Homily for January 26

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scriptures for today's Mass 

Suppose Jesus walked up to you,
- and you knew for sure that it was, indeed, Jesus -
suppose Jesus walked right up to you and said:
 “Come with me, will you? I need your help.
I’ve got some work for you to do...”

What would you do?

It was something like that here in the gospel today
when Jesus called Peter and Andrew and James and John.
He walked right up to them
and called them to share in his work.

When I was called, it wasn’t anything like that:
I didn’t see Jesus;  I didn’t hear Jesus.
But there was someone who did walk up to me,
someone I did see and someone I did hear -
and her name was Kathy.
Kathy was a classmate and friend of mine over 55 years ago
at Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody.

Here’s how it happened.
Talking with Kathy one day, she asked me if I’d heard from a priest
who had come to our school to talk to all the boys
- about becoming a priest.
I told her no, I hadn’t heard from him
and asked her why she thought I might have
since I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me -
I was just one boy among 400 male students.

She shrugged and said she just thought he might have called me.

I didn’t get it so I pushed the question again
and Kathy 'fessed up that she had taken one of those
“Send more information” post cards the priest had left
and filled it in with my address and phone number
- and sent it to him.

I was - how shall I phrase this in church? - I was dumbfounded
and I asked her,  “Why would you ever do that?”
And she turned to me and answered simply and seriously:
 “Because I think you’d make a good priest.”
And that, that was the beginning
of my ever thinking about becoming a priest.

That visiting priest’s talk had done nothing for me
but what Kathy did
planted an idea in my mind and heart
and – well, you can see where that led me…

So, did my vocation come from Kathy?  No, I don’t think so.
I believe my vocation came from Jesus -
Jesus who nudged Kathy
to hand-deliver an invitation to me.

Back when I was in high school (I graduated in 1965)
when we prayed for vocations
we were praying for more priests, nuns and brothers.
And we still need to pray for more men and women to answer
when the Lord calls them to serve him in the church.

But today there are so many more ways
to serve God in the church
in addition to serving as a priest or in religious life.
On our own parish staff at New Roads
we have married men and women in full time ministry.
And our experience is not unusual in this regard

• And think of how many ministries there are today in parish life:
men and women, young and old, serve as:
lectors, Eucharistic ministers, on parish committees,
as sacristans, altar servers, ushers, greeters, catechists,
ministers to the homebound and in works of charity
and social justice, the women who knit prayer shawls…
And in so many of those ministries, perhaps even in all of them,
we    need   more   people.

Given today’s gospel story,
perhaps it’s my turn to do what Jesus did in today’s gospel story,
my turn to say,
 “Come with me, I’ve got some work for you to do.”
It’s my turn to do what Kathy did:
my turn to nudge you to nudge others -
to follow Jesus and to serve.

Now, of course, it’s true that we still need more priests
and more men and women in religious life
and more lay men and women to hear and answer the call
to serve the church and the gospel as a way of life.

But let’s set our sights on a goal a little closer to home
and consider the ministry where, arguably,
we need the MOST people right now:
the ministry of  pew-fillers.

We only have to look around this morning
to understand what I’m talking about.
Look at all the empty space in this church.
I’m pretty sure everyone here this morning
could have their own individual pew if they wanted.

That’s a crying shame.  That’s a sadness…

I’m confident there’s not one person here this morning
whose heart would not be lifted,
whose faith would not be quickened,
whose hope would not be strengthened,
whose love of God would not grow deeper
were this house of prayer filled with others, gathered:
to join in song and prayer, to hear the scriptures
and to share in the communion of this altar.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick or simple way
to make this happen.
The number of people who used to fill this church
did not decline all of a sudden
and the work of drawing people back
will not be accomplished overnight.
It will take a long time.

Frankly, here and in other parishes all over the country
it’s going to take longer than the lives
of many of us here today.
But if the work doesn’t begin with us -
with whom will it begin? 

We need to ask Jesus to give to each of us
- whatever each of us needs            
- to do for others  ---  what Kathy did for me.

We need people to nudge other people.
And keep in mind:
all Kathy did was to give me a nudge in the right direction -
the Lord took care of the rest.

Who might you invite, who might you nudge,
to join us for prayer here on the weekends?
   Who might the Lord want you to nudge and invite
to come home to prayer?

Of course, a lot of obstacles are in our way here.
- church attendance is falling in most places
- the image of the Catholic Church has been spoiled
and disfigured in so many ways
- perhaps you’ve been personally trying to do this for years
- you may be angry at the Church, or the parish,
or its leadership - or you may be angry at all three.

And yet: we’re here.  You’re still here.
And so I presume we find something here that feeds our souls,
something that helps us make sense of our lives,
something that provides us with a haven of peace
we don’t easily find in other places.

Do we not want to share this with others?
It can be scary to consider inviting others to join us for prayer.
It means declaring our own faith
and asking others to join us.

I can tell you that knowing Kathy sent that post card,
first scared me
but what she did has brought me a lifetime
of challenge, delight, satisfaction, grace,
hard work, joy and peace.

One thing I’m sure of:
God calls every one of us to call others to faith:
it’s what disciples of Jesus do!

If we’re not  calling others to faith,
if we’re not nudging others to faith,
then we’re not disciples.

I’ll be following up on this in my preaching in the weeks ahead
but for now, let’s recall:
- it’s still January, the month of resolutions:
how will each of us resolve to try
to invite others back to church in this new year?
- and Lent is just around the corner, a month away,
a perfect time, a season to invite others home to pray with us.

Nudging others like this won’t be the solution to all our problems
but it is one response to some of our problems.

Right now the Lord is calling each of us
to follow him to the altar,
the table where he nourishes us for the work he calls us to do.

May the sacrament we receive here open our hearts
to hear and to respond and to act
when the Lord gets right in my face and yours and says:
“Come with me – I’ve got some work for you to do.”


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