, he said, ‘here I am, as you called me.’ Eli said ‘I did not call. Go back and lie down’” (1 Sam 3:5). And the child went back to bed. This happened three times. It was only after Samuel’s third visit that “Eli then understood that Yahweh was calling the child, and he said to Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if someone calls say ‘Speak, Yahweh; for your servant is listening’” (1 Sam 3:8-9).

Our young people today: generous people in need of guidance

Even now, it is my profound conviction that God continues to call. To this day, those who are is “the word of the Lord” to be recognized? Our young people, however, are answering: “Here I am!” Think about their commitment to ecology, to peace, to a more just world! This is a sign that God’s call will find fertile ground in them. As long as an Eli can teach them to say “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

Listening to God by listening to young people

In Christus vivit, Francis reminds us that the Church “is young when she shows herself capable of constantly returning to her source” (CV 35). Such being the case: “Young people can help keep her young” (CV 37). “Those of us who are no longer young need to find ways of keeping close to the voices and concerns of young people” and “[D]rawing together creates the conditions for the Church to become a place of dialogue and a witness to life-giving fraternity” (CV 38). “Once the Church … listens carefully to the young …. it allows young people to make their own contribution to the community” (CV 65). And if we were to take the risk of being close to young people once again to listen to them and to listen with them!

Learning from Eli and Samuel

The vocation of the young Samuel invites us to overcome our prejudices and to accompany young people so that they may hear the Lord who speaks to them. “Anyone called to be a parent, pastor or guide to young people must have the farsightedness to appreciate the little flame that continues to burn” (CV 67). Journeying together with young people (CV 206), we will discover with them the light of God that is always burning. With them, with our communities and with the whole Church, we will journey in his light.


  • Are we open to God’s action, even among those people we think seem distant from him?
  • Are we convinced that at the heart of the Church of our time, God’s lamp is not yet extinguished? What are the signs of this?
  • Are we attentive to detecting the signs of what God is doing to the young people who are close to us?
  • How can we listen with them?
  • How can we help them to respond generously: “Here I am! Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”?
  • How does my community journey with young people?

Yvan Mathieu, SM

This text is taken from the Winter 2020 issue of the ad vitam webzine “A Communion that Generates Mission”.