07 February 2010

God's Call to our Nation Today

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – 7 February 2010

Readings: Is 6:1-2a, 3-8; Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8; 1 Cor 15:1-11; Lk 5:1-11

The Gospel this Sunday recounts the story of the call of Simon and his partners, the brothers James and John, after a miraculous fish catch. Jesus told Simon (Peter) the iconic words: “from now on you will be catching men” (Lk 5,10).

The same theme of being called by God is found in the other two readings: that of Isaiah in the First Reading and of St. Paul in the Second. There is even a common pattern that runs through all three vocation stories.
1. First, God reveals Himself in an extraordinary experience of grace.
2. This evokes feelings of awe, and also sinfulness and unworthiness, in the one called.
3. Then God gives His assurance and
4. ...the call to mission.
5. Finally, the one called accepts God’s invitation.

The not so enthusiastic initial response to God’s call by Isaiah, Paul and Peter should not come as a surprise. Think about it: how would you feel if you were to be plucked out of your ordinary existence and presented by God Almighty Himself with an opportunity to work with Him closely, intimately, in the great task of building His Kingdom? Imagine the many life changes you have to go through if you would take the offer. Wouldn’t you feel honored and at the same time humbled – maybe even troubled (why me?) – by such an offer?

I know I would; I have gone through a similar experience myself. Same with most priests I know. There comes an inevitable point in seminary formation when we realize we are unworthy of the grace we are seeking. This, I believe, is what being “poor in spirit” means.

It is precisely this spiritual poverty that makes our eyes more open to, our hearts more accepting of, the reality of God’s love happening in many ways in our lives. In turn, this spiritual openness makes people more responsive to God’s call.

The experience is not the exclusive domain of priests and religious, or prophets of old. There was a wedding I officiated where I remember the groom earnestly declaring to his bride: “I don’t know what I have done to deserve a blessing like you.”

The realization of the gratuitousness of love makes us want to participate more in the experience, and share with others the joy we find in it. This, I believe, is what a “calling” means.

God calls everyone of us, each to his or her own mission and way of life. His call is always to participate in His life of grace ever more fully.

These days God has a common call for us as a nation: “God is calling us to participate in transforming our society, to ‘seek good and not evil’ (Amos 5,14)”. This is the opening line of the recent pastoral letter from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), “A Call for Vigilance and Involvement”.

This coming Tuesday marks the start of the official campaign period for candidates running for national positions. As election fever mounts, our bishops remind us, especially our lay people, “to fulfill (your) responsibility in renewing the political order”.

Like Sts. Peter, Paul and Isaiah, we may feel unsure of accomplishing this crucial task. We may even feel jaded and cynical at the many disappointments we have had from our failed leaders and failed promises of elections past. Still every election is an opportunity to effect meaningful change for our country. St. Paul in Rom 5,20 assures us: “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more”.

The bishops’ pastoral letter asks candidates:
1. to start by being honest and sincere in educating the people on the situation of our country in their campaign;
2. to not manipulate the perceptions of the people but to help them to make good choices for the sake of the country; and
3. to present their platforms and convictions rather than attack others.

The bishops also remind soldiers and police officers:
1. to be vigilant in bringing about peaceful elections, and
2. not allow themselves to be used by politicians or ideological groups.

Their message is directed foremost to the voters:

“Automated elections will not give us good public officials. Ultimately the leaders that our country shall have will depend on our wise choice of candidates. Do not be swayed by survey results or political advertisements. Follow the dictates of your conscience after a prayerful and collective period of discernment. ‘Winnability’ is not at all a criterion for voting! The vote you cast will be a vote for the good of your country and your children’s future. Serve the common good with your precious vote!”

I would like to conclude with a story that has been circulating in emails recently…

While walking down the street one day a Philippine politician is tragically hit by a truck and dies. His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance.

"Welcome to heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we're not sure what to do with you."

"No problem, just let me in," says the politician.

"Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we'll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."

"Really, I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," says the politician.

"I'm sorry, but we have our rules." And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell.

The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him.

Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people. They played a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne.

Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly guy who is having a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are all having such a good time that before the senator realizes it, it is time to go. Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises...

The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopens in heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him, "Now it's time to visit heaven."

So, 24 hours pass with the politician joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns. "Well, then, you've spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity."

The senator reflects for a minute, then he answers: "Well, I would never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell."

So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. Now the doors of the elevator open and he's in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage. He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more trash falls from above. The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulders.

"I don't understand", stammers the politician. "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?"

The devil smiles at him and says, "Yesterday we were campaigning… Today, you voted."

The bishops’ pastoral letter concludes with this appeal: “Let us vote wisely that we may have God-fearing and honest people as our leaders.”

God is calling us to do so.

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