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Pastor's Letter 20200126 - 26 January 2020 - Discipleship


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26 January 2020

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Theme: "Discipleship"

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Jesus Calls His Disciples

 

Scripture Note

Regarding our First Reading today:  (Isaiah 8:23-9:3,) the land known as Israel was given to the patriarch Israel, more commonly known as Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. (Remember that Jacob = Israel, and Israel = Jacob.) The “nation of Israel” was given to Israel’s descendants after the Exodus from Egypt...”Israel” then being roughly the area we know as “Israel” today.  And named for the descendants of two of Israel’s 12 sons (Zebulun and Naphtali,) was the territory northeast of Israel (situated similarly to the way New England, New York and Pennsylvania are in the U.S.)  And Isaiah called it “a place of darkness,” because by Isaiah’s time, it was populated primarily by pagans; thus presenting the few Jews remaining no small amount of difficulty in holding onto their ancestral faith and tradition.  Now by Jesus’ time, this area of Israel was called Galilee (actually, “Galilee of the Gentiles” to which it is referred in the Gospel,) because though mostly Jewish by then, it was surrounded by Gentile peoples; and Gentile cultural influences were “looked down upon” by many Jews.  Galilee was special because it was (and is) the most fertile region of Palestine, and thus it was also the most populous.  Being surrounded by so many different cultures, Galileans were also a people often exposed to new ideas.  (Alexander the Great had “romped” through the region a few hundred years before Jesus, and the classic Greek love of new ideas and philosophies was still prevalent.) Because it was highly populated and open to new ideas, it’s no coincidence It was there that Jesus could reach the most people, most quickly, in the few years of His public ministry. 

 In our Gospel today, we hear that John the Baptist had been arrested, and Jesus takes up John’s call for “Repentance” (Matthew 4:12-23.)  But Jesus takes the Gospel—the Good News—much further...to its highest fulfillment: preaching the Gospel of God’s salvation for His people; showing that He had come to lead us to God for eternity.   John the Baptist was the “preface”—the introduction.  Jesus  is the real story. The Gospel tells us that Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum, on the sea of Galilee, making a definitive and symbolic break with His former, quiet life in Nazareth, to His new public life and mission—bringing the Gospel to the world. Therein, we see the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy: “The people who sit in darkness (in the lesser sense, meaning the Galileans; in the greater sense: the whole world) have seen a great light (Jesus.) 

 Well then, what should be our response to this "great light" which has risen for us?   We read that Jesus calls Simon Peter and his brother Andrew... James and his brother John: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  They were nobody special—not rich; not educated, certainly; not influential.  They were persons of no worldly importance whatsoever--simply hard-working fishermen. We know from our reading the Gospel of John that this is not the first time these men had encountered Jesus.  In fact, Andrew had already declared his faith that Jesus was the Messiah (John 1:41) and had introduced Him to Peter.  But now Jesus came to them and calls specifically: “Follow me!” and they made a conscious decision to stop living their routine, safe, comfortable lives, drop their nets, and set off on a new life following Him.  To do what? To heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and teach the way of God to those who do not know God.  When we contemplate this response to Jesus, we can only assume that His was the ultimate Charismatic presence.  (In modern memory, only a very few human leaders have held sufficient sway over their followers to command such devotion.  One can think of Hitler and Mao Tse Tung as examples, and their influence came on the heels of great economic depression, and not without a large measure of political influence to enable them to marshal the people's adulation.)  

 Because Christianity is not simply a passive thing, which happens to us; we must actively choose, and DO it.  This is what Simon, Andrew, James, John and millions of others have done for nearly 2000 years—made conscious choices to “drop their nets and follow Jesus,” thereby become intentional, purpose-filled disciples. Christians throughout almost two millennia have realized the futility of working for the “things of the world” that we inevitably must lose, and the wisdom of pursuing that which we cannot lose. 

 The celebration of the Holy Mass ends right after communion. However, you are not given the Holy Eucharist as simply a “sterile token,” but rather, by it, you become part of the “Mystical Body of Christ” and are strengthened to go on your own mission, and spread the Gospel to the world. 

 The final sentence of the Declaration of Independence reads:“... with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor…,words that were written to establish a nation “under God.”  Should we not be ready to do at least as much for God Himself?  So why shouldn't we make a “leap” into active discipleship...a leap of faith…and therein find fulfillment, joy and an adventure, the possibility of which you would have never have believed. 

 

A Light in the Darkness

In order to appreciate the true impact of light, a person must first be conscious of darkness and possess a desire to escape from it.  One must realize the need, and want to change.  In most cases, before people seek redemption, their lives must go badly for them.  They must have experienced the darkness of sorrow and disappointment.  Only then are they ripe for the light of salvation.  Usually, the parts of ourselves and of our society that are in most need of redemption are those we tend to hide.  It’s the reason we don’t allow the “light to shine” into the “dark areas” of our lives.  Each of us has areas of darkness in our lives—such places like “basements,” where old hurts, hates, fears, illnesses, pains, sins, guilts, loneliness and painful memories are locked away.  We don’t find it easy to talk about such things. Instead, we try to cover and hide them.  These hidden recesses enable us to show the world a tidy, even beautiful “face” while having a real “dump” somewhere behind the scenes.  Yet, these are where the light is needed and could benefit most.  One might ask, “But what can I do about these unseemly places/things in my life?”  The answer: Open them to the light of Christ!

Jesus shed His light through His teaching, but more especially through the way He treated people. Many rulers and leaders have brought immense darkness and pain into the lives of others by the harsh and oppressive way they have treated them.  Indeed, even some of us are guilty of causing such darkness to overshadow those we know.  But  everyone who came to Jesus, with their obscurity, went away bathed in His refreshing light.  However, even when the light comes as a friend, it also disturbs, because it shows what is wrong in our lives.  Many people continue to live in darkness, and in the shadow of death.  These are people who have rejected Jesus’ illumination—denouncing their need of it. This is why He began His public ministry with the call, ”Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand!”(Matthew 3:2.) To repent is to admit our darkness and to open ourselves to the light. Those who open themselves to Jesus will always have the light of life.  Thereby, we become welcome sources of light for others—a lamp for their paths.

 Our Need of Salvation

Mother Teresa gives a beautiful example of a man who was brought out of darkness into the light.  One day, in Melbourne, Australia, she visited a poor man whom nobody knew existed.  The room in which he lived was in a terrible state, untidy, neglected.  He lived without light, rarely, if ever opening the blinds.  He had no friends.  When she started to clean his room, he protested, saying, “Leave it alone.  It’s all right as it is.”  But she went ahead, anyway.  Under a pile of rubbish she found a beautiful oil lamp, covered with dust.  She cleaned and polished it, and asked the man, “How come you never light the lamp?”  “Why should I light it?” came his reply.  No one ever comes to see me…I never see anybody.  She asked, “Will you promise to light it, if one of my sisters comes to visit?”  “Yes,” he said, “If I hear a human voice, I’ll light the lamp.”

 Thereafter, two of Mother’s nuns began to visit him on a regular basis, and things gradually improved.  One day he told them, “I think I’ll be able to manage on my own, from now on.  But do me a favor.  Tell that first sister who came to see me that the light she lit in my life is still burning.”

 At first he didn’t like the light.  He felt threatened and uncomfortable, because it showed him the misery in which he was living—first all the physical misery, then the misery of spirit.  But gradually he came to see the light as a friend, bringing with it comfort and hope.  With this beginning, he turned his life around.  The light saved him.  Of course, it wasn’t the lamp that had done all this by itself, but the kindness and goodness it symbolized—first in Mother Teresa, and then in her sisters.  

 This story reinforces our initial premise that we must be conscious of our darkness before we can appreciate a light.  We must realize our need for change, and then want to do it.  Before seeking redemption, people must be made aware of their darkness, sorrow and disappointment.  Then they are ripe for salvation.  Each of us can be a source of light to a darkened world.  In fact, we are each called to that task, as Jesus’ disciples.  But first we have to be sure our own lamp is lit, before we are able to enlighten anyone else!  There is great joy in the light.  And there is an even greater joy in being a source of light to others.  

May God Richly Bless You!

“For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord; and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake.”  (2 Corinthians 4-5)

Give Me the Wings of Faith.docx

Give Me the Wings of Faith to Rise.mp3

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