Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 7, 2016 – Year C
Readings: Is 6:1-2A, 3-8 / Ps 138 / 1 Cor 15:1-11 / Lk 5:1-11
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
This Sunday is not the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. But with these readings, it very well could be. These readings have a common theme going through them: the theme of God calling and people answering, plain and simple.
First, in the Old Testament reading, Isaiah is called. Isaiah turned out to be one of the greatest prophets of all times. And that call continues today. It’s a constant theme of God calling to us and our answering.
We’ve had some vocations in our parish. There are a couple of men who have gone away to seminary to study to become priests. But God doesn’t just call us to a vocation. God doesn’t just call us to live our lives in a certain way. God calls us to continuously change on our journey towards Him.
Now we have a plethora of excuses to use when we choose not to answer that call. Because after all, God calls us to change and I don’t know about you, but I don’t always like change. Change can be uncomfortable. So as I pondered the readings today, it occurs to me that there are, in my opinion, three classes of excuses that we use to not answer God when He calls us.
The first one is “I’m not worthy. I’m scum.” You see that one all over the readings today. But that doesn’t matter, because even when we mess up, God always calls us to return to Him. When our sin is greater, God’s mercy is greater above that.
Take a look at the readings today. Isaiah – according to Isaiah, he had a foul mouth. I don’t know if he was a sailor or something. But as I said, he became one of the greatest prophets of all time. How about the second reading – we have Saul of Tarsus, perhaps one of the greatest persecutors of Christianity, until that little incident on the road to Damascus when he became Paul. And what about Peter? I like Peter, because if there is hope for Peter, then there is hope for me. Peter went bumbling and stumbling through life. I mean, for crying out loud, he denied that he knew Jesus three times. Yet he went on to become the first Pope. He went on to take care of the sheep. Or how about St. Augustine? St Augustine was a playboy, but he became one of the greatest doctors of the Church. Or how about Ignatius of Loyola? Ignatius dreamed constantly of glory in battle, and the romantic conquests that would come from that. But after he got wounded, God called him, and he went on to found a religious order, the order to which Pope Francis belongs. You see, “I’m not worthy” is not an excuse, because God is greater than that.
The second class of excuses, falls into this: “I’m not qualified.” I’m not qualified to do what people are asking me to do. But it’s interesting about being qualified. We’ve had this discussion at work a lot. And we have come to the conclusion that you don’t go to college to learn how to do your profession. You go to college to learn how to learn how to do your profession. I’m an engineer. I didn’t learn how to be an engineer until I started working as an engineer. And it’s the same way when God calls us.
Here are just a few of the unqualified throughout the history of the Church. How about Moses? Moses had a speech impediment. Some people say he stuttered. Yet he was called to go in front of Pharaoh and plead the case of the Israeli people. Look at the twelve Apostles. We don’t know the professions of all of them, but we do know some of the professions. We had a bunch of fishermen, we had a tax collector, and we had a political radical. Yet they went on to found our Church two thousand years ago. None of them had degrees in theology. I’ll bet some of them couldn’t even read. St Ignatius again (can you tell I’ve been reading a book by James Martin?). St. Ignatius had, at best, a grade school education. It took him years and years of hard study and hard work to get the knowledge that he needed to answer the call. Be he did it, and he did it to great effect. Or consider me; talk about unqualified. When some people suggested that I might make a good deacon, I said, “Yeah, right. I’ve only been Catholic for two years.” I really just submitted my name to prove that I wasn’t being called. I’m uncomfortable talking in front of people. And I’ve always struggled with reading in front of a group, but somehow I manage. See, lack of qualification is not an excuse for not answering God’s call, because where our qualification lacks, God through the Spirit can fill in the gaps.
The third on my list of top three reasons why we don’t answer God is probably the biggest. It’s “I’m not interested.” And how many times do we hear that? I heard a story when I was in formation told by the director of the diaconate program. He told a story about a deacon who had been assigned to serve in prison ministry. And he was really upset by this, because he was happy in his previous assignment. So he scheduled a meeting with the bishop. He sat down with the bishop, and he explained how he just didn’t feel called to prison ministry. He liked teaching; he liked working in the parish. And the bishop patiently listened to him for a while, then leaned forward, looked him in the eye, and said, “You don’t understand. I’m calling you now.”
Twenty years ago, my wife Jeannie and I were pretty established in our routine. I was attending the Baptist Church, and she was attending St. Thomas More. But this lovely building had just been completed. So she decided to come to Mass at Holy Name of Mary, so we could go out to lunch afterwards, and just check out the new facility. And on that Sunday morning, Fr. Jim Begley asked, “Is there someone in the congregation who plays the piano? We really could use someone to play the piano to enhance our worship.” And she literally sat on her hands. And the next week she went back to St. Thomas More. But a few weeks later, she came back here – I don’t remember the reason. And once again, Fr. Jim Begley said, “Is there someone in the congregation who can play the piano?” And she reluctantly accepted.
You see, wherever we are in our relationship with God, it might be a good place to be. It might be life-giving. It might be just what we need now. But as Father Mooney pointed out a few weeks ago, it’s not a good place to stay. I’m a firm believer in the saying, if you’re not growing, you are dying. And God calls each one of us to step out, to take another step on our journey towards Him. He’s calling each and every one of us today to do something. Maybe He’s calling us to greater conversion. Maybe He’s calling us to step out in some ministry. Maybe He’s calling us to step up our game when it comes to our prayer life. Regardless, He is calling. So what will your answer be?