Homily for January 26, 2014:3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Fr. Scott Bullock

January 26, 2014
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1 Is 8:23-9:3-1

Responsorial Psalm Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14

R. (1a) The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Reading 2  1 Cor 1:10-13, 17

Gospel  Mt 4:12-23

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In today’s gospel, we are treated to the description of the calling of the first disciples of Jesus—yet the account is amazingly sparse and even mysterious. Jesus comes along the shore, where fishermen Peter and Andrew, James and John are all engaging in an aspect of their trade. Peter and Andrew are casting a net into the sea; James and John work with their father to mend the nets. Jesus seems to simply ask them to follow him, and they immediately leave everything and follow.

What exactly does it mean to be called, by God, to a vocation? I admit having some personal experience grappling with this question. God sent many surprising teachers to help me understand. I’d like to share with you one of the most influential, surprising teachers about what it means to be called to a vocation by Christ.

This teacher was a middle-aged man whom I met while living the first of my summers as a seminarian an intern in a parish, this one Sacred Heart Parish in Dubuque. After just a semester at Iowa State University, I had come to the amazing conviction that God was calling me to be a priest, so I left my studies in Ames behind, applied and was accepted as a seminarian.

One evening, that first summer after acceptance, having been assigned for the summer to Sacred Heart to learn about the life of a priest under the guidance of the parish’s pastor Msgr. Tobin (whom many here knew), I decided to really learn about a Catholic parish by going to the parish hall to witness Bingo. After the grueling evening, including a stint as “caller” (when I either went too fast or too slow, but never quite right), the generous folks who worked bingo for the parish were taking a rest before heading home. This is when I met the middle-aged man, who came over and sat down to me.  He looked to me careworn, clearly having experienced some trials in his life, which he was soon sharing with me.  It had been a particular battle, recently, to maintain employment to support himself and his family. Then the conversation shifted to me; he asked me my story. After telling him that I had just decided to enter the seminary, he asked what I had done before. This was when I shared that I had been an engineer for General Motors, but then had decided to come to Iowa and study math, after which I quickly left for the seminary.

This revelation seemed like a bucket of cold water in his face.  He said, “you left a good-paying job as an engineer to become a priest?  That doesn’t make any sense!” Though polite, there really didn’t seem to be anything I could come up with that provided a satisfactory rationale for leaving a lucrative career in engineering for the priesthood:  “I can’t hardly believe it—it doesn’t make sense!” But, with his reaction, in fact I can say now that never have I heard a more true statement about a vocation in service of the Lord than this man’s words, whose name I cannot remember:  “That doesn’t make any sense!”

How true—it doesn’t make sense, because it’s not about making sense, it’s about love—loving the Lord. Since when does love make sense? The love that keeps the teenager in a state of complete rapture with his/her first love—does this make sense? The love that keeps parents up all night for a crying child, or waiting for a teenager to return home—does this make sense? The love that moves grandparents to send Christmas and Birthday greetings and gifts to “all those grandchildren—does this make sense?” Anyone in love knows it’s not about making sense—quite the opposite.  But would we have it any other way?

This man taught me that a Christian vocation is all about love, and the love of a specific person, God with Us, Jesus Christ. Love of Jesus is the single driving force behind any authentic vocation, providing the only “explanation” that makes sense. My imperfect love of the Lord which drives me to serve others. Jesus’ perfect love of me, which calls me to serve him and his people. Yet, following in the footsteps of Peter, Andrew, James, and John, persons have been making this senseless act of love for 20 centuries—and finding the deepest joy as a result.

Here we are—all together today, drawn into this assembly by the love of God first given to us on our baptismal days. To what has the Lord called you? Is it a life of sacrificial love as a spouse and a parent? Is it a life of sacrificial love as a religious sister or brother? Is it a life as sacrificial love as a priest? To whatever vocation you are being called (whether for the first time or anew), this I can promise you: It will not make sense. It is about loving Jesus, the one who loved you into life and into new life by his gift of salvation. Finally, as it is done, the result is deep joy.

When folks today, like that man after bingo at Sacred Heart Parish in DBQ, ask me why I wanted to be a priest, now I answer with clarity, and with joy: Because I love Jesus Christ, my Lord.

Why did the disciples leave everything behind, so suddenly, so senselessly? Though the details in the gospel are not clear, it was without a doubt singly and solely about love—the love of Jesus Christ, and the desire to love his people through laying down one’s life for them—“to become fishers of men,” drawing them to God’s love.  Whatever stage in life you find yourself—a young child, a teenager, a young adult, a married person, a priest, don’t be afraid to look at your life and ask the question:  Lord, how would you have me follow you?  How might I love you and your people? Then, with a prayerful heart, listen to our Savior say:  “Come, follow me.  This is your way to joy.”

Whatever your vocation as a baptized follower of Jesus, I pray that you each will know the joy that comes from this same answer to the question of your life’s vocation.   Lord, what would you ask of me?  “Come, follow me to joy.  Come and love.” Let us all pray for a renewed confidence and conviction that if we follow Jesus’ way of love, we will discover the very essence of life, the very reason for which we were created:  joy.