The Three Stages of Faith, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), January 15, 2006

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
January 15, 2006
1Sam 3:3-10,19; 1Cor 6:13-15,17-20; Jn 1:35-42

1) In today’s Gospel, we see the drama that happened in the life of Andrew of Bethsaida two thousand years ago. This is the drama that continues to happen in the life of true disciples today.

2) The first stage of the drama occurred when John the Baptist saw Jesus walk by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Two of those who had been following and helping John the Baptist — Andrew, and “another disciple” who very likely was John the Evangelist — were obviously intrigued. As good Jews, they knew the significance of the Paschal Lamb from the Passover rite to free the Jews from slavery in Egypt, which they reenacted each year. When John pointed out Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” they couldn’t help but be curious. So they did what curious people ordinarily do: they tried to find out more. They began to follow Jesus, but they were not talented as early private eyes. Jesus, aware that they were on his tail, turned around and asked them “What are you looking for?” Probably caught off guard, they asked, “Teacher, where are you staying?” Jesus didn’t respond with a direct answer to their small talk. He did not want to meet them at the level of curiosity — or to kill that curiosity when he would have to admit that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). So he responded by trying to bring them from their curiosity to something higher: “Come and see!” He invited them to follow him more closely and to spend time with him.

3) That’s the second stage of faith: to follow Jesus, otherwise known as discipleship. They came and saw his homeless mansion. St. John gives us a very interesting detail (which is one of the reasons why he was probably the other disciple, because it would be hard for him to know it otherwise): “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” Scholars argue that it was probably a Friday when this encounter happened, and once Jews reached about 4:00 pm, the Sabbath would begin and travel would be prohibited. So it’s likely that Andrew and John got to spend a little more than a full day with Jesus, peppering him with questions, answering his questions, laughing, praying, just being with him. Whatever happened over whatever length of time, they were changed. They were no longer curious hangers-on; they were believers.

4) But, because they were believers, they were not content remaining merely at the level of discipleship. Andrew, as soon as the Sabbath was over, quickly moved to the third stage: the apostolate. Once he was able to travel, he ran to find his brother Simon, to announce to him the news any Jew would have longed for centuries to hear: “We have found the Messiah!” They had won the jackpot of jackpots and Andrew could not restrain himself from sharing that news with those he loved. Then he did something more: he brought his brother Simon to meet Jesus, so that Simon could share the same joy. Little did Andrew know what the Lord would do with his brother. Little did he know that Jesus would change his brother’s name to “Cephas” (Peter) meaning “rock,” and later say “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18 ). All Andrew did was bring announce the good news to his brother and bring his brother to Jesus, and Jesus would do the rest.

5) These three stages of faith are meant to occur in the life of every believer. We all begin at a stage of curiosity, when someone else points Jesus out to us. For adults, almost any believer can play the role of John the Baptist, pointing Jesus out to their family members, or colleagues at work, or fellow students. But for most cradle Catholics, that role is played by parents when the child is young. I remember when I was a toddler. My mother would read children’s bible stories to my twin brother and me each night. I was fascinated by the stories of Jesus who could walk on water, feed a crowd of 5000 men and their families with five loaves and two fish, who could cast out the devil, who could raise his friend from the dead, who could rise from the dead himself and go out to heaven. I wanted to know more and more about him. I was curious to the extreme.

6) Then something happened about the time I reached the age of reason. I graduated from the level of fascination the level of a true believer and follower. Jesus turned and asked me, “What are you looking for?,” and I said, “I’m looking for you to forgive my sins and mistakes,” as I prepare for my first Confession. A short time later, he queried again, “What are you looking for?,” and I said, “I’m looking to become one with you in Holy Communion!” He asked anew, “What are you seeking?,” and I replied, “I want you to hear these my prayers!” “What do you want?,” he ask inquired yet again, and I replied, “I just want to grow up to be just like you!” I had become a disciple of Jesus, someone who didn’t just didn’t want to know about him, but wanted to know him personally and to follow him intimately.

7) But my progression in faith didn’t stop there. The next stage, as much as I can recall in retrospect, happened when I was in high school. Like New Bedford High, Lowell High was enormous, with about 4000 students. And there were problems. Some kids started to get in trouble with the law. Others began to smoke pot, or head out to the woods on Friday nights to get plastered. Many started to use fellow students for sexual kicks, and I saw the emotional harm wreaked on both boys and girls. Over 200 of my female classmates alone ended up becoming pregnant and needing to take time off. Other classmates were undergoing great inner turmoil because there parents were getting divorced. All of these situations convinced me how much they needed Jesus in their lives, someone to say, “I have found the Messiah” and try to take them to have the same type of relationship I had with him. It wasn’t always easy. Many of my fellow students didn’t want to hear about Jesus, and I was, at best, awkward as a teenage evangelist. But I tried, by my own personal choices and by taking advantage of any opportunities that presented themselves, to bring Jesus to them and bring them to Jesus. That third stage in the life of faith, apostolate, grew in college and has continued to grow in my life as a priest.

8 ) Jesus wants every one to pass through those three stages. There are many people who remain, even into adulthood, at the level of fascination with Jesus. Even Catholics who have received all the sacraments of initiation can still be at this step on the ladder of faith. They know a lot about Jesus. Jesus is clearly too famous to forget and they can recognize that his claims about heaven and hell and the importance of our choices on earth are too important to dismiss easily. So they follow Jesus at a distance, kind of hedging their bets. They’ll come to Mass as a sort of eternal life insurance policy, just in case it is truly sinful to miss it. They’ll receive holy communion, but not really deeply believe that what looks like a little piece of bread really is, according to Jesus’ own words, his body and blood. They’ll pray, but not really center their lives around a love life with God in prayer. They’ll be good to their neighbor, and support the Church, but more out of a sense of obligation than out of burning love. They haven’t yet put their whole hearts in. They haven’t yet made Jesus the king of all parts of their lives, of their time, of their talents, of their home, of their jobs, of their money, of their mind, heart, soul and strength. To all of these people, some of whom are likely present in this Church this morning, Jesus turns and says full of tenderness, “What are you looking for?” “Come and see.” “I am the way, the truth and the life!” Jesus wants you to be upgraded to the status of true disciples, not just on the outside but on the inside.

9) Discipleship is the second stage. It involves following Jesus not at a distance, but up close. Like with Andrew and John, it means being with Jesus, and following him where he wants to lead us. It means “being all in,” putting our entire future in Jesus’ hands. It means treating him not just as someone or something that’s important in our lives, but as God, the single most important reality of our existence, for whom we’ll sacrifice everything else if necessary. A true disciple of the Lord will live a life of deep prayer, because prayer is where we encounter Christ and discern what he’s asking of us in the day-to-day decisions we face. A true disciple will make Mass the “source and the summit” of his existence, because there’s no greater privilege and gift in the whole world than to receive Christ inside. But as important as this is, it’s not enough. It’s not sufficient to remain at the level of a personal life-changing relationship with Jesus. A true disciple of Jesus will try to love others as Christ as loved us, which means a ready willingness to sacrifice for others as Christ sacrificed for us, to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us, even to die for others just like Christ died for us. That brings us to the third stage in the growth of faith, which is apostolate.

10) Once we recognize the beauty of the life of true discipleship with Jesus, we naturally want to share it with all those we love. Like Andrew, true disciples cannot stop themselves from bursting out to all those around them, “We have won the lottery! We have found the Messiah! We have encountered God and his salvation!” If we love him, we will naturally want to spread love of him to others. We will also want to bring others to him so that they can experience the same joy we have found. Many Christians today think that all that’s really necessary is their own personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. As long as they refrain from sin, as long as they do what they have to do, come to Mass, pray, contribute, they think that’s enough. But people who think this way may not even be at the level of discipleship. The one who truly loves Jesus will love what Jesus loves and want what Jesus wants. And what he wants is the salvation of each person in the whole world. Jesus, of course, could have stayed on earth until the end of time and proclaimed the Gospel himself to every man and woman. But he didn’t. He loved us enough, and trusted us enough, that he wanted us to share in his mission of the salvation of the world. This is the apostolate. In his valedictory address before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples — and that includes YOU — “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to every creature… and know that I am with you always until the end of the world” (Mt 28:18-20). The beautiful statue to the right of the pulpit is of St. Therese Lisieux, the “Little Flower,” who even though she died in a French Carmel at the tender age of 24, is co-patroness of the missions. She was once asked by a struggling young missionary priest in Africa, whom she had adopted as her spiritual brother, why eighteen centuries after Christ’s mandate, there were still so many millions of people who hadn’t heard even the name of Jesus Christ. St. Therese responded with great candor: “Because of the laziness of other Christians.” Too many Christians are not fired up with apostolic zeal to bring Jesus and his Gospel to others. Too many Christians love others so little that they really won’t lift a finger to try to make sure they’re saved.

11) Closer to home, we can ask ourselves why there are so many problems in our city. We’re called the heroin capital of the commonwealth. We’ve had a string of murders. Gang life is growing. No one wants to testify against them because of fear of recrimination. Two of the young boys in our youth choir last night were badly beaten up and mugged on North Front Street, two blocks from here, for four dollars! I could go on about the problems. What’s the solution? In the recent mayoral election, citizens voiced a lot of their proposed fixes. They focused on the mayor, on the police, on various other local means. If we were ask Jesus what his solution is, he would say: “YOU are!” “You are the salt of the earth!,” meant to prevent corruption and decay (Mt 5;13). “You are the light of the world!,” with the mission to illumine those who walk in darkness (Mt 5:14). You are “like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened!” (Mt 13:33). Just a little bit of leaven is enough to raise the whole dough, and therefore, just a few Christians, really living out their faith and bringing it outside of these doors to the real problems confronting our neighborhood, are enough to improve the whole city (with the help of Jesus). Today Jesus turns to all of us and reminds us that if we’re truly his disciples, than we will be his apostles, his salt, his light, his yeast. He sends us to the members of our families, friends and communities who do not know him or are distant from him, to announce the good that Jesus is doing in us and inviting them to come with us to meet him or meet him again. Little did Andrew know when he brought Simon to meet Jesus how much his brother would change the history of the world. Little do we know when we bring others to Christ what he might do with them. All he asks us to do is to bring news of him to others and to bring others to him.

12) Whether out of curiosity or discipleship, we have followed Jesus here today to his house. He turns to us and says, “What are you looking for?” He promises us that if we’re truly seeking him, we will find him, for “whoever seeks, finds” (Mt 7:8 ). And if we’ve truly found him, then at the end of this Christian Sabbath, we will imitate Saint Andrew, by going to find those we love and bring them this great news personified.