Homily, Ordinary Sunday 3B
Many of you are familiar with my vocation story, how I ended up in the priesthood. It’s fairly simple and straightforward. I was the youngest of nine from a big Catholic family. I was aware of a call to the priesthood from a very young age. I often considered it and prayed about it. I entered college seminary right out of high school, went on to major seminary, was ordained a transitional deacon, then a priest. Many other priests have a more interesting story to tell. My friend over in Ipswich, Fr. Smith, is a convert to the faith. He only became Catholic after he had started working, so it’s not really surprising that it took him a few more years to answer that call to the priesthood. Now does that mean that God had not been calling him, even from the beginning of his life?
When I was reading the Gospel for this Sunday, something occurred to me that I had never really considered before. You see, every other time I’ve read or heard this Gospel, I always just assumed that Jesus was specifically calling Andrew, Peter, James and John to follow Him. And these are the four, out of everyone who was mentioned, who do end up following Jesus. But that’s not the only possibility. It could be that Jesus was actually saying, “Follow Me” to everyone who was mentioned: the four who would become Apostles, of course, but also to Zebedee, and to the hired men who were with them. But out of everyone there, Andrew, Peter, James and John were the ones who were ready to abandon their nets and follow Jesus, at that time.
There’s a lot of talk in different areas of the Church and areas of the world about a “vocations crisis.” But God certainly knows how many priests we need, how many religious sisters and friars and monks. God is still calling, but there are many who for various reasons are not able to hear, to recognize, let alone respond generously to a call from God. There are many perhaps who, unlike Samuel in last Sunday’s first reading, don’t have an Eli in their lives to help them recognize the Lord’s call and listen to His voice. Before Fr. Smith became Catholic, even if God was calling him to the priesthood, how much sense would he have been able to make out of that? That’s actually part of Bishop Swain’s vocation story. Bishop Swain recognized a call and desire towards the Catholic priesthood even while he was still a Methodist.
What kept Zebedee and the hired men from also following Jesus? What was keeping them from abandoning their nets, maybe not to become Apostles like the four, but at least to become disciples of Christ? You see, this doesn’t just pertain to those having a religious vocation, but there are many ways that all of us put off and avoid a more radical following of Jesus, no matter what our vocation in life. What are the nets that we still refuse to abandon? That’s an interesting verb, abandon. “They abandoned their nets.” To me, it seems to suggest that they didn’t bother making plans for their nets or boats as they left them. Peter and Andrew didn’t pause and say to Zebedee, “Well, since you’ll be sticking around, we want you to take our nets and boats and put them to good use.” Instead, they just dropped them on the shore, turned and followed Jesus without giving those nets a second thought.
Too often we look back. We look back with longing on what was—even when it comes to our sins—and we fail to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and to look forward to the possibilities and fullness that a life of radical dependence on Jesus is able to bring. On Friday, we just observed the Day of Prayer and Penance for the Legal Protection of the Unborn, the 48th anniversary of the legalization of abortion in the United States. But abortion is only part of the culture of death today. Someone posted a history of the progression of court cases and decisions that led up to Rowe v. Wade. The first case, Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, cited a right to privacy as justification to then allow the sale of contraception to married couples in the United States. Up until then, contraception had been illegal in many States. In 1972, again citing a right to privacy, another decision allowed the sale of contraception to the unmarried. And less than a year later, in 1973, Rowe v. Wade cited this “right to privacy” to legalize abortions.
Can we really claim to be Pro-Life in the way that Jesus wants us to be when so many Catholic couples continue to use contraception, to use their sexuality apart from God’s design for it? For many, that’s the net that we’re unwilling to abandon. Perhaps the sense of control, not self-control that’s able to abstain during certain periods of time to work within God’s design. Instead, it’s the control of my circumstances, control of the marital act, to experience its pleasure apart from its possibilities. What God has revealed about human sexuality has not changed in this area or in any other. Sins that could send people to hell in 1921 can do the same thing in 2021.
Now if anyone is unfamiliar with Natural Family Planning, the methods of spacing births that respect God’s designs, please let me know. There are many physicians in Aberdeen that are able to meet with couples and give training in these methods. If there’s any way that the parish can be of assistance, we want to make that available. We want you to have everything you need to be able to follow Christ in radical ways. To abandon the nets today and not look back. To proclaim the Gospel of Life fully in a world that so desperately needs to hear it.