Responding to Christ’s Call to become Intentional Disciples, Third Sunday (A), January 26, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St .Bernadette Parish, Fall River MA
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
January 26, 2014
Is 8:23-9:3, Ps 27, 1Cor 1:10-13.17, Mt 4:12-23

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The written text that guided the homily is as follows: 

Today’s Gospel is profoundly rich with interconnected pieces. Let’s look at the pieces, their connections, and how they apply to us today.

The Light in the Darkness

St. Matthew tells us that Jesus left his native Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Napthali. The reason he did so was not just that his fellow Nazarenes had tried to kill him by tossing him off the cliff on which Nazareth had been built, but to fulfill a prophecy, the prophecy that Isaiah announced 700 years before in our first reading: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

Jesus, the Light of the World, came to bring those in darkness, those who were disparaged, those who were suffering, those who were in sin, on a pilgrimage out of darkness and into the light. It wasn’t enough for them to see the light. He was going to help them walk in the light, to live in the light. That’s why, as St. Matthew recounts for us, his first words were “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is another way of saying, “Leave the Darkness. Come, believe in, and live in, the Light!”

The Personal Call to Leave the Darkness and Enter the Light

Then Jesus made that pilgrimage from darkness into light even more specific. He saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, fishing. He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Even though St. Peter’s first words to the Lord, recounted in St. Luke’s version of this encounter, were “Depart from me, O Lord, because I am a sinful man,” even though he was a man who was living in darkness, Christ called him. And he left the darkness behind, he left his boats, he left his catch, he left everything immediately and followed Christ. As did his brother Andrew. As did James and John moments after. Such was the power of Christ, of his personality, of the way he radiated the luminous presence of God, that ordinary, hard-working men would leave everything on an instant to follow him.

This whole drama of the call from darkness into light is memorably depicted in one of the most famous paintings ever made, the great Italian Caravaggio’s “Call of St. Matthew,” the evangelist who gave us today’s Gospel passage. In this artistic masterpiece, the Lord is shown entering the room where Matthew is counting all the money he had gained for the Romans and himself throughout shaking down his fellow Jews. As Jesus enters, he points at Matthew, with his index finger extended in an identical way to the manner in which God’s finger was extended in Michelangelo’s famous fresco on the vault of the Sistine Chapel when he was forming Adam. The symbolism is unmistakable: God wants to recreate us anew in his image. Behind Christ, we see a light coming that becomes almost like a laser beam from the Lord’s finger pointing directly Matthew, who at the time was seated in darkness. Matthew in turn points to himself, almost stupefied that the Lord would be calling him. But a little of the light coming from Christ begins to radiate Matthew’s face and eyes. He feels the pull. And he responds, leaving the darkness, his money and everything else behind to follow his Light and Salvation and to live in that redeeming refulgence.

But that was just the beginning for the apostles. We see in the Gospel that they accompany the Lord as he went throughout Galilee, passing on the light of his teaching and curing every disease and sickness, showing others that just as he took them from the darkness of ignorance, suffering and pain into the light of knowledge and health so he wanted to take their souls from the darkness of sin and doubt, the gloom of depression, the pall of grief, into the radiance of a life changing relationship of love with him.

The call that was so personal for Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew is meant to be just as personal for us. The Lord calls each of us by name, he points to you and to me with his dazzling divine digit, and he summons us to follow him into the light so that we, in turn, can become his light, the light of the world, illumining the paths of others to him, and through, with and in Him, to the dazzling house of the eternal Father. Earlier this morning, Pope Francis, speaking to Catholics assembled in St. Peter’s Square, reminded us, “The Lord continues to walk the streets of our daily life calling us to go join Him and to work with Him for God’s Reign, in the ‘Galilee’ of our times.” Each of us, he continued, “must realize that the Lord is watching [us]” and when we “hear Him saying ‘follow me’, [we] must have courage and go with Him.”

Our own personal call to live and walk in the light

It is crucial for each of us to recognize this personal call that Christ makes to us to leave any and all darkness behind and follow him into the light, to live and walk always illumined by him. It’s not enough for us as Christians just to turn the lights on for an hour on Sunday mornings or for a few minutes before we go to bed — and live the rest of our life as if the shades are constantly down. It’s also not enough to let others control the light switch of our life — whether they be our parents, or grandparents, or godparents, or spouses, or even pastors and fellow parishioners. Jesus calls us personally to walk and live with him in the light and maturely and responsibly he wants us to follow him on that pilgrimage out of the cave.

Many Catholics have never made this explicit choice in their life. Many of us were born into Catholic families and baptized almost immediately after our birth. This is one of the great graces of our life, that we were restored to the state of grace through the love and faith of our parents from our earliest days. Likewise, we were taught to pray and instructed in the faith from our infancy, by parents, Catholic schoolteachers, catechists and others. We grew up with regular contact with Jesus in the Mass, even if at the time we barely captured the significance of what was happening. We were trained in how to receive his forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and his very life in Holy Communion. All of these were blessings.

For many cradle Catholics, however, something essential in our Christian formation was missing, something that converts get and something that many Protestants have received: a deep adult sense of a personal call, in which the Catholic faith we have received from our parents, grandparents and godparents becomes our own faith and we make the choice in response to love and follow him with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. Protestant revivals, like those led by the Reverend Billy Graham, focus on an altar call when people make a very public commitment, in front of thousands of others, to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and pledge to love and follow him from that point forward. Converts to Catholicism often do come to adult faith because they have explicitly made the choice to leave another way behind and to follow Christ on the path of light in Catholicism.

But unless cradle Catholics — including those who have come to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of their life — have been in renewal and retreat programs like Cursillo or an excellent Confirmation program or some other new movement in the Church asking them to take a stand for Christ, many never really have made this type of explicit choice in response to a sense of an explicit call by the Lord. They look at their own Catholicism fundamentally as something that they were born into. Just like they were born, for example, as Franco-Americans, or Irish Americans, or Portuguese Americans, so they were born Catholic Americans. They received their Christian values the way they receive an inherent sense of patriotism, but they sometimes wonder that if they had been born in China, India, Iraq, or Israel, whether they would be a Buddhist, or a Hindu, a Muslim or a Jew. They live by their values and, in a sense they believe them, but these values are more “received” than “chosen,” more “inherited” than “personal.” Their Catholicism is more “background” rather than “foreground” in terms of their identity. They live their faith as a series of customs similar to the way we take off our hats and hold our hands on our hearts during the National Anthem or the pledge of allegiance. And as we’ve seen over the last couple of decades, when someone’s faith has never really matured to the point of being personal, then that person’s faith is at risk when the person gets to college or beyond. If one has never really chosen to practice the faith but just practiced because others were doing so, many times they don’t even choose not to practice, but often just “drift” away.

Intentional Disciples

Back in November, I read a very good book by Sherry Weddell entitled Forming Intentional Disciples: the Path to Knowing and Following Jesus. For 17 years, Sherry has been involved with Dominican priests in California trying to help adult Catholics grow in their faith, to see what talents God has given them and how they might use those gifts to further God’s kingdom and find real happiness in their faith. As part of one of her programs, she was interviewing various parish leaders to help them to identify their gifts. She tells the story that once in a large Canadian city she was interviewing a woman who was a president of a large Catholic women’s group and asked, “Could you briefly describe to me your lived relationship with God to this point of your life?” The woman replied, “I don’t have a relationship with God.” When Sherry thought she must have misunderstood the question, she tried to approach the same topic from various other angels, but eventually she realized that even though this woman had been a Catholic her whole life, even though she was active in her parish, even though she was a leader of a Catholic organization, she was telling the truth. She really didn’t have a relationship with the Lord. And Sherry began to discover that there are a great many Catholics who similarly don’t really have a personal relationship with the Lord. They are still at an early, primitive, essentially passive stage of spiritual development.

In one huge recent survey, 40 percent of Catholics said that they don’t even believe in a personal God, a God who enters into personal relationship with us. Rather they view him as a distant Creator or even a “life force” rather than someone who calls them personally by name and died for them personally on the Cross. Many don’t even think that it’s possible to have a personal relationship with God. They are baptized Catholics, many are practicing Catholics who come to Mass, but they’re not really disciples, they’re not really living by faith in Jesus, learning from him, following him into the light. She recognized that if they’re not really disciples of the Lord, then no matter how gifted they are, they will never be able to apostles capable of bringing others to Jesus and his holy light. And if they are not truly disciples, then they’re at much greater risk to wander away from the Church altogether. And so Sherry has made it the goal of her work to try to help Catholics become, what she calls, “intentional disciples,” those who truly make a deliberate and conscious choice to be Catholics, to recognize the great gift of the Lord’s loving invitation and who respond with purpose.

What does it mean to be an intentional disciple? She says it means to act like we see Peter, James, Andrew and John acting in today’s Gospel, acting on Jesus’ personal call and leaving other things behind immediately to respond to God. No one, she says, voluntarily sheds his or her job, home and whole way of life accidentally or unconsciously. What the four first apostles did in leaving their boats behind is what it means to be “intentional.” Of course they didn’t know the full ramifications at the time of what they were doing — no disciple ever does — but they were beginning the journey. It’s the same with us. Intentional discipleship is not accidental or just cultural. It is not just a matter of “following the rules.” It involves making a choice freely to follow Jesus out of darkness into the light, to live by his categories not the world’s, to try to think like him, behave like him, love like him, forgive like him, die like him and live like him.  Have you made that choice yet?

An opportunity to grow in intentional discipleship

One of my main priorities as your pastor is specifically to provoke parishioners, if they haven’t yet, to make a transition from being unintentional Catholics to intentional disciples. This week we are beginning something that is one of the most important ways to become intentional disciples. It’s one of the most important things that has taken place here in the 140 years since Catholics began to worship God in this sacred spot and one of the most crucial if people are going to be worshipping him 140 years from now. We’ll period of 48 hours of Eucharistic adoration that will be occurring between Thursday morning and Saturday morning each and every week. I hope over time that we’ll be able to expand it throughout the entire week every week. But it’s an opportunity for each of us to respond to God’s call to come to follow him to where his light will be burning and seeking to light us on fire. It’s a chance to grow in friendship with him, to receive his counsel for the various challenges we face, to be in his presence, to praise him, to thank him, to beg his forgiveness, to ask for what our loved ones’ need, to ask for what we need. It’s an opportunity for each of us to make a choice, a free, mature choice, to prioritize God, to leave other things behind and come to be with Him who we at least say with our lips is Lord and God. It’s a chance for us to follow the apostles and become not just acquaintances of Jesus, not just groupies, but real disciples.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that already 120 or so parishioners here have freely signed up to come to be with the Lord for an hour. I know that they will be tremendously blessed by the Lord in response and through the way they’re going to grow in faith, I know our whole parish will benefit. But I’m still praying for the other 500 people who come to Mass here on the weekend, that they will sign up, that they will prioritize Jesus in the same way. Jesus asks each of us — just like he asked Peter, James and John in the Garden — to come apart with him to pray, asking, “Could you not stay awake with me an hour in prayer?” May we all make that effort. I’m going to be coming to pray during the graveyard shifts in the middle of the night, which is one of the hardest times to fill. It’s a chance for me to grow in my own deliberate discipleship, reminding me that Jesus is more important than my pillow, that an hour of prayer is more important than an hour of sleep. I’m not pretending that it will be easy. When I get called to anoint the sick in the middle of the night, I sometimes struggle to get back to bed. But it’s a great way for me to grow in faith. I hope all of you will sign up to commit to a time that will work for you, any time during those 48 hours. There are sign-up sheets available in the sacristy in the back of the Church. Please respond to the Lord’s gift of himself by making the mature, intentional choice to come to follow him here to where he awaits us all.

The School of Intentional Discipleship

The greatest way for us to grow in intentional discipleship is for us to learn really how to pray the Mass. The Mass is meant to be a school of intentional discipleship, but it’s also possible just to “attend” the Mass and not really intend what we say and do. Are you here today because you want to be here, because you love the Lord who loved you first, or are you here because someone else has dragged you here, or out of a dry sense of duty, or out of a fear that voluntarily separating yourself from God by choosing not to come to Mass is a choice that sets you up on the path of eternal separation from God? Coming here as an intentional disciple is the first important step. Then we need to mean what we say and do during the Mass. Do we pay attention to what we’re saying “Amen!” or “I believe!” to? Do we really pray the articles of the Creed that we sing together as the great self-description of the foundation on which we’re staking our life? Are we intentionally trying to grow in communion with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit? Do we really believe in the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church that we confess? Do we really pray the prayers of the faithful? Do we really mean our pleas for the Lord to have mercy? Do we truly lift up our hearts to the Lord and wish others the peace of Christ at the sign of peace? Do we believe that we’re not really worthy to receive the Lord, that we’ve greatly sinned through our most grievous fault and that we desperately need him to say the word so that our soul will be healed? When we approach for Holy Communion and the priest or minister says, “The Body of Christ,” do we really believe what we profess in our “Amen,” that this is truly the same Jesus through whom all things were made, the same Jesus who preached, who healed, who forgave, who fed, who suffered, who died, who rose, who ascended, who called the apostles and who is calling me to the same type of commitment to which he called them?

The Lord wants to train us to grow into more and more intentional disciples during the celebration of Mass. It’s here that he calls us each personally. It’s here that he tells us to repent and believe in the Good News, leaving the darkness behind in the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance, to enter into the light of his grace. It’s here that he calls us forward to come personally to receive him and become one with his intentionality, his holy will. To enter into communion with Him is a calling that the apostles received only late in Jesus’ ministry, during the Last Supper, and it’s something that filled them with amazement. It’s something we’ve had the privilege to receive for years, since most of us were eight. When we come up, our “Amen” is meant to be, not a ritual or routine gesture, but a personal response to Jesus, a purposeful yes!, an intentional and total commitment to leave whatever we need to behind in order to obtain this treasure. It is here, in this burst of Eucharistic light, that we are made one with God and through him with others others. It’s here that we’re fortified, individually and together, to go out into a world so marked by darkness with the light and the love with which God wants to fill us.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. We have seen the Lord, who is our Light and our Salvation. Let us ask him for the grace to choose today and every day to abide in that most holy redeeming light and to walk in it, so that together with Jesus illuminating us from the outside, we may go to all the world and help him make other intentional disciples. Amen!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
IS 8:23-9:3

First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun
and the land of Naphtali;
but in the end he has glorified the seaward road,
the land west of the Jordan,
the District of the Gentiles.Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness:
for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 27:1, 4, 13-14

R/ (1a) The Lord is my light and my salvation.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
R/ The Lord is my light and my salvation.
One thing I ask of the LORD;
this I seek:
To dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD
and contemplate his temple.
R/ The Lord is my light and my salvation.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
R/ The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Reading 2
1 COR 1:10-13, 17

I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you agree in what you say,
and that there be no divisions among you,
but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.
For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters,
by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you.
I mean that each of you is saying,
“I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,”
or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,
and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,
so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.

Gospel
MT 4:12-23

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested,
he withdrew to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea,
in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet
might be fulfilled:
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers,
Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew,
casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.
He said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
At once they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along from there and saw two other brothers,
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.
He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father
and followed him.
He went around all of Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness among the people.