Sunday, January 26, 2014

Year A Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isa 8:23 – 9:3; Ps 27; 1Cor 1:10-13. 17; Matt 4:12-23

The readings for this Sunday continue the theme of discipleship that we have been examining the last two Sundays. At the beginning of this new year, with our New Year’s resolutions perhaps fading a bit, such a reflection is very timely.

In simple terms, being a disciple means being a follower. Christian discipleship, as we know from today's Gospel reading, is not something we take upon ourselves. It is our response to Jesus’ call. In Baptism we are called to follow Jesus. And, just as immediately after His own Baptism, with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him, Jesus was revealed to be the Christ, the anointed one, we, too, are anointed in Confirmation and empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out Christ’s mission in and for the world. Though the call to discipleship is unique for each one of us, we can be certain that the call to follow Jesus is a call out of our comfort zone, a call forward into the unknown.

Venturing into the unknown, like a child stepping into a dark room, can be scary. The metaphor of light shining in the darkness, which we encounter in our first reading from Isaiah and quoted again in our Gospel reading, is a way of expressing the disciple’s radical dependence on the Lord as s/he ventures into the unknown, certain only that God is with us and deeply cognizant that the success of the journey does not depend on us, only the decision to undertake it is. Today’s readings help us see that discipleship calls us from certain ways of living and calls us to live in a new way.

As disciples we are called from pettiness and division. We are called from the kind factionalism that, in today’s second reading, threatened the Corinthian community. Paul’s words apply well to us today; we are called from narrow-mindedness and mean-spirited competition. We are called from absolutizing our own interpretation of the Gospel message. As we begin to see, it is "much easier to leave [our] nets than to leave the web of [our] prejudices.” Yet, this is the darkness out of which we are called (Bergant and Fragomeni, Preaching the New Lectionary: Year A, 221).

The new way of living to which Jesus calls us can be summarized as servanthood, or, being of service. Not all of us are called, as were Simon and Andrew, James and John, to leave our occupations and give up our worldly goods to follow Jesus. For most of us our everyday lives of marriage, family, friends, work, and community involvement is where we are called to function as disciples. How well we heed the call to serve God by serving others is the only true measure of holiness and constitutes the only credible evidence that the bread and wine we receive is truly the Body and Blood and Jesus Christ.

It is safe to say that the most recognizable forms of servanthood, or being of service, are the ordained priesthood and consecrated religious life. But we need to know that these vocations are not inherently holier than any other Christian’s calling. Recognizing and responding to the unique call Jesus Christ places on you is the holiest state-of-life to which you can possibly aspire.

One of the ways we serve one another is by generously sharing what we have for the sake of the Gospel. So it is fortuitous and likely not accidental with the call to discipleship so explicitly issued in our readings for today that this weekend marks the beginning of the annual kick-off of the Diocesan Development Drive, or, DDD. The DDD is the primary means of providing operating funds for our diocese. It is how we all pull together, under the leadership of Bishop Wester, to ensure that the needs of the Church in Utah are met.

When it comes to "the Church" we very often tend view it as something external to ourselves (i.e., something we don’t see ourselves as part of). As a result, there is a lot that we take for granted, simply assuming that with no effort or concern on my part, "the Church" will just be there when I need it or want it to be there for me. In the first instance, along with the rest of the baptized, you are “the Church.” As such, along with the rest of your brothers and sisters, you have a responsibility to help make sure that the Church is here, not just for you, but for anyone else in need of our service. While it is very good news that the Church in Utah is growing, growth brings with it a lot of challenges, a lot of needs, both spiritual and material.

As disciples, we know that following Jesus makes demands on us: demands on our time, demands to share our talents and gifts, and demands to give of our treasure, thus storing up treasure in heaven, in the knowledge that where our treasure is that is where are our hearts are (Matt 6:19-21). None of these demands are ends in and of themselves, but they are means to God’s end. They are means of accomplishing God’s purpose in each one of our lives and, through us, not only individually, but precisely together as "Church," the means God uses to accomplish His purpose in and for the world. After all, the three fundamental spiritual disciplines (i.e., means of holiness, ways we cooperate with God’s grace) given to us by our Lord Himself, are prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.

There are many worthwhile endeavors you can financially support. I certainly encourage you to be generous and support as many as you can. But I also urge you to consider that just as you have the responsibility to first take care of the material needs of your own household, when it comes to charitable giving, we are all, laity and clergy alike, "to help to provide for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability" (Compendium of the Catechism par. 432). Bear in mind that one of the five precepts of the Church, which, "guarantee for the faithful the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer, the sacramental life, moral commitment and growth in love of God and neighbor," is our obligation to materially support the Church (par. 432).

One area of discipleship that I cannot ignore today is our call to be at the service of the most vulnerable among us. Among the ways we serve them is by bearing witness to the inherent value and sanctity of each and every human being. As followers of Jesus, we are called not only to combat what Bl. Pope John Paul II called "the culture of death," but to positively foster a "culture of love." Love, as St. Thomas Aquinas succinctly stated, "is profuse," that is, love is life-giving. The new life we receive in and through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, in turn, calls us, as His followers, both to defend and foster life. This past Wednesday, 22 January, marked the forty-first anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in the case of Roe v Wade, which legalized abortion throughout the United States. Each January Catholics in the United States are called upon by our bishops to reaffirm the dignity and value of every human being and to peacefully petition and pray for “the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right of life.” Without the right to life, the relevance of other human rights lose their significance.

As disciples of Jesus we are called to be light in a world of darkness. We are called to witness to unity and peace first and foremost by being unified and peaceful among ourselves. It is a busy time of year and so it also bears noting that this past week was the annual Week of Christian Unity. Let’s be mindful that our unity and peace flow from the Eucharist, which the Church makes and is, in turn, made by. It is the nourishment we derive from this Eucharist, which provision we should never take for granted, that strengthens us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus the Lord, Who leads us "by His passion and Cross," the way of self-emptying love, "to the glory of His resurrection."

This is the 2,700th post here on Καθολικός διάκονος.

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