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Homilies Ordinary Time

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Well, that’s a challenging instruction for Jesus to give us this morning.  “Go and do likewise.” Those who hear the Gospel must also live it.  Those who do not go and do likewise are like the foolish Galatians in today’s first reading who seem to be abandoning the Gospel and replacing it with all kinds of other rules, including circumcision, that are mere appearances of holiness.  Those of us who would call ourselves disciples of the Lord must do better than that.  We must indeed “go and do likewise.”

We’ve all heard the story of the Good Samaritan umpteen times so it may all too easily go in one ear and out the other.  But we really must hear what Jesus is saying in this parable if we are to get what living the Christian life is all about.  The hero in the story is one that Jesus’ hearers would have expected to be anything but heroic, anything but good.  Indeed, the very name “Samaritan” was synonymous with all things despicable.  So for the Samaritan to come out as the good guy was something that made his hearers stand up and take notice, even to the point of getting under their skin.

Yet it was this person, who was considered to be the scum of the earth, that knew instinctively the right thing to do.  Compassion for others is part of the natural law, something that every person should possess, Christian or not, and for Christians it is certainly foundational to living the Gospel.  Turning one’s back on those in need is reprehensible and any who do that are not hearing what the Gospel is teaching us.

The Gospel is not merely for our edification; it is for our instruction. Those of us who would dare to hear it must be willing to go and do likewise.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Here’s something I want you to remember today, and cling to in your spiritual life: We can’t do anything good in our spiritual lives all by ourselves.  We can’t be perfect disciples all by ourselves.  We can’t bring other people to Jesus all by ourselves.  We can’t overcome sin in our lives all by ourselves.  We can’t speak up for the marginalized or take a stand for life all by ourselves.  We can’t vote for the right candidate all by ourselves.  We can’t raise our children all by ourselves.  We can’t love the other people in our lives as they should be loved all by ourselves.  Take any good thing and put it in that formula: whatever it is, we can’t do it all by ourselves.

And we shouldn’t.  But what we should do is stop doing things that way as if that was ever going to work.

So over the past several Sundays, we have been seeing a lot of one of my favorite characters in the Gospel, and that is Saint Peter.  Just three weeks ago, the Apostles were out in a boat, and Jesus came to them on the water.  Saint Peter asked our Lord to command him to come to him on the water, and he did, and we all know how that went.  Then last week, Jesus was quizzing the Apostles about who people said that he was.  Peter was the one who spoke up and professed that Jesus was the Christ, the coming Anointed One, and Jesus proclaimed Peter the Rock on which he would build the Church.

And here we are today, just a couple of verses later in Matthew’s Gospel, and Peter is in the spotlight again, but this time for a far different reason!  So, for context, it’s important to realize that Saint Peter, like all of the Jews of that time, had a preconceived notion about what the Messiah would be like, and what he would come to do.  The Messiah was to be a great king and military leader, championing the people and overcoming their enemies, giving them political and military peace and safety.  That’s how people thought about the Messiah in those days.  Peter was still clinging to those old notions, and so he could not fathom that Jesus would have to suffer and die.  And so Jesus chastises him for thinking not as God does, but as people do.  It’s a mistake we all make time and again in our spiritual lives.

Peter’s faith journey was like that: up one minute, and down the next.  One minute he’s walking on water, the next he’s drowning; one minute he speaks eloquently of his Lord, and the next he’s the voice of temptation.  So maybe it seems like Saint Peter, flawed as he was, was an inappropriate choice to be the pillar of the Church, the first of the Popes.  But our Lord never makes any mistakes.  He chooses who he chooses for a reason, and I think that’s what we have to spend some time looking at today.

If Peter was unqualified for the position to which he was called – and it certainly seems like that was the case – then we have to expect to feel unqualified for the roles to which we have been called.  Parents often feel that way when they start to raise their first child.  Priests feel that every time they witness something incredible – which is a lot of the time.  We are all unqualified, but God sees more in us, he sees our heart, he sees who he created us to be, and he won’t rest until we’ve fulfilled that potential.  It’s often said that God doesn’t call the qualified, but instead qualifies those he has called.  If that’s true, then Saint Peter is the patron saint of that!

If Peter made some mistakes along his journey of faith and discipleship – and he clearly did – then we have to expect that we will make mistakes in our own faith journey.  One minute we’ll have a glimpse of God and we’ll feel like we could never let him down, then the next minute we’ll fall into sin, maybe a sin we’ve been struggling with for so long, and we’ll feel like God couldn’t possibly still love us.  But he loved Peter all through the good and bad, and he loves us, no matter what.  He pulled Saint Peter out of the stormy waves, and he will reach out and pull us out of our own storms of failure, as often as we cry out to him.

The one thing you can’t fault Saint Peter for is his courage.  Eleven other guys stayed in the boat, but Peter wanted to be where our Lord was: out on the water.  Eleven other guys kept their mouth shut when Jesus asked who they said he was, but Peter did his best to make a profession of faith.  Even what he said in today’s Gospel was probably what the rest were all thinking, but he at least had the guts to say it out loud.  His life wasn’t perfect, his discipleship wasn’t perfect, his faith had a long way to go, but he knew that he couldn’t leave our Lord forever.  Even when he blows it in the hours before Jesus died and denies our Lord three times, he accepts our Lord’s forgiveness and fulfills the role Jesus gave him in last week’s Gospel.

Saint Peter’s story kept being written all throughout the Gospel narrative, and our story isn’t finished yet either.  Our Lord loved Saint Peter and he loves us too.  What we have to do is rely on that love, accept God’s forgiveness, and get out of the boat and go to Jesus.  We have to stop thinking like people do, and start thinking with the mind of Christ.  We have to stop trying to do good things in our lives all by ourselves and start doing them with the grace and power of Christ that can accomplish anything in anyone.

He can make a lousy fisherman the rock on which he would build his Church.  He can do great things in us too.  If we let him.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Friday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This morning’s Gospel passage is the explanation of the parable of the seed and the sower, which we heard on Wednesday morning (and, for that matter, two Sundays ago).  What we quickly find out is that the parable is all about us.  Clearly the ideal is the good soil which produces much fruit, and just as clearly, we don’t want to be the soil on the path or the rocky soil, or even the soil with the thorny growth.  All those soils yield nothing but dead plants, hardly an offering to God or even anything that would be pleasing to us.

When we allow ourselves to have a surface-level relationship with God, one that is not nourished by devotion and worship, when we consider ourselves “spiritual but not religious,” we end up being easy picking for anything in the world that comes our way and would snatch us out of the hands of God.  Just like the seeds that fall on the path.

When we think that we can live our faith without any kind of effort on our part, we end up with a very shallow basis for that faith.  We sometimes latch on to the joy of religion or religious experience, but when it becomes hard work, as any relationship will at some point, well then, we let go of that relationship and have no way to keep growing.  Just like the seeds on the rocky soil.

When we try to live our faith and still be people of the world, we find that the faith gets choked out as our desire for more riches, more things, more prestige – or more whatever – overshadows our desire for strong relationship with God.  We can’t serve two masters, and we soon take the path of least resistance, abandoning the faith for what we think will give us more happiness, at least right now.  And when that fails us, we wither up and have nowhere to turn.  Just like the seeds that grow up with all those thorny plants.

But none of that works for disciples of the Lord.  We have to dig deep and have a faith that goes beyond the surface so that we can really know God.  We have to have a faith that is developed by embracing the hard work of repentance and devotion so that we can continue to go deep into the life of God.  We have to have a faith that is single-minded and not subject to whatever ill-winds and thorns come along; a faith that sustains us in our life of discipleship, in good times and in bad.  We have to be that rich soil which yields not only joy for ourselves, but grace for others.

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Easter Homilies

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus is a perplexing one, to be sure.  But in the light of Easter, we can see that Jesus was proclaiming that God is doing something new.  Not only that, but God wants us all to be part of that new thing.  Addressing Nicodemus, Jesus said that the old ways of worshipping and living were no longer sufficient, and really no longer needed.  God was looking not just for people’s obedience, but also, mostly, for their hearts.

We see those hearts at work in the early Christian community.  The reading from Acts this morning tells us that the believers cared for one another deeply, and were generous in that care.  “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.”  They were even selling their possessions to give to those who were in need.  Nobody felt needy, nobody felt cheated, nobody felt like they were doing more than their share.  People were worshipping not just with their minds, but also with their hearts, and their worshipping didn’t stop when they left the worship place.

So the same has to be true for us, we who have known the Lord for so long.  We have to be willing to give of our hearts, to believe not just when we’re in church, but also when we are out there, living our lives.  That’s especially true now that most of us can’t be in church for worship, but instead have to watch it on Facebook or television.  The pandemic gives us the opportunity, and even the nudge to make our faith the real viral thing.  So we have to trust God to take care of us when we stick our neck out to help someone else.  We have to trust that even when we are doing more than other people are, God will take care of the equity of it all and never be outdone in generosity.  We have to worship not just with our minds but also with our hearts.

Because Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Alleluia!

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Easter Homilies

Easter Thursday

Today’s readings

Can you imagine how the disciples were feeling at this point?  Prior to today’s Gospel selection, the women found the empty tomb, Peter has seen the Lord, and the two disciples had experienced him in the breaking of the bread on the way to Emmaus.  Their minds were most likely reeling with excitement; trying to get a grip on the things he had said to them while he was still with them.  I’m sure they were trying to figure out what all this meant, what they needed to do next.

Maybe that’s why the Lord’s initial words to them are “Peace be with you.” And apparently it didn’t work right away, because they think they’re seeing a ghost. After he eats some fish and speaks to them of the Scriptures, he sends them on mission with the words: “You are witnesses of these things.”  That’s the key message today.

The peace that Jesus gives them is not the absence of conflict.  That they will be witnesses to the fulfillment of the Scriptures will be anything but peaceful for them.  They will have to make sacrifices – sacrifices of their very lives – to witness as Jesus calls them to, but that’s what apostles do.  They are now beginning to understand the significance of what has happened among them, and they must go forward to do what they had been chosen to do.

When we are called upon to make the decision to follow God’s call in our lives, we too will have to sacrifice.  Not our lives, probably, but we will have to sacrifice our own comfort, our control over our own lives, our own point of view, perhaps even our choice of how to live our lives.  But just like the disciples, we must remember what we have been chosen to do, and follow where we are being led.

We are witnesses of these things too, we are called to live and proclaim the Gospel.  May we too receive the peace of Christ that we might focus on our call.

Because Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Jesus tells us some things about discipleship today that, quite honestly, I think might make a person think twice about becoming a disciple.  The first two come right at the beginning of the gospel reading: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  And then, right at the end, he says: “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”  He’s pretty clear: if we’re not willing to do these things, then we cannot be his disciples.

How does that make you feel? Are you willing to literally hate those closest to you for the sake of the Gospel?  Would you take up your cross, knowing what happened to him when he did it, and come after him?  Think of the things that you have that you love: are you willing to renounce them in order to follow Christ?  Today’s Gospel is incredibly challenging, to say the least.  Maybe I should say it’s incredibly unsettling.  We might find ourselves totally willing to be Jesus’ followers, but at what cost?

And that’s the point of the parables he tells.  Who is going to build a building without first calculating how much it would cost to build it to be certain there is adequate funding?  Most of us have probably passed by some commercial buildings that started going up, only to be later abandoned, or that took quite a bit of time to build, possibly because the funding dried up.  So we’re not unfamiliar with the metaphor here.  Or if you were a military leader going into battle, wouldn’t you estimate what the adversary is bringing to the battle to be sure that you can be victorious?  Bringing it down a notch, think of a coach scouting out the other team to see how they play.

In any of these situations, it is absolutely necessary to calculate the cost.  Not to do so would be foolish.  The same is true of discipleship.  There is a cost to discipleship.  Those first disciples, almost without exception, paid for it at the cost of their lives.  Preaching in the name of Jesus was a dangerous thing to do, but they calculated the cost and realized it was worth it, and they did die.  Praise God for their faithfulness to the mission despite the cost; had they not been faithful we might not have the faith.

For us modern disciples, should we choose to follow him, there will be a cost too.  We might not have to pay for it with our lives.  But there will be a cross to bear.  We might have relationships that get in the way.  We might have things that we own that tie us too closely to the world and get in the way of our relationship with Christ. Those will have to go.  That is the cost for us, and today we’re being asked if we are willing to pay it.

So how far do we take this? Do we really have to hate our families? Do we have to sell everything we own? Do we have to take up the cross in such a way that we become doormats for those whose views are different from ours? How much of the cost do we ourselves really need to pay?

We certainly know that Jesus – who loved his mother and father very much – did not mean that we were to alienate ourselves from our families.  But there may be relationships in our lives that are obstacles to the Gospel. Maybe we’d gossip less if we didn’t hang out with people who brought that out of us.  That would certainly help us to be better disciples.  Maybe we’re in friendships or casual relationships that lead us to drink too much, or see the wrong kind of movies, or that draw us away from the healthy relationships we have.  Those relationships have to end if we are to follow Christ more fully. Anything that gets in the way of our relationship with God and our ability to follow him in whatever way he’s called us has to go right now.  Ruthlessly put an end to it now, because otherwise we give up the life to which we are called, the life that is better than even these things that we might enjoy very much.

Today we are being asked to take a stand against abortion.  This is particularly urgent now, especially since our state has enacted laws that support abortion up to the moment of birth.  The way that we protect, or choose not to protect, the most vulnerable among us – the unborn – says a lot about who we are and how we live the Gospel.  We have to be willing to take a stand, no matter the cost, because the cost to our society from the loss of so many souls is just too great.

What can you do?  Our wonderful Reverence for Life Committee is joining with others in our area to observe the 40 Days for Life.  Our parish’s day is October 12th.  We are asking everyone to take one hour to come to the Planned Parenthood facility in Aurora and pray.  Just one hour.  You can make a huge difference and even save a life.  There are blue cards in the pews right now.  We ask that you fill out the top of the card and tear it off, then put it in the collection basket in a few minutes.  One hour and you could save a life.  That’s a great way for us to live the Gospel.

Our Liturgy of the Word today reminds us that following the Gospel on our own terms is not possible. The call to discipleship is one that calls us to step out of our comfort zone, leave behind whatever ties us to the world and separates us from God, and follow our Savior wherever he leads us. So if our only sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom of God is maybe getting out of bed and coming to Church on Sunday, then Jesus is telling us today that’s not enough.  It is a good start, but we have to reflect with wisdom on those things that are getting in the way, because it’s time we gave them up.

As we present our gifts today, God gives us the gift of wisdom.  How we live our lives this week will be the test of the way we’ve put that gift into action.  And don’t forget to drop the top of the blue card in the collection basket.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

At first glance, it all seems so simple, doesn’t it? “Go and do likewise.” Easy enough. But when a command like “go and do likewise” comes at the end of one of Jesus’ parables, we really ought to suspect it’s going to stretch us a little bit, and today is no exception.

So let’s take a step back and look at today’s first reading to get some background for what’s happening in today’s Gospel. Moses is exhorting the people to keep the commandments of God. But which ones? The Ten Commandments? Perhaps. But the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus give the fullness of the Jewish law. There you can read over six hundred laws pertaining to everything from hospitality to the treatment of slaves. I often think the people were overwhelmed when they thought about that many laws. They may even have been fearful that they would have accidentally broken one of those laws in the course of daily life. But Moses is telling them that they don’t have to be reaching to find the laws they need to follow. Those laws aren’t remote or mysterious. They don’t have to cross the sea or search the sky. Because the law they need to follow is very near to them: on their lips and in their heart. They have only to carry it out.

This is almost exactly the same thing Jesus is saying in the Gospel today. The scholar of the law who approaches Jesus today isn’t really seeking further knowledge. Rather, he is showing off and testing Jesus to see what he would say. He wants to know what it takes to inherit eternal life. Which is the right question, but for the wrong reason. In other words, he really isn’t concerned about his salvation – he probably thinks that a scholar of the law like him has that all wrapped up anyway – instead he is trying to trap Jesus and make him look foolish. 

As Jesus often does, he answers the question with a question: “What is written in the law?” The scholar feels on good, solid, comfortable ground with that question, and responds pretty well: Love God with everything that you are, and love your neighbor. Loving God and neighbor is the crux of the Law and the Prophets. So Jesus commends him, and says that if he does this he will live. But the man wants to justify himself a little more, and so he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” And this is the ten-thousand-dollar question of the day.

There are three Greek words used to translate “neighbor.” Two of them deal with what you might think: friends, family, and those living near to a person. For most people, a neighbor meant people living in close proximity. For the Jews, it went a little further, meaning all fellow Jews. But the word that is used in this Gospel reading, the word for “neighbor” that Jesus chose, is very particularly something else, something a little higher. The word for “neighbor” here is almost a verb. It’s not just someone nearby, but instead the dynamic of coming near to another, of approaching and drawing close.

I think we all have an idea in mind when we hear the word “neighbor.” I remember the neighborhood where I grew up, the neighborhood in which my mother continues to live. I had friends who went to school with me, and even to our Church. When we were growing up, we would spend hot summer nights together outside, playing “kick the can” and other kids’ games. Later, we attended our youth group together. Our parents kept an eye not just on their own kids, but on all the kids in the neighborhood. When my sister was little, she used to like to climb trees, and as soon as she did, the neighbor would call to let my mother know so she wouldn’t fall out of the tree and break her neck (she never did, thank God!). When someone had a death in the family, there would be food brought to the house. If there was work to be done, someone would always lend a hand. We were neighbors to each other.

But again, as nice as this picture of “neighbor” is, Jesus is calling us to go deeper. He is asking us to step outside ourselves, and to see a person in need and respond, no matter where that person is, no matter his or her race, color or creed. This is a real challenge in every time and place.  The person in need is always our neighbor. Listen to that statement again, because it’s crucial to what we’re hearing today and I don’t want you to leave this holy place without coming to understand it: the person in need is always, always, always our neighbor.

Before we come down too hard on the priest and the Levite in the story, let’s give them a bit of a break. In telling the story, Jesus doesn’t condemn the priest and the Levite.  They were doing what people in their position would probably do, because they had to be concerned about remaining ritually pure so that they could lead worship. But Jesus says to them that they cannot be so concerned about the finer points of the law that they miss responding to the needs of a neighbor among them.

And we have to hear that too. Because we too can get so caught up in our own laws that we end up as self-righteous as that scholar of the law. We may claim to respect life if we have never been involved in an abortion. And that’s a great start, but respecting life also demands that we care for the poor and needy, that we care for the health of every person, that we honor our elderly brothers and sisters, and that we repent of our racism and refuse to honor stereotypes that are an affront to human dignity. We may claim to honor the sixth commandment if we have never committed adultery. But honoring that commandment also means that we live pure lives and strive always to purify our hearts. It means we don’t take part in off-color jokes and that we refrain from watching television or movies, or visiting internet sites that lead us down the wrong path. We may claim to be thankful for our daily bread when we say grace before meals. But being thankful for our blessings means also that we share them with those who are hungry. Because Jesus is leading us to a deeper reality today, we can no longer get caught up in the self-righteousness that the scholar of the law brings to his encounter with Jesus.

The person in need is always our neighbor. We don’t need to search far and wide to figure out what to do for that person. We have only to see the generous and self-giving response of the Samaritan in today’s Gospel and, as Jesus commands us, to “go and do likewise.” The Law and the Prophets are as near to us as that.

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

The Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Some of us on the Liturgy staff were reflecting in the last couple of weeks that it’s nice to be in Ordinary Time.  The wonderful feast days and solemnities of the year are great, and we love them, but while we take care to celebrate them with festivity, they can take a lot of our energy and leave us with little time to really pray them.  So we look forward to these days of Ordinary Time, and that’s good, because during this time of the year, Holy Mother Church gives us some great tools for living the Christian life of discipleship.  Today’s Gospel is a great example of that.

So Jesus’ ministry is ramping up into full gear. In order to prepare the places he intends to visit, he sends out seventy-two disciples, in pairs, to prepare the way.  They are going to do some of the same things he will do:  curing the sick, healing the broken, and preaching the Kingdom of God, with its call to repentance.  This is the third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary.  They have great success because Jesus prepares them in advance and gives them advice about how to be good disciples.

And we need to pay careful attention to that advice because, as you may have guessed, this story, nice as it is, is not about just those seventy-two.  It is about all of us.  At our baptism, we too have been sent out on mission.  We too are called to bring healing to a broken world, and to proclaim the Kingdom of God.  That Kingdom is here and now, and it is urgent that people come to enter into it. 

We might protest, I think, saying that we’re not ready, not equipped to be evangelizers and preachers and healers. Well, news flash: neither were those seventy-two.  In fact, they came back amazed that they were able to accomplish the mighty deeds they did. And they were able to do those things because Jesus had prepared them in advance.  He gave them several rules for mission, and of them, three really stand out. I think we are supposed to hear and appropriate these things as well.

So the first tool he gives us is the wisdom not to rely on ourselves. Listen to the instructions Jesus gives the seventy-two before they leave: “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals…” Now that all seems pretty impractical to those of us who have to travel in the twenty-first century, doesn’t it?  We need a wallet or purse to carry what we’d need to pay tolls and buy fuel and pay for what we need on the journey, and certainly we’d need a sack to carry identification as well as just basic things we’d need along the way.  I’m a compulsive over-packer, and I like to have all the details of a journey mapped out pretty precisely before I set out, so this advice gives me agita.  Here’s the point, though: If we were able to foresee every possibility and pack for every possible need, we would certainly not need Jesus, would we?  Jesus is telling the seventy-two, and us as well, to stop worrying and start following.  Rely on Jesus because he is trustworthy.  Experience the joy of letting Jesus worry about the small stuff while he is doing big things in us and through us.

The second discipleship tool is to “greet no one along the way.”  That sounds pretty unfriendly, doesn’t it?  We would think he’d want us to greet everyone we can, but that’s not the point here. The point is, along the way, we can easily be derailed from the mission.  Other things can seem to be important, other people can try to get us off track, Satan can make so many other things seem important along the way. The point here is that there is urgency to the mission.  People have to hear that Jesus is Lord and that God loves them now, not later, when it may be too late.  We have to get the show on the road, and the time is now.

The final tool is this: do not move from one house to another, to eat and drink what is set before us.  It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want us to spread the Good News. The discipline Jesus is teaching here is that we have to be focused in our ministry.  Once we have been given the mission, we have to stay with it, and not be blown about like the wind.  Eating and drinking what is set before them meant that if they were given ministry that is difficult, they needed to stay with it, because that’s what was set before them.  We, too, are called to stay with a person or a situation until what God wants to happen happens.  We too have to know that our mission may not be easy, but we have to accept the mission we have.  We are called to accept people and situations as they are and trust God to perfect our efforts.  When it’s time to move on, God will let us know, and we will come to know that time through prayer and discernment.

So we’ve received pretty large task as we come here for worship today.  In just a while, we will be fed on the most excellent Body and Blood of our Lord which will give us strength to tend to the piece of the Kingdom that God has entrusted to us.  We have been instructed with some basic tools for doing the work of God.  If we use these tools and are faithful to the mission, I think we’ll be as overjoyed as were those disciples.  And then, we can rejoice with them that our names are written in heaven.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This morning’s readings give us a sense, I think, of the urgency of repentance and the real need for discipleship. The first reading from the book of Sirach reminds us that God’s patience should not be mistaken for acceptance of our sins. Just because God does not strike us down on the spot for a transgression does not mean that it our transgressions are not offensive to God. In fact, they are incredibly offensive, which is why the price of our sins was so great.

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus encourages us disciples to rid ourselves of everything that serves as an obstacle to living our call. If even some member of our body causes us to sin, we should part with it! That’s an incomprehensible directive, and it serves to illustrate the focus that we disciples have to have.

The Psalmist sings “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.” Amen to that. As we turn up the fire in our spiritual lives as we approach the season of Lent, it would be well for us to remember that our repentance and discipleship are not optional, that they cannot wait for a more opportune time, that we can’t let anything get in the way of our relationship with God. Blessed are we who hope in the Lord!

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The encounter between Jesus and Simon Peter in today’s Gospel reading is a nice story, but I think it goes deeper than that. In this encounter, we see five very important principles of the life of a disciple. So I would like to reflect on these principles because we always need to grow in our discipleship, and conversion is an ongoing thing for all of us.

So let’s dive into these five principles. The first principle of the disciple’s life is that we don’t choose God; God chooses us. Simon Peter didn’t put out an invitation to Jesus to join him in the boat. He probably didn’t even want the company, to be honest. He was washing his nets and cleaning up the boat after a very long, and very unproductive night of fishing. They’d been up all night, they were frustrated, and they probably just wanted to be left alone. But Jesus gets into Simon’s boat without even asking if he can come aboard, sits down, and tells him to put out a short distance from shore so he can teach the people from that boat-pulpit. If we think we are all here today because we chose to be here, chose to be God’s people, then we’ve gotten it all wrong. God chose us to be here, and we might not even know why, but God does, and he will reveal it in his own time.

The second principle of the disciple’s life is that it’s not about what we can do. As I’ve pointed out, Simon and his co-workers had a very unproductive night. And that’s horrible for them because this is their livelihood. They weren’t out for a relaxing night of fishing, they were out for fish to sell at market to feed their families, and they’ve caught nothing. It wasn’t just that they caught very little; we are told that they’ve caught nothing – zero fish, or at least nothing they could sell or eat. And that’s not unusual. Whenever you see Peter and the others fishing in the Gospel, they are always catching nothing when they are on their own. Try it – go through the Gospel and look for those stores, you’ll see. So it might seem strange that Jesus would call fishermen to be his Apostles, but it almost seems like fiduciary misconduct to pick fishermen who were such complete failures at their craft. In fact we are told that the only really qualified guy he chose was Judas Iscariot, and we all know what became of him, don’t we? It’s not about what we can do, how successful we are, what personal gifts we have. God has something special in mind for us, and he can call anyone he wants. And he does.

The third principle follows from the second, and that is that it is always God who does the really great things that we seem to accomplish. For Peter and the others, we see it very simply … Jesus tells them to put out into the deep water, and despite their utter exhaustion and their better judgment, they do so, they lower the nets, and they can hardly bring the huge catch of fish in to land. They are extremely successful, but only because they have relied on God’s grace for their success. If we are serious about our success, either in our business or in our discipleship, then we too have to be ready to give it over to God’s grace. It’s hard because that involves letting go, giving God control, taking the good with the bad, constantly seeking God’s will. But that is our calling, fellow disciples, that’s what we do.

The fourth principle is extremely important for us to get, because this is so insidious. This principle tells us that we are completely unworthy of such grace in the face of how awesome God is. And it’s true, none of us is worthy of the calling we have received. I’m not worthy to be a priest, you may not be worthy to be a parent, perhaps you’re not worthy of the work you’ve been called to do. But God has called us to do all of this anyway. Yes, we’re sinful, and perhaps like Peter we’d like to say “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” or woman. Perhaps like Isaiah in our first reading, we find that we are men or women of unclean lips living among people of unclean lips. Who are we to proclaim the Gospel? Who are we to lead others? Satan throws this kind of thing in our faces all the time: he would love for us to give in to it. Because if we are caught up in our unworthiness, we can never be used to accomplish God’s will. But, unworthy as we are, it’s not about us, it’s about God and what God can do in us, so we have to seek forgiveness, pursue conversion, and then do what God asks of us. We must remember that forgiveness and conversion, like every other gift, is never meant just for us, it’s meant for us to share, and the way that we share that is to do God’s work in whatever way He’s called us to do it.

And the fifth principle is that God always sees better stuff in us than we see in ourselves. Jesus saw past Peter’s inadequacies as a fisherman and saw that he would be really great as an Apostle to bring people to the kingdom. He saw past Isaiah’s vulgarity to know that he would be just the person to speak his word. God knows that our sins do not define who we are; having created us, he alone knows of what we are capable, and he gives us a commission that goes beyond what we think we can do. He asks just one thing of us: “Do not be afraid.” This means we can do anything God calls us to do. Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.

Lent is coming. Lent is a call to conversion, re-conversion, and growth in discipleship. We would do well to remind ourselves yet again this Lent that it is God who chooses us, that it’s not about what we can do, that it’s always God who gives us the grace to do truly great things, that our unworthiness does not define us in the eyes of God, and that God knows of what we are capable and sees great things in us. Maybe Lent can find us putting aside whatever fears keep us from answering God’s call and instead allow ourselves to be truly changed, truly used by God to do great things. Do not be afraid.