Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 17, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19
Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-9, 10
1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20
John 1:35-42

Last Sunday, the Church invited us to reflect on the sacrament of Baptism as we celebrated the end of the Christmas season with the Baptism of the Lord. This weekend we begin Ordinary Time. The Church offers us these readings for reflection on vocation and service. Vocation and service follow sacramentally from Baptism in the sacraments of Matrimony and Holy Orders as the ordinary means by which Christ offers us His grace. 

The first reading tells a story about the prophet Samuel as a youth. When he was a baby, Samuel was dedicated to God by his mother, and was entrusted to a priest of the Temple, Eli, at the sanctuary of Shiloh. Three times one night Samuel was awakened from sleep by a voice calling to him. He took it to be Eli, but after the third awakening, Eli realized that the Lord was calling and had special plans for the youth. So, Eli instructed Samuel to respond by saying: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. We are not told in this reading from the Lectionary what the Lord said to Samuel … the episode ends with Samuel’s willingness to listen. The author concludes our reading by saying that Samuel listened to God well, for his words were effective.

There is an old joke among priests, deacons, and seminarians that after Vatican II when the Lectionary was being published that whoever compiled the readings from Scripture into the Lectionary certainly never had to preach from it. That was somewhat of the feeling I had when preparing for this Sunday. I noticed that in our first reading from the First Book of Samuel that the Lectionary reading begins with the second part of the third verse and ends with verse nineteen but omits verses eleven through eighteen. I kept noticing this omission when reviewing the reading, so I finally looked at those verses. Verses eleven through eighteen of this chapter share the very first vision that Samuel receives from God after God has called him. In his vision, Samuel learns from God that that Eli’s sons are about to be severely punished for some crimes that they have committed against the Temple. Near the end of these missing verses, we read that Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision. I am guessing these verses were dropped from the reading at today’s Mass because when we hear the vision, the fear Samuel feels starts to overshadow the sense of call and vocation that characterize the first half of the reading.

In the today’s Gospel, John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God in the presence of two of his own disciples. This curious pair follow Jesus who turns and inquires directly of them: What are you looking for? The curiosity that the two are experiencing is not enough for them to arrive at a decision, so Jesus asks them the very direct question, “What are you looking for?” Jesus’ direct question spoken to them will put an end to their curiosity. Either they will decide to answer the question, or they will become indifferent and walk away. They respond, “Where are you staying?” Or in other translations, “Where do you abide?” They are looking to be with Him. Jesus responds, “Come and see.” Jesus calls them. Andrew, one of the two, tells his brother, Simon, that they have found the Messiah, and brings him to Jesus. Jesus looking at Simon renames him Peter, or the Rock.  A new name symbolizes that a person has been transformed.

Fear and indifference are two things that challenge the answering of a call from God. Fear and indifference are enemies of the life of Christian service and they are at the heart of our many problems of today. The Catechism of the Catholic Church categorizes the seven sacraments in three ways: Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist), Sacraments of Healing (Penance and Anointing of the Sick), and Sacraments in Service to Communion (Holy Orders and Matrimony). The Catechism teaches that the Sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony “are directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God.” The Catechism continues, “Through these sacraments those already consecrated by Baptism and Confirmation for the common priesthood of all the faithful can receive particular consecrations. Those who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are consecrated in Christ’s name “to feed the Church by the word and grace of God.” On their part, “Christian spouses are fortified and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and dignity of their state by a special sacrament.” These two sacraments are the ordinary means by which God saves us from indifference and fear and their fruit of isolation.

Indifference and fear prevent us from following through on hearing the call, answering the call, and persevering through the answer to the call from God. In a more particular way, some men and women run from marriage because of the fear of fidelity, the fear of a permanent commitment, and the fear of the sacrifices needed to raise children — and avoid marriage altogether and settle for cohabitation indifferent to commitment to each other. The result of such a disposition is indifference to the needs of others, selfishness, and ultimately isolation — the very thing that is plaguing us the most during this pandemic. 

Likewise, some men are afraid of the call to serve God as a Catholic priest — and so spend their lives running away from the possibility of a priestly vocation because they consider it only as a curiosity, and apart from the intimate presence of Christ who leads us in service to Communion through obedience and love even to the point of death on a cross. They refuse to answer the question of Jesus put to the two disciples: “What are you looking for?” By extension, a similar reflection can be offered about the subjective dispositions that some women feel about a vocation to religious life as a sister. Curiosity does not suffice for discipleship or transformation, in fact, one does not need to study the lives of cats to discover what curiosity can lead us to.

There are several common elements in our two readings from 1 Samuel and the Gospel. In each, there is a call, and the person called gets help in hearing the call: Eli helps Samuel, John the Baptist helps Andrew, Andrew helps Peter. In each, there is a change in the person called: Samuel becomes a prophet, Andrew becomes a disciple, Peter becomes a new person. In each, the person called must decide either to trust God and to pass through fears or to remain indifferent. No doubt, this pattern is reflected in so many of our lives and in the lives of our young adults. Each of us has been called, and someone somewhere has helped us to hear that call when we have shared it with them. But for any transformation to occur, we must be willing to come and see where the Lord is and to stay with Him.

Each of us has been called; we each have a vocation through Baptism. Each of us has been given a specific role in building God’s Kingdom, and that mission is revealed to us in the events we face daily, but it is God who does the revealing through Christ. He speaks to us through the challenges we face, in the opportunities to reach out to others, in people who pass through our lives needing attention, in times we are called to reach beyond ourselves and our own private interests and projects and the problems they bring. When we respond to Him in these concrete events by trusting Him and taking a risk through selflessness and generosity, when we act with the mercy and charity of Christ to our neighbor, then we too will be transformed and be saved from our isolation caused by indifference and aggravated by fear.

If you are isolated, I ask you with Jesus, “What are you looking for?” If you are isolated, I discern with you the question of Jesus, “What is your heart seeking?” If you are isolated, I ask Jesus with you, “Where are you staying, Lord?   If you are isolated, I answer the question of Jesus with you, “We want to stay with you.” Jesus does not give a program, a website, a podcast, or ask for a donation. He gives Himself present in our neighbor as an answer to our fears and indifference. He shares that ability to give of ourselves when He says, “Come and See.” He asks us to be docile like Him and to be attentive to others that we each might say on our own accord and in communion with each other the words of today’s psalm, “Here, I am Lord, I come to do your will.”

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