Friday, January 23, 2009

Is it I, Lord?

2 Sunday B #65

1 Sam 3, 3b-10. 19
Ps 40
1 Cor 6, 13c-15a. 17-20
Jn 1, 35-42

Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
January 18, 2009

Deacon Tom Cornell

This Sunday begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We remember Jesus’ prayer to the Father that all his followers be one so that the world might believe in him and in his message, his Good News of peace and reconciliation through the forgiveness of sins (Jn 17). Christ wills it, God wills it, that all be one. So it will be, one way or another, in God’s time. There is indeed one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, so that in fact, in a way, imperfect though it may be, we are already one. That lays an obligation upon every one of us Christians, Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox, to put away all resentment at past wrongs, hurts we may have suffered, and to forgive. And we beg those whom we have offended to forgive us as well. We must put away envy and pride even as our Catholic Church has a unique fullness of the means to salvation. That should make us all the more eager to serve our fellow human beings, Catholics or not, Christians or not, believers or not, in cheerful humility, always ready to proclaim and defend our faith, but gently and with respect for all.

Tomorrow we celebrate the memory of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the next day the inauguration of a new President. We can all take pride in the way Senator John McCain and President George W. Bush have welcomed a Black man to the presidency of the United States. Neither of them voted for Barack Obama, we may safely assume. But each of them acknowledged the significance of this event. Two generations ago, my father witnessed a lynching. One generation ago, it seems like yesterday, Father Dugan, Father Richard John Neuhaus whom we buried last week, and thousands of us put our lives on the line in Selma, Alabama so that Black people might be able to vote. That civil rights campaign of the Fifties and the Sixties cost lives, so many lives, even four little girls’ lives, killed when their church in Birmingham was bombed. Young people need to know this history. We have to tell the story lest we forget how it came to be, how we won, how we changed America. Nonviolence won, the nonviolence we learned from a Hindu saint, Mahatma Gandhi, and from a Baptist minister, Martin King, and from our own Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez. The power of nonviolence has not been exhausted. In fact, it has been barely tapped. We may well have reason to turn the tap full open, and soon.

I’m sure we all join President Bush and Senator McCain in their best wishes and prayers for our new President and the success of his administration. But we will hold Barack Obama’s feet to the fire in the defense of life, of the life of the innocent, of the vulnerable, of the weakest, of the unborn and the elderly, of immigrants and the poor, of our own and the children of Gaza and the West Bank and Israel, of Iraq and Iran, of Pakistan and Afghanistan, all life, Mister President, all human life! We have the tools of nonviolence. We are prepared to use them. And if we must, pray God give us the wisdom and the strength to stand up, for we all called, all of us called to justice.

Today’s readings from First Samuel and from John’s Gospel are about a call, a vocation. “Is it I, Lord? I heard you calling in the night,” so goes the hymn. Yes, it’s you! Every one of us has a call. Just what is it that God is calling you to? Is it priesthood, diaconate, religious life as a sister or brother, marriage, lay life? How do you know? In today’s Gospel we learn of Jesus’ call to his first disciples. Matthew, Luke and Mark have Jesus address fishermen by the shore. He calls them directly, bluntly, “Come, follow me!” They leave their boats and their nets and follow. John tells a more subtle story. John the Baptist points Jesus out, “There he is, the Lamb of God!” Two of John’s disciples then follow after Jesus. He notices and turns around to ask them what they want. They ask, “Where are you living, rabbi?” Jesus answers, “Come, take a look!”

That’s what I want to say to the young people here today. Come, take a look! How do you know that you are called to priesthood or religious life? If ever you have the slightest idea, talk to someone, to our pastor. Just as with Samuel, there is something mysterious about a call. Ignatius of Loyola didn’t know he was meant for priesthood until a cannon ball smashed his leg during the Battle of Pamplona. Don’t expect anything as dramatic as a cannon ball! It’s more like a whisper, as with Elijah on the mountainside waiting to hear the voice of the Lord. It wasn’t in the earthquake, or the fire or the storm; it was in a small still voice that only he could hear (1 Kings 19).

By virtue of our baptism we all share the priesthood of Jesus Christ. We are to be mediators between God and our fellows, each one of us. That’s what a priest is, a mediator with God. We are to care for each other, not just spiritually, for we are not disembodied spirits. We are meant to care for each other soul and body, body and soul. God cares, Jesus cares, his Holy Mother, and our mother, cares, and the Church cares that you have decent work to keep a roof over your head and food on the table and fire in the hearth. We are heading into hard times. There is not an empty bed at our farm, and we have people sleeping on the floor at both our men’s house and our women’s house for the homeless in the City. It’s going to get worse. But our first needs are spiritual. Those needs are met with prayer, the sacraments, the nourishment that comes from studying the Bible and the lives of the saints. Ordained priests, like Father Ed, share the bishops’ role to sanctify, to teach and to guide the local community, set apart for that, not above but apart in sacramental priesthood. It is no secret we need more priests. There may be one young man here today, there may be more than one in this church right now, who are being called to priesthood. It may be you. Come, take a look!

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