HOMILY – JANUARY 21
The Scriptures this morning have a chant recurring like a drumbeat: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed. . . This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel. . . I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. . . For the world in its present form is passing away” Whether from Jonah, Jesus, or Paul, these are prophetic words. They are words spoken by God through the prophetic voices of an Old Testament prophet, of God’s own Son and Anointed One, and of the Apostle to the Gentiles. They are words spoken from eternity to every age and time. We are tempted to look at 2,000 years of Christian history and say, “Oh, there’s no hurry, the Lord is clearly taking his time.”
That’s NOT what the Lord Jesus says, nor the attitude he conveys. Throughout his public ministry, and particularly as recorded by Mark and Matthew, there is a stark urgency about the gospel. Jesus is on the move, preaching, healing, instructing, bringing the established religious order to its fulfillment in a New and Eternal Covenant. He doesn’t just call a small band of followers away by themselves so he can instruct them quietly and tell them the secrets of eternal life. He passes on his mission to THEM! “Fishermen, eh?” he says, in effect. “Come, follow me. I’ll have you fishing FOR PEOPLE! We don’t have much time.”
How sad that we don’t take Jesus at his word, or catch the urgency in his voice and manner. In many ages of the Church’s history, people DID sense the urgency, and readily volunteered their services — no, their LIVES — to bring the message and love of Christ to people everywhere. Think of the great St. Francis Xavier, whose right arm remains enshrined in Rome because of the countless thousands he baptized and absolved with it in India in a few short years of missionary work. Think of the Venerable Father Frederic Baraga, the first priest to reside here in our river valley, just a couple miles south of us, patiently learning the difficult Ottawa and Chippewa languages so he could fish for people whose descendants carry on the faith today. Think of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, cradling the dying poor in her arms to bring them the consolation of Christ Jesus as she introduced them to him and commended their souls to his care.
If the work were not urgent, I submit that the lives of Francis Xavier, Frederic Baraga, and Mother Teresa would have been spent foolishly. What’s the rush, after all? Jesus loves everybody! What’s there to worry about?
It’s not a worry, but what’s to be CONCERNED about is the fact that billions of people, and an increasing number of people in our own country, even in our own families, have never EFFECTIVELY heard of that love of Christ for them, nor of what Christ demands. Or, having heard of Christ, have given him up and cast him aside in favor of the here and now of earthly pursuits. It’s why we have to convince people that the message of Christ is FOR here and now. It’s not just other-worldly, pie-in-the-sky. But first, WE have to be convinced! We must hear Christ’s call to repentance ALL THE TIME, because we are apt to be SINNERS all the time. With St. Paul, we have to learn to say, “I discipline my body and make it my servant, lest having preached to others, I myself be lost” (I Corinthians 9:27). The Apostle to the Gentiles did not fear an arbitrary judgment on God’s part; he feared an arbitrary decision on his OWN part to throw away the gift of faith which he cherished as a gift from God.
Those who are prone to think that nothing matters, that God will forgive everything and everyone, that Divine Mercy translates into universal salvation, simply do not follow the teaching of Christ. If sin does not put our salvation in jeopardy IN SPITE OF the Cross of Christ, why did Christ and his Apostles bother teaching anything, especially instructing people in the moral life? “Life is worth living,” as Bishop Sheen used to say, because it MEANS something! Our choices, virtuous or sinful, help to determine our eternal destiny. You and I are designated by Christ through baptism to be cooperators in our own salvation and that of others. It’s a great mission and a life’s adventure. Oh, and it’s urgent. It can never wait till tomorrow. Too many souls are dependent on your daily response. Go FISH!