Right to Life (January 23) St. Paul (January 25)
First Reading Isaiah 8:23-9:3 Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17
Gospel Reading Matthew 4:12-23
In this Gospel the power of Jesus’ call is immediately evident – Peter, Andrew, James and John dropped everything to follow Jesus immediately. Jesus doesn’t have to pitch the idea to these individuals nor does he need to persuade them. Each has little reason to leave their current way of life. Each seemingly has a steady job. Most importantly they have familial ties to their vocations as family men and fishermen. Now, in the new lifestyle they were inaugurating, their security would come from life in a mutually supporting community, where the needs of each one were taken care of.
Having begun to assemble his company of companions, Jesus turns to his ministry, as the Gospel describes it: teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. He moved quickly and determinedly from one place to another … planting dreams, raising expectations, and opens doors of possibility. His followers witnessed a dramatic alternative to the emptiness and despair that filled the lives of the people immersed in an atmosphere devoid off their trust and hope.
Whether man or a woman, when one joyfully responded to Jesus’ call to follow, and entered Jesus enterprise, their lives were dramatically changed. They became agents of new possibility for all who came into contact with them – beacons of encouragement for the discouraged – inviting the stranger to faith in God and purpose in life.
The late Speaker of the House “Tip” O’Neill loved to relate a valuable lesson he’d learned early in his career. During his first political campaign, one of O’Neill’s neighbors told him: I am going to vote for you tomorrow, even though you didn’t ask me to! O’Neill was surprised and said: Why, Mrs. O’Brien, I have lived across from you for eighteen years, I cut your grass in the summer, I shoveled your walk in the winter; I didn’t think I had to ask for your vote! Mrs. O’Brien replied: Oh, Tommy, let me tell you something … people like to be asked!
A vital faith community will always be asking … inviting followers just as Jesus did.
It is never enough to simply welcome people when they happen to visit, we must also invite them to join us in our worship and ministries. Without a direct “ask” a vocation may be stifled or a prayer-partner lost. My mother spoke with great admiration for the Benedictine Sisters who were her teachers in elementary school. I asked her once when she didn’t become a Sister – she replied “None of them asked me – so I figured I was not worthy.” Of course, I would not be here telling you this story if she’d been asked and said YES.
Tomorrow (Monday, January 23) the church leads us in prayer for the sanctity of all life: for an end to abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty. And more than that: to honor, respect and love all God’s people without reservation. I invite you to listen to these words of Pope Francis (adapted slightly to be gender inclusion):
The Christian cannot allow her/himself the luxury to be an idiot, that’s clear. We don’t have the luxury to be fools because we have a very beautiful message of life and we’re not permitted to be fools. For that reason, Jesus says, “Be astute, be careful.” What is the astuteness of the Christian? In knowing how to discern who is a wolf and who is a sheep.
And when … a wolf disguises itself as a sheep, (the Christian) knows how they smell. “Look, you have the skin of a sheep but the smell of a wolf.” And this, this mandate that Jesus gives us is very important. It’s for something very great. Jesus tells us something that attracts our attention, when someone asks him: “Well, why did you come into the world?” “Look, I come to bring life and for that life to be in abundance, and I am sending you so that you can advance that life, and so that it will be abundant.”
Jesus didn’t come to bring death (of the body), but rather, the death of hatred, the death of fighting, the death of slander, that is, killing with the tongue. Jesus came to bring life and to bring the abundant life, and he sends us out, carrying that life, but he tells us: “Care for it!” Because there are people bringing us today the culture of death. That is, life interests them insofar as it is useful, insofar as it has some kind of utility and if not, it doesn’t interest them. And throughout the world, this weed has been planted, of the culture of death.
How beautiful is caring for life, allowing life to grow, to give life like Jesus, and to give it abundantly, not to permit that even one of these smallest ones be lost. That is what Jesus asked of the Father: “that none of those whom You have given me be lost, that all of the life that You gave me to care for, might be cared for, that it might not be lost.” And we care for life, because He cares for our life from the womb.
Caring for life from the beginning to the end. What a simple thing, what a beautiful thing. Father, is that why there are so many wolves who want to eat us? Is that why, tell me? Who did Jesus kill? No one. He did good things. And how did he end up? If we go down the road of life ugly things can happen to us, but it doesn’t matter. It’s worth it. He first opened the way.
So, go forth and don’t be discouraged. Don’t be fools, remember, a Christian doesn’t have the luxury of being foolish, I’m going to repeat this: an idiot, a fool – you can’t give yourself that luxury. You have to be clever, be astute! Care for life. It’s worth it! “