10 February 2013

God has a Mission for You

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – 10 February 2013

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. In the Old Testament, there is a common pattern, a leitmotif, in the way prophets are called by God.
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.

Sts. Peter and Paul may not be prophets in the Old Testament sense of the word but the same leitmotif emerges in the respective stories of their call. In a way, they are more than prophets for they already share in the three-fold mission of Christ: that of being prophet, priest and king.

And so it is with us. The readings this Sunday are reminders that every one of us is also called by God to mission.

What does it mean to be called? Imagine yourself being 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 by such an offer? Why me, you may even ask.

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 us more responsive to God’s call.

This experience is not the exclusive domain of priests and religious today, 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.

And though we may not have the grand mystical religious experience that prophets and apostles have, God nevertheless calls everyone, each to his or her own mission in life. His call is always to participate in His life of grace ever more fully.

Like the leitmotif of the call of the Old Testament prophets, God’s call to us also follows a pattern.

First, the awareness of mission begins with the realization that God is indeed love (no matter how trite the words nowadays may sound). He has loved us more than what we deserve, more than we can ever know. In short, our being called to mission springs from the joy of being loved, and flows into wanting to share the same joy with others.

Second, our call happens where we are right now. We have become so used to the term “fishers of men”, and thought at the same time that the term refers only to priests or religious, which is not entirely true. Every Christian is a fisher of men. By calling Simon and company that way, Jesus transforms their mindsets – used to seeing mostly the daily grind of their lives and occupation – and opens them to the infinitely greater reality of the Kingdom of God, and their place in it.

Thus, they are no longer just people who merely go about their daily lives – they are transformed. They still go through the same drudgeries of life, but now they are men on a mission. The same applies as well to us.

Fishers of men could then be very well translated to carpenters of homes, builders of communities, teachers of the Truth, students of Christ’s life, call center agents of God, engineers of the Kingdom, planters of faith in persons’ hearts, doctors for the masses, couples for Christ, and so on. Our mission begins where we are right now.

Third, our first mission is personal transformation. As we come to terms with the enormity of the mission and our own inadequacies, we learn that before we can change others, we have to change ourselves first. And if we go by the lessons of Peter, Paul, and the prophets, we learn that transformation is a life-long process. Even with the gift of prophecy, the prophets have their constant struggles with depression and doubt; Paul has his “thorn in the flesh” which “kept him from getting proud”; and we know very well the frailties of Peter.

Fourth, we are working for God. Let us be clear: the transformation that we seek – in ourselves and in the world – is accomplished not so much by virtue of our heroic efforts alone but by our cooperation in the work of God. Our problems may be big, our mission bigger, and ourselves inadequate – but we have a big God, and He will enable and complete us. St. Paul sums it in 1 Cor 15,10 (from the Second Reading): "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me."

As practical application of our reflection upon this Sunday’s readings, I would like to point out that this week, there are two important dates we need to keep in mind – aside from February 14, Valentine’s Day.

February 13 this year is a more important date: it is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. By the imposition of ash on our foreheads, we commit ourselves to the call to conversion and transformation, which is what Lent is about.

February 12 is another important date: it is the official start of the campaign period for candidates for senators and party lists.

As candidates campaign for our votes, the most recent pastoral letter from our bishops teaches us “to be mindful of our right and duty to promote the common good by using our vote”. It is not about building a “Catholic vote” as about voting according to our conscience. And the bishops also remind us that “conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator” (CCC, no. 1783). Thus, even our right to vote becomes an expression of the mission.

Fifth, have you accepted already God’s particular mission for you? Tell God your answer in prayer. But before you do, I would like to share a funny cautionary parable that has circulated in emails some time ago…

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."

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