Saturday, January 21, 2012

3rd Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 1:14-20) The call to follow

I remember reading somewhere that when Mother Teresa began her mission in Calcutta, it was only after the 12th attempt to get permission that her previous Order allowed her to go.  She had great perseverance, you could say, but it was also that the call of God was strong and she was listening.  I also remember hearing that a bishop who knew her before she began this work, said ‘I wouldn’t have put her in charge of the sacristy’, meaning that he didn’t think she was capable of much.  And yet look at what God did through her, not because she was a woman of remarkable ability, rather because she had a great openness to God and that is all God needs.

It is easy for us to get the idea that we have to be particularly talented or special people if God is to be able to use us, but that is not true.  In fact if you read about the lives of many of the holy men and women throughout the ages, most of them are not people that you would probably pick to do anything extraordinary.  God does not need great ability, just an open heart.  That also means that our age, or our physical ability is no hindrance to God.  Moses was called to lead the people of Israel to freedom when he was in his eighties.  A modern day Christian evangelist called Merlin Carothers who has written many books, felt that God was calling him to go back into ministry again when he was in his seventies, and so he did.

We can easily get to a point where we feel there is not much more that we can do because we are getting too old or because our health doesn’t seem to allow us to do much anymore.  But God only needs us to be open to his call.  If we are open then God will do everything else.

The readings today are basically about responding to God’s call to us.  It is a call to respond to God’s invitation, which all of us receive.  It’s interesting too that different people who are called respond in different ways.  In the first reading Jonah took off in the opposite direction when he was called.  But you know the story, he tried to get away from God by taking a ship in the opposite direction, but then he ended up being thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish which eventually vomited him out on a beach.  Only then, after God called him again, did he go and do what he was asked to do, basically because he knew he couldn’t get away.  Jonah was being asked to preach to his enemies, the people of Nineveh.  He didn’t want to preach to them and in fact he was hoping that God would not wipe them out.  At the end of the story when God does forgive them, Jonah goes into a sulk and he says, ‘I knew you would end up forgiving them!’  But God shows him that they deserve a chance too, just like anyone else.

Nearly all of the prophets who were called by God resisted as much as possible.  They were afraid and they felt totally inadequate, but God called them anyway.  Moses even came up with the excuse that he really didn’t have much of a voice so there was really no point in sending him to Pharaoh.  God said, ‘Ok.  Your brother Aaron can speak for you, but you’re still going!’  Apparently Mother Teresa also tried to resist God’s call.  At the beginning of her call she had various mystical experiences of God and she kept saying to God that He should pick someone else, that she really was not the one; but look what happened.

Then in the Gospel reading Jesus calls the first four apostles, two sets of brothers: Peter and Andrew, James and John.  In this case it says that they followed him willingly, giving up their work.  Jesus must have made quite an impression on them.  Perhaps it was the personal contact with Jesus which gave them the courage to follow him.  Either way they did.

Most of us are not called to follow God in the way that Moses, or Mother Teresa or the Apostles were.  But God calls all of us to enter into a relationship with him.  It may not be a dramatic call, but it is very real.  The very fact that we search for God is a sign of that call.  Very few of us end up in religious life because only a few are invited to live this way of life, but all of us are called to be in this relationship with him.  Most people are invited to live that relationship wherever they find themselves, in married life, or in single life, in their work place and at home.  The most important thing is that we respond and no one can force us to do this.  Even if we have been brought up as Catholics and taught about God and the mass, at some stage we still have to make that choice somewhere in our hearts, to believe in God and to accept this relationship with him.  The more we live that relationship the more God begins to shine through us and that is how we tell other people about God, not by the words we speak, but primarily by the way we live our relationship with God.

God is aware that the only place we will find true and lasting happiness is in him, and that’s why He wants us to follow the path that leads to him.  It is not an easy path, but it is the most worthwhile path and the good thing is that all of us without exception can respond, because all God needs is that we are open to him.  It’s not about leaving everything and going to work among the poor, although some are called to that, but for most of us it is just about trying to develop that relationship with God, which is really what will make sense of our lives more than anything else.

‘The time has come,’ Jesus said, ‘and the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.  Repent and believe the good news.’ 

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