The Gospels over the last few weeks have asked us to think about some very important things: the revelation of God's presence in the world with the Feast of the Epiphany; our remembering the beginning of His public mission with the feast of His Baptism; the very personal invitation that we all have received from the Lord at our baptism - and the commitment that we make to that invitation.
Today, the Gospel of John reminds us that we are called to be disciples; we are all called to minister and proclaim God's word to the nonbeliever (to evangelize) and to share that word with our fellow believers (to catechize). How we respond to His call is the measure by which we reflect his constant presence to the world and how the Good News of Salvation is spread throughout it.
That same "good news" is being proclaimed to us today, challenging us to believe, to grow in faith, to reform, and to hasten the coming of the kingdom. The gentle voice of Jesus and his people proclaiming peace, forgiveness and love cannot and will not be silenced.
But for many folks these days, there is no such thing as "good news." God seems distant, disconnected, unconcerned, unforgiving. Our vision can be so clouded by false and misleading concepts of God and Church, that we cannot see the Good News as it is placed before us. Our purpose can become so blurred that the news we bring is not "good" at all. It's not good news if pandemic, death and other human tragedies are seen as "God's will." It is not good news if God's love is felt as conditional, unattainable or limited only to certain groups of people. It is not good news to preach the value and dignity of human life, and then blindly turn our eye to the poor and homeless. It is not good news to preach peace and justice, and stand by idly as nations continue to war.
The Christmas season has come and gone. The idea of a peaceful birth in that little town of Bethlehem two-thousand-years ago merely goes in one of my ears and quickly out the other. The idea of a "baby Jesus" is simply harmless stuff. On the other hand, an innocent crucified man with a message of peace and justice for all creation is another story.
O Little Town of Bethlehem... so the song goes about its peacefulness and the magnificent event when the savior of the world was born, God taking on human flesh before whom "three kings" lay their gifts, the lowly shepherds - along with pompous royalty - bow before the King of peace. The problem is reconciling the truths behind these Christmas stories with historical facts; the words "he rules the world with peace and joy..." have never been realized in human history.
The Jesus story is indeed having a hard time in the age of technology, a period of separation of the mechanical from the human. We live in a contradictory world heavy with human dysfunctionality. We hear the pleas of wounded humans crying out for justice and for a divine power to intervene. We see them in despair as they receive no answer; and yet there is Good News and many people are at work for justice and peace.
For most of us, the call to follow Jesus has not been very dramatic. There was no special moment, as in today's Gospel, when He approached us and said: "Come, and you will see." Most of us were baptized, and raised as Catholics in our younger days. We went through the motions of prayer and church and sacraments. We learned the basics of Christian doctrine. And maybe after some years of questioning and wandering, or maybe just laziness and indifference, we reached a point in our adult life when we began to take our Catholic faith seriously.
The call to discipleship is not one of revolution but of the retrieval of one of the most important elements in the church's tradition - service. And it has little, if anything, to do with "going to church" every Sunday or feeling good about ourselves as we sing our Christmas carols.
Service is what "discipleship" is all about. Throughout our life's journey the idea of "service to others" may take on many forms or varied flavors. And there may be a lot of mixed motives in our faithfulness to this ideal. It may be habit, or training, or family tradition. Perhaps, like Eli in our first reading, priests and nuns have been strong influences on our choice; perhaps the example of parents, relatives and friends have been a factor. But when our faith is challenged, when the call to discipleship is really difficult to live up to, we need to have a source to which we can return - time and again - to be refreshed, renewed and revitalized. As mature, free and responsible adults, we have to have a solid, tested, reasonable base for our faith, for our decisions, for our actions, and for the fundamental values we live by.
It may be that we need to focus a little more on the Kingdom of God outside of our static notions of Church. This may rankle some, but this is exactly what Christians are called to do. We've been gifted with the opportunity to live outside the walls of what's socially acceptable and to be involved in ministering to all the people of God in the diaspora. To make Him present and credible here and now, at every moment of our lives, is what the Kingdom of God is all about.
The Lord called Samuel by name; he called Simon by name - and gave him a new name. He called the first disciples by name. For us - as those called by name in baptism - making the Kingdom of God present in the world is what defines our call to discipleship.
Our source of revitalization is Jesus Christ. He is our Father's gift; He is the revelation of God's truth and love. He is the Lamb of God who takes away our sin; He is model, brother and friend. He calls us to "Come and see for ourselves."
I truly believe that the Spirit of Jesus is very much alive today and that chaos itself is the catalyst for change. We are living in a chaotic moment of history where the old is still crumbling and the new is being rebuilt from the shattered. Let us find hope amidst life's chaos; Jesus has died, Jesus has risen, Jesus will come again... and again... and again... Jesus is born again every time a person turns away from the negative, sinful and selfish to let His Spirit live anew.
Image: "The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew" - Caravaggio