Homily of 21 January 2018
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; I Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
Pope Francis loves for his homilies to be done in threes. I have usually tried to do the same. But today four seems to be my number. Four questions to ponder. Four questions requiring a personal and individual answer. Perhaps one or another of them will take pride of place. That is fine. Follow your heart, follow the Spirit. For just like Peter and Andrew, James and John, each one of us, my sisters and brothers, has been called by Jesus. This call was not a one and done situation. It is something that bears reflection. Hence, my four questions. 1) Do you remember when you first heard the call of Jesus? 2) Have you kept that memory alive in your heart? 3) How has the call grown within you? 4) What is the call asking of you today?
First, Do you remember when you first heard the call of Jesus? Think on this. Reflect on this today. The call that truly shaped your life. You knew it was Jesus. For it was not a theoretical experience, but a living encounter with Jesus. You heard Jesus’ call and you said “Yes”; you said, “I will follow you, Lord Jesus. Show me your way.”
But then the second question comes: Have you kept that memory alive in your heart? Pope Francis spoke of the importance of this when he said to thousands of families gathered together on his visit to the Philippines a couple years ago: “Please don’t lose the ability to dream…. How many solutions are found to family problems if we take time to reflect, if we think of a husband or wife, and we dream about the good qualities they have. Don’t ever lose the memory of when you were boyfriend or girlfriend. That is very important.” It is so important for us as well. Unless we continue to cultivate the memory of our encounter with Jesus, we cannot truly respond to that call. That is why constant prayer to Jesus, personal, loving prayer, is so essential to our monastic life and to any life worth living.
And the third question then makes sense: How has the call grown in you? We cannot retrieve the fervor of our initial response to Jesus. We cannot feel with the same feelings. But we can act from the commitment we made at that first encounter, ratified at the time of our life commitment, as a monk, as a married person, as single men and women. If we do this, then we can be surprised by the God of surprises. In speaking to the youth of the Philippines, Pope Francis said so passionately, “Real love is being open to the love that comes to you. The love that surprises us. If you only have information you are not surprised. Love surprises because it opens a dialogue of loving and being loved. God is a God of surprise because He loved us first. God awaits us to surprise us. Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by God…. Don’t be afraid of surprises. They shake the ground beneath our feet and make us insecure, but they move us forward in the right direction.” In listening for the call of Jesus in our lives today, let us allow it to challenge us, to call us to further growth, to call us to a deeper love.
Then we can approach the last question with the right attitude: What is the call asking of you today? Peter and Andrew, James and John, answered their original call by leaving their boats, leaving their families, leaving all that was familiar to them. But that was only the beginning. None of them could have imagined what was in store for them. How each of them would be called to leave even their native Israel and die cruel deaths in foreign lands. When Father Gerard Jonas answered Jesus’ call and became a priest in his home diocese in the Philippines, he never thought he would come to the United States and make solemn vows as a monk in South Carolina. Nor could Father Columba have dreamed he would be asked to go to America and join, of all places, a Trappist community in the Low Country. Even though probably not as radical, Jesus’ call to each of us is always full of surprises. What is he asking of you today? While the answer is personal to each of us, there are ways to discern if we are hearing rightly. The call always brings Joy. Not a surface joy, but a deep down freshness kind of joy. As Pope Francis put it in his letter on Consecrated Life: “We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness.” And second, the call will always lead us out of ourselves. Our focus will be on others. How to help, how to anticipate the needs of one another, how to bring God’s Good News into our world more fully, more passionately.
When did you first hear the call? Have you kept it alive in your hearts? How has the call grown in you? What is this call asking of you today? I urge you to reflect on these questions today, my sisters and brothers. Jesus loves us. Jesus calls us. Not just yesterday. Not just in the past. But his love and his call are alive today. Let us open the ears of our hearts today, and respond: “I will follow you, Lord Jesus. Show me your way.”