The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Jesus uses a very familiar image today to illustrate the significance of following one’s vocation in life.  He talks about a shepherd, which in an agrarian culture like his own, would have immediately made sense to his hearers.  In a suburban place in the modern world, it loses some of its immediacy, but I still think Jesus’ illustration is a good one.

We know basically what a shepherd does, right?  He cares for a flock of sheep.  The shepherd has an important task: he must keep the flock healthy and safe, so that the flock’s owners will be able to get a good price for them at market.  He has to find good grazing grounds so the sheep can be fed, must see that they stay together and get to market, and has to keep them safe from predators.  Jesus makes a distinction between good and bad shepherds: those who actually care for the sheep as opposed to hired hands who don’t really care.  When a predator comes along, the hired hand takes off, leaving the sheep in harm’s way.  But not the good shepherd: that shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Of course, Jesus illustrates this beautifully in his own life, and we’ve seen that in these Easter days.  The sheep are God’s people, the danger is sin and death, the hired hands who didn’t really care about the sheep were the religious leaders of the time, and the Good Shepherd is Jesus, who laid down his life for God’s people in his crucifixion.  That’s what good shepherds do: they give their lives for the flock.
So here’s the take-away: we are all called to be good shepherds.  We all have a flock.  For a priest, that flock is his parish.  For a religious brother or sister, that flock is the community in which they live.  For parents, it’s their families.  You get the idea.  But the important detail is that the task is the same: to save their flock from all danger of the foe.  The foe remains sin and death, brought about by the predator who is the devil.  The vocation of us shepherds is to get the sheep of our flock to heaven, which is a participation in the vocation of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Which means we have to be true to our promises. For priests, that would be preaching the Gospel faithfully, not just telling people what they want to hear, but challenging them to grow in their relationship with Christ.  For parents that means being faithful in their marriages and diligently bringing their children up in the practice of the faith, as they promised at their child’s baptism.
What’s important to know is this: all of our vocations work together.  If we’re all faithful to our promises, God can do his work in us and through us.  For example, when parents faithfully bring their children to Mass, and priests faithfully preach the Gospel, then children can grow up with a relationship with our Lord that will see them through whatever life throws at them, and can bring them one day to their goal of eternal life.
To all of this, there are many distractions, wolves that threaten to scatter and destroy the flock.  But if we are good shepherds, then we can count on the guidance of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to bless our efforts and lead us all to life.

Thursday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I always think it’s interesting that whenever we see Peter and the others doing what they grew up doing – that is, fishing – they are never doing any good at it unless Jesus is around.  Today’s Gospel is no different.  Here Jesus comes along and sits in his boat, and tells Simon to put out the nets for a catch.  I can almost feel him thinking “Put out my nets?  What do you think I’ve been doing all night long?

But when he gives in to his curiosity about Jesus, he is rewarded beyond anything he can possibly imagine.  The catch fills, and more than fills, two boats!  This great abundance foreshadows they way that Jesus will fill their lives and give them purpose beyond anything fishing can do.  Yes, they will be catching people, not fish, and winning hearts for the kingdom, but they will also find their true calling and be fulfilled in ways they could never have imagined.

Of it all, Peter feels unworthy:  “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  We might all feel that way when Jesus fills up our lives and reveals our true calling.  But we will never be truly fulfilled unless we leave everything and follow him.

The Epiphany of the Lord: Journey and Vocation

Today’s readings

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”  This was the question those magi asked after their long and harrowing journey.  They had observed the star at its rising and were proceeding to pay tribute to the newborn king.  They brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  We know the story well enough; we’ve heard it so many times.  But maybe this time, we can make a resolution not to lose sight of this wonderful event in the year to come.

We celebrate Epiphany today, and Epiphany is a revelation, a manifestation of God here among us earthly creatures.  Epiphany is God doing a God-thing so that we will sit up and take notice.  But it takes some awareness to perceive such an Epiphany, such a wonderful event.  We, like the magi, have to ask the question, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”

To answer that question, we well might look toward our manger scenes, or assume we’ll only find him in church or in our prayer books, or in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  And, of course, we will find the Lord there – those are wonderful places to start.  But the event of the Epiphany of the Lord reminds us that God wants to do a God thing in us in all sorts of circumstances.  So now we have to find God at work, at school, in our homes, in our community.

Can we see the Lord in the demanding customer, the needy co-worker, the sulky teenager, the hovering parent, the snippy public servant?  We have to.  We dare not ever miss the opportunity to seek out the newborn King in every situation!  How could we ever turn up our nose at an opportunity for grace?  Why would we ever knowingly miss a situation that could help us grow in holiness?

Finding the Lord is a journey that we all must make, at every stage of our lives.  God wants to do God-things in us all the time, leading us this way and that, helping us to know him in more profound ways and more relevant ways at all the stops and starts of our life-long journey of faith.

For all of us, as we pursue the question of where is Christ in our lives, and as we make the journey with him, we are called also to discern our vocation.  Everyone has a vocation: some as parents, some as single people, some as ordained priests or consecrated religious.  God has a plan for all of our lives, and it is up to us on this Epiphany day, as well as every other day, to continue to seek clarity of that plan and to be certain we are following it as best we can.

Where is the newborn king for us?  Are we ready to make the journey?

The Epiphany of the Lord

Today’s readings

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”  This was the question those magi asked after their long and harrowing journey.  They had observed the star at its rising and were proceeding to pay tribute to the newborn king.  They brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  We know the story well enough; we’ve heard it so many times.  But maybe this time, we can make a resolution not to lose sight of this wonderful event in the year to come.

We celebrate Epiphany today, and Epiphany is a revelation, a manifestation of God here among us earthly creatures.  Epiphany is God doing a God-thing so that we will sit up and take notice.  But it takes some awareness to perceive such an Epiphany, such a wonderful event.  We, like the magi, have to ask the question, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”

The journey of the magi was undoubtedly long and arduous.  T.S. Eliot hints at this in his poem, “Journey of the Magi:”

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.

It is well for us to pay heed to this poem.  Because we too make a journey to the Epiphany of the Lord.  We too are seeking the newborn king.  It is the goal of our lives to be seekers, to find Christ in our world: to meet him in the poor and marginalized, to feed him in the hungry, to minister to his needs as we give of ourselves to others.  Some days, the journey might be joy-filled and glorious, other days it may be long and difficult.

For all of us, as we pursue the question of where is Christ in our lives, and as we make the journey with him, we are called also to discern our vocation.  Everyone has a vocation: some as parents, some as single people, some as ordained priests or consecrated religious.  God has a plan for all of our lives, and it is up to us on this Epiphany day, as well as every other day, to continue to seek clarity of that plan and to be certain we are following it as best we can.

Where is the newborn king for us?  Are we ready to make the journey?

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Saint Paul reminds us today that we are God’s co-workers, God’s field, God’s building.  He is constantly creating and re-creating the world through the work of the Holy Spirit.  He may be planting the seed of something great in us, he may be asking us to water that seed and care for its growth.  Our work in this world is intended to be the hands of God who is still very much at work in our world.  Jealousy and rivalry have no place in this creative act.  With whom are we called to cooperate today?

Tuesday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We know how the interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees affected the Pharisees.  They hated every moment, and sought occasion to put Jesus out of the picture.  But I cannot help but thing that for Jesus, these occasions had to be rather frustrating.  Here are the most educated of the Jews, the people he came to save, and they just were not getting the point.

Jesus’ point is that the Sabbath is not the goal in and of itself. What is important is that God should be glorified in everything that we do, not that we spend time criticizing what others are doing. Perhaps had the Pharisees provided something for the worshippers to eat, those who were hungry would not have had to risk violating the law.

Today’s readings speak to all of us about our true vocation as worshippers. We were made – all of us – to give glory and honor to God. In order to fulfill that vocation, our worship then must be authentic and joyful and a serious priority. We must get all the details right – not the miniscule details crossing every “t” and dotting every “i” – but the details of taking care of one another, and making our worship mean something in our lives.

We were made to worship God in Spirit and truth. We can do that by making every moment, every action of our lives, an occasion of worship. The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. May his lordship in our lives lead us to fulfill our vocation as a worshipping people.

Monday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It seems like just yesterday that John the Baptist was baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River.  Oh wait, it was just yesterday!  But today’s reading fast forwards a bit and takes us to a time after John has been arrested.  John isn’t dead yet, not yet out of the picture, but clearly he is decreasing, as he says in another place, so that Jesus can increase.

And Jesus is certainly increasing.  His ministry is kicking into full swing, and he begins by preaching that the kingdom is at hand – a theme that will continue his whole life long.  And he begins to call his followers.  Simon and Andrew, James and John, two sets of brothers, two groups of fishermen, give up their nets and their boats and their fathers and turn instead to casting nets to catch men and women for God’s kingdom.

As the author of our first reading from the letter to the Hebrews tells us, in times past God spoke in partial and various ways and through prophets – including, actually, John the Baptist.  But now God doesn’t need the prophets anymore.  He is speaking – and acting – directly through his Son Jesus, the heir of all things, the one through whom God created the universe, the refulgence of God’s glory.

You know, even though today is the first day of Ordinary Time, we continue some aspects of Christmas and the Epiphany right up until February second, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  So today’s Gospel fits right in with that.  Today’s Gospel gives us a little more light to see what Jesus is up to.  He calls us all to repentance and to accept the Gospel and the Kingdom of God.  He says to us just as he said to Simon, Andrew, James and John: “Come follow me.”  The year ahead can be an exciting spiritual journey for us.  Who knows what Jesus will do in us to further the kingdom of God?  We just have to answer that wonderful invitation – “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”