Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.
“Can you deny that He’s called you?” These words were ringing in my ears as I drove home last night. “Can you deny that He’s called you?” A religious sister by the name of Mother Mary Catherine once asked me this question. It was the fall of my fifth year in seminary, I was going to be ordained a deacon the following spring, and I was having doubts about my vocation. When I expressed these doubts to Mother Mary Catherine, she asked me that question: “Can you deny that He’s called you? Can you deny that Jesus has called you to be a priest?” And the answer, of course, was “No,” I could not deny it. I could deny that I felt ready to become a priest. I could deny that I felt holy enough to be a priest. But I could not deny that He called me to be a priest, as unprepared and as unholy as I sometimes felt.
This question came to my mind again last night after praying in the Adoration Chapel at St. Jerome’s in Oconomowoc. I must confess that I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged lately. And I’ve gathered from hearing confessions that many of you have been feeling discouraged as well. As a priest and as one of your spiritual fathers, this weighs heavy on my heart. And, so, I brought it before the Lord in prayer. I figured I should probably do what I tell everyone else to do: “Physician take your own medicine.” And in prayer last night the Lord reminded me of this question, and He reminded me of my call.
Whether we realize it or not, whether we fully appreciate it or not, the Lord has called each and every one of us to follow Him at this particular moment in history. The Lord chose me, the Lord chose you, to be His disciples, right here and right now, as unprepared and as unholy as we sometimes feel. “Can you deny that He’s called you?”
If you’ve been feeling discouraged lately, know that you’re in good company. You’re actually in the same company as the disciples in our gospel. You’re in the same boat as them, as it were. If you recall from last week’s gospel, Jesus first encountered Andrew and John by the Jordan River in the southern region of the Holy Land. Andrew and John were disciples of John the Baptist long before they met Jesus and became His disciples. But when Jesus walked by, and when John the Baptist exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God,” they left John the Baptist and followed Jesus (Jn. 1:35-42).
But something tragic happened between last week’s gospel and this week’s gospel: John the Baptist was arrested. The one whom Andrew and John had followed for so long was taken from them. Their lives were completely upended. Imagine how discouraged they must have felt. They obviously felt bad enough to leave Jesus behind in the south, go back to the north, and return to their previous occupation as fishermen. And that is where we find them in our gospel today. Andrew is with Peter; John is with James. They’ve gone back to their former way of life, as if they had never met Jesus or heard His call. This is what the disciples do, and what we so often do, when we’re discouraged: we go back to our former way of life. We stop praying, we stop going to Mass, we stop following Jesus. These things don’t seem to work for us, they don’t seem to prevent bad things from happening to us or to those whom we love, and so we just give up.
But Jesus doesn’t give up on us. We may leave Him behind, but He goes and finds us again. And this is what Jesus does in our gospel today. Jesus goes and finds the disciples again. He calls them again. He doesn’t wait for them to regain their hope or get over their discouragement. He meets them there and He calls them to follow Him. And this is what Jesus does for us as well. He meets us in our discouragement, He meets us in our darkness and despair, and He calls us to follow Him.
Friends, there is no silver bullet for discouragement. There’s no magic pill for regaining hope. But there is a choice: either we choose to follow Jesus and heed His call, or we choose to deny that He’s called us. “Can you deny that He’s called you?” Can you deny that He’s called you to follow Him, right here, right now, at this particular moment in history? Perhaps, like the disciples in our gospel, you’ve lost someone you love. Perhaps you feel like you’re losing the country you love. Perhaps you’re struggling with your marriage, your job, or your sense of purpose in life. Perhaps you feel lost and alone with no one you can turn to or trust. Whatever it is, the question and the choice still face us: Will we choose to remain in our discouragement, or we will allow the Lord to meet us there and call us once more to follow Him?
Friends, I’ve had some hard days as a priest. And some of the hardest have been during these past weeks and months. But I’ve never wanted to be anything other than who I am. I am a priest of Jesus Christ, I am a Roman Catholic, I am disciple of the Lord, and I am a beloved son of the Father. And as hard as it may get, I will live no other vocation, belong to no other Church, follow no other Master, and worship no other God. For I cannot deny that He’s called me. “Can you deny that He’s called you?”