3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

     Last week we had our youth room open for our high school students to come, hang out, do homework, etc. I found myself sitting in the room when one of the students came up and asked if I could help her with her Latin homework. It’s been a little while since I’ve done Latin, but back in the day I was pretty proficient. So, there I am staring at her worksheet for five minutes and I can’t figure it out and it is driving me nuts. It can’t be that hard, I’ve translated Augustine and medieval philosophers how hard can high school Latin actually be. After staring at the worksheet for what seemed like forever, it finally hit me, go back to the basics. Go back to what you learned in 7th grade. So, I looked at the worksheet again, and I realized it was simple. It was only conjugating verbs and declining nouns. So, then I said to the student, let’s make a chart of all of our declension and conjugation endings and immediately it clicked.

     Go back to the basics. So often going back to the basics allows us to figure everything out. I think the problem is sometimes we get so lost in things that the basics get left behind. This is the problem with sports. I hate to be so negative, but this is why the Billikens aren’t going to make the tournament this year; they can’t even make a free throw. Go back to the basics.

     Fortunately for us, as we start a new year, our readings today invite us to do just that. To go back to the very basic tenants of our life. You see, last Sunday our readings challenged us to ask ourselves, who am I. Last Sunday, we were encouraged to start a new year by rooting our identity not in what we do, but in who we are. Today, our gospel invites us to take the next logical step and ask ourselves, what is the purpose of our lives. Once we understand who we are and why we are here, everything else begins to fall into place. Today’s Gospel, then invites us to go back to the basics and to recognize that God is calling each and every one of us. He is calling us to be the people that He has created us to be.

     You see, if you stop and ask God to reveal to you who He wants you to be you will always hear the same invitation that we heard in today’s gospel; come follow me. I think sometimes when we ask God what He wants from us, we think we are going to get a complex answer where all of our problems will be figured out, but the response is always, the same; come, follow me. Sure, we want God to lay those plans out, but none of those plans make sense if we are not willing to actually follow Him.

     Can you imagine how things would have turned out for St. Peter if Jesus told him everything that was going to happen to him in his life? If instead of simply inviting Peter to come out of the boat and follow Him, Jesus told him, well you are going to follow me around with no house for three years, when I’m about to die you are going to deny me three times, and then when I do die and rise, I am going to make you the one responsible for spreading my mission throughout the whole world. O and by the way, when this is all you complete, you are going to die on a cross upside down. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think Peter is going to leave his fishing business for that. It wouldn’t have made sense to him. The same is true in our own lives. God has a plan and we have to trust that He knows what is best for us and that this plan extends through our entire life. But are we humble enough to acknowledge that perhaps it doesn’t make logical sense for God to reveal His entire plan for us in one fell swoop?

     No, God calls us to discipleship over time. He invites us with that simple invitation, come follow me and when we think we are following Him, He extends the invitation even further until we get to a point where we too can lay down our life in service to God. When is the last time you heard that calling? He is calling us each and every day. Sure, when we think about this calling of Jesus Christ, I think we sometimes think about it in the broader bigger picture. This idea that God has called me to marriage or the priesthood or something big and that is true and important and young people need to spend a significant amount of time asking God where that calling is. But underpinning all of that, day in and day out He calls each of us to love Him and to serve Him in a particular way. Today, Jesus is inviting us to follow Him. Tomorrow Jesus will invite us to follow Him. Five years from now Jesus will invite us to follow Him. Twenty years from now Jesus will invite us to follow Him. What that looks like, God only knows.

     You see, those first apostles had their own lives, but when Jesus called, they were willing to drop everything and immediately follow after Him. If we are going to go back to the basics, I think all of us need to ask ourselves if we are willing to drop everything and follow Him. So, the next logical question is; what are those things in our lives that we need to leave behind so that we can actually follow Jesus Christ with an undivided heart? When Jesus calls us, do we come up with an excuse or do we acknowledge how Jesus is calling us and follow?

     When we stop and ask God how He wants us to follow Him, we begin to recognize that “God asks everything of us, yet at the same time he offers everything to us.”[1] After all, “Christianity is not a religion of fear but of trust and of love for the Father who loves us.”[2] When we take seriously that invitation to follow Christ as His disciple we can never think that we are alone in the world. To follow Jesus means to live like Him, to love like Him, and sometime even to suffer like Him. God wants us to spread His message of peace and love to the world, but He needs us to go about proclaiming the kingdom of heaven through the way we live our lives.

     God wants to reach out to our world, but He wants to use us to do so. He needs our hands and our feet, but ultimately, He needs our abandonment to His will. “Jesus always has victory when he has your abandonment. He needs nothing more than that to bring about the Divine wonders that His heart has prepared for you from all eternity.”[3]

     My friends, at the heart of going back to the basics is the call to recognize who we truly are, to see our gifts and talents, and then to recognize the mission that God has given us before asking ourselves how we can daily live it out, how we can daily bring that kingdom of God to earth. God has blessed in countless ways; do we hold on to those blessings for ourselves or are we willing to ask Jesus everyday where He is calling us and how He wants to use us? Are we willing to be like St. Peter in today’s gospel and leave everything behind? I guess the question for this week then is what are those things that we won’t leave behind?

 

[1] Pope Francis. Evangelii Gaudium. Washington DC: USCCB. (2014) pg. 7.

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Prayer. Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor (2013) pg. 201.

[3] Fr. Jean CJ D’Elbee.. I Believe in Love. Manchester: Sophia Institute Press. (2001.) Pg. 89.

 

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