The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Jesus uses an image in today’s Gospel that would have been very familiar to his hearers, and with it, he illustrates the significance of following one’s vocation in life. In a basically suburban place in the modern world, this image 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.

At this time, I ask you all to join me in praying together our vocation prayer, which you can find on your worship aid:

Almighty God,

You have given us the gift of life,

and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Deepen within us a desire to do your will.

Help us to hear and answer your call to serve you.

Guide us to the vocation you have chosen for us,

as a loving spouse and parent in the Sacrament of Marriage, as a single person living a life of generous service, or through a special call to serve you in Religious Life or the Priesthood.

May your Holy Spirit keep us always close to your Son Jesus, and help us to say yes to Him

with the gift of our lives. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Easter Friday

Today’s readings

“Come have breakfast.”  These are some of my favorite words of Holy Scripture!  I say that in jest, but I truly think these are significant words in Scripture.  Here Jesus appears to his disciples, and just like the appearance on the way to Emmaus, the disciples recognize him in the breaking of the bread, as he is feeding them.  Jesus’ preferred way to be present to his people is by feeding us in our hunger, and that is truly something to celebrate in these Easter days.

It is always interesting to me that the disciples, who, we are told, were trained fishermen, never catch anything unless they are with Jesus.  Go through the Gospels and you will see that this is true.  Their nets always come up empty until he gives the command to cast the nets.  Then they can hardly bring in the catch because of the sheer number of fish they have caught.  Today’s episode finds the disciples dejected, not sure where to go, ready to return to their former life and their former career.  They had not yet made sense of the whole Jesus event.  Just when they thought things were going well, he is betrayed by one of their own brothers, arrested, killed on a cross.  And now he is appearing to them here and there.  They have no idea what to do so they do what they always used to do … they go fishing.

And it is Jesus once again who not only gives them the fish, but cooks breakfast for them.  They were hungering for wisdom, for some way to make sense of everything they had experienced.  And Jesus provides that by breaking bread with them, and helping them to see that it is only in him that their life makes any sense.  They’re not going to find it in their former work, they’re not going to find it in their pre-conceived notions about the Messiah.  They’re only going to find it by taking up the cross themselves, dying to what has made them feel comfortable, and rising to a freedom that nothing can match.  Then, in their relationship with Jesus, they’ll really be able to go fishing and will produce a catch that no net can contain.

We too, are called to go fishing for the Lord in some way, but we’ll never catch anything if we go off on our own.  Praise God that he is always willing to go fishing with us!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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.”

The Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

Let’s reflect on two things today: the violence and the voice.

First, the violence.  Back on the first Sunday of Advent we read from the book of the prophet Isaiah.  That particular reading was focusing on how bad things had become.  People were cheating one another, especially the poor and the powerless.  Corruption was just kind of accepted as the way things were.  Worst of all, people had become rather callous or indifferent to it all; they were jaded and just accepted that bad was the new good.  I was thinking that the things Isaiah lamented could well be lamented in our own day.  The poor seem to get poorer, and more powerless, especially today as companies fail through the greed of a few, affecting the livelihood of thousands.  Corruption in our government has led to scandal in the highest office in our state.  And worst of all, we’re not surprised by any of it any more.

On that first day of Advent, Isaiah wrapped up his lament of all that nonsense with the frightening words: “Would that you would rend the heavens and come down.”  It’s a pretty violent prayer that he’s praying.  Isaiah is acknowledging that very little is going to attract our attention any more, so the best God can do is to violently tear open the heavens, a kind of barrier between God and us, if you will, and come down.  Only by God’s walking among us and being one of us can things ever be made right.  We need that kind of violent act of God because nothing else has worked.  The flood didn’t work, the wandering in the desert didn’t work, the captivity in Babylon didn’t work.  Maybe those things worked for a while, but we fickle humans soon forgot the lessons we learned in those momentous events.  To get our attention and keep it, something truly earth-shattering, or rather heaven-shattering, had to happen.

Today we celebrate that that’s exactly what happened.  We gather here today on the last day of the Christmas season, during our continued celebration of Epiphany that began last Sunday.  Epiphany means “manifestation:” we celebrate that God appeared among us, was made manifest among us, became one of us.  Last week’s epiphany was the three magi coming to meet the Christ child with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  They worshipped the child who would be king, would be our priest, and would die for our sins.  Today’s epiphany finds Jesus to be an adult, approaching the rivers of the Jordan for baptism.  As he enters those waters of baptism, he isn’t really changed or made holier by those waters.  No, he makes the waters holy by entering them himself.  Through this act, all of the waters of baptism, including the ones that bathed you and me, have been made holy.  And most importantly, that violent act that redeemed us happened: coming up out of the waters, the heavens were torn open – those are the words Mark uses here – “torn open.”  The barrier between God and humanity is sundered now, God has entered human history once again and in a decisive and heaven-shattering event.

Second, the voice.  The voice in our Gospel story continues the epiphany, that voice comes from those heavens which have been torn open.  First, the Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove, and then the voice roars out of those open heavens: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  For that brief moment, we see the entire Holy Trinity together at one moment.  We have Jesus coming up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descending upon him, and the Father’s voice roaring out of the heavens.  The epiphany is complete: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are made manifest at the waters of the Jordan.  God has valued his creation of humanity so much that he appears among us in force, in the completeness of the Trinity, with all of the love that that Holy Trinity gives to us.

Significant here is what the voice says in that moment.  “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  In saying that, the Father confirms the manifestation of his Son in  the world, gives him a Father’s blessing, and empowers his work of redemption.  The words are words of mission – being the Son means that he represents the Father in every act and word.  Now I don’t know about you, but I didn’t hear any voices at my baptism.  At least I don’t think so; I was a baby.

But probably even those who were baptized as adults don’t remember any kind of extra special voice.  But the thing about baptism, is that we’ve all heard that voice at numerous times since, haven’t we?  Whenever we were faced with choices: the easy way out or the way of integrity; the truth or a lie; an opportunity to help someone, or move on; an effort to correct a wrong or turn a blind eye – didn’t we hear an interior voice reminding us who we are by our baptism?  “You are my beloved child with you I am well pleased.”  Didn’t we pray for guidance to make the right choices and strength to follow through on our decisions?

At those decisive and testing moments did we turn to God for help?  Because the violence and the voice should be strong enough hints about God’s love for us to do that.  Or have we ignored the violence and the voice, turned instead toward more selfish motives, and become just as jaded as those Israelites who needed Isaiah to pray that God would rend the heavens and come down?

Jesus’ baptism today is a decisive event.  It meant mission for him: God had the special act of human redemption to accomplish in the person of Jesus.  It meant authority for him: as God’s Son he had the authority of the Father to accomplish what desperately needed to be.  Our own baptisms mean mission and authority too.  We are given a mission of some kind – something specific God wants us to accomplish.  And we have the authority to do that mission by being called sons and daughters of God.  In our own baptism God says to us too: “You are my beloved Son – You are my beloved daughter, and with you I am well pleased.”  The rite of baptism says that explicitly.  After the act of baptism by water, the priest or deacon says, “They are now called children of God.”

And so, on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this Epiphany day, this last day of the Christmas season, we celebrate vocation – the realization that every one of us has a mission as the result of our baptism.  We know that every person has a vocation. Every person is called on by God to do something specific with their life that will bring not only them, but also others around them, to salvation. Parents help to bring their children to salvation by raising them in the faith. Teachers help bring students to salvation by educating them and helping them to develop their God-given talents. Business people bring others to salvation by living lives of integrity and witness to their faith by conducting business fairly and with justice and concern for the needy. The list goes on. Every vocation, every authentic vocation, calls the disciple to do what God created them for, and helps God to bring salvation to the whole world.

And so, to celebrate this week of Vocation Awareness, I invite you to do three things.  First, encourage people to embrace their God-given vocation.  Invite them to consider life as a priest or religious brother or sister.  Parents and grandparents are especially important in helping children know that a religious vocation is a viable option for them.  But everyone can encourage someone they know to embrace the vocation God has given them, whatever that vocation may be.  Second, I invite you to pray for vocations.  Pray for more men to accept the call to priesthood and men and women to accept the call to the religious life.  Pray for those preparing for their vocations: priests and religious in formation, and couples preparing for marriage.  Pray for the faithful living of all holy vocations in the world as a way to build up the kingdom of God.  And third, live your own vocation – whatever it may be – well.  When we do that, we’ll never have to worry about a priest or religious shortage, because if we all live our vocations faithfully and in holiness, then that witness will provide vocations of every kind to build up the Church.

It’s all about the violence, and the voice.  God cared enough for us to rip open those heavens and come down.  And he continues to speak to all of us through our baptisms: “You are my beloved child; with you I am well-pleased.”