Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
Saint John Baptist de LaSalle/Saint Stephen January 21, 2024
Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?” What a strange question, and it was asked of me just before I was ordained. Here is how this took place in my life. At Saint Vincent Church in Charlotte, on June 4th, 1983, where the ordination was taking place, I knelt before the bishop. I placed my joined hands in his, and Bishop Michael John Begley looked directly at me and asked: “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?”
The answer, the only acceptable one, is briefer still. I simply said: “I do.” The look on the face of Bishop Begley was one that I will never forget; his kindness, honesty, and sincerity were evident in his eyes. Six years earlier, this same bishop had looked me in the eyes and said: “You will study for me to become a priest. “Not me,” I stammered, “I can’t do that. This is not what I want to do. I have other plans.” “Oh yes you can,” Bishop Begley said, “and that is what you are going to do.” That, of course, is what I did, and that is the very reason I am standing here before you, telling you my story of God’s calling, and the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.
I have reached a point, relatively late in my life, where I no longer presume that I am the center of the world, a world the Holy Spirit oversees, a world where God is in charge. This is the reason I’m preaching about vocations, God’s calling in our life. However, I cannot begin my homily without starting with Scripture. We all know that Jonah did not head directly to Nineveh when told to do so. His plans were different than God’s plans, and Jonah was going to have to take a break in the ‘belly of the whale,’ to think about his vocation. I can’t speak personally about you, but I believe we all spend a considerable amount of time in the ‘belly of the whale’ before it becomes clear to us what God has in store for us.
Now the Gospel story is much different when Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John. This story has always made me wonder how people could just leave everything in life to follow a stranger. What made them do that? What were they thinking? Perhaps they found the answer in Jesus’ eyes. Now, there’s a thought: ‘they looked Jesus in the face, and they knew.’ Does that seem too far-fetched?
But isn’t that how all of us do it, in our vocation, in all the things we try to do in life? We make our plans, then try to live the dream, while being faithful to what we want. We look into the eyes of our spouse, we look our children in the face, we look at the people we work with and for, and we know what we must do. Unfortunately, that does not tell us where we are going or what will be demanded from us in life. It would be nice if it did, but it does not. But it does tell us who we are going with, and who we are journeying with, through life. And that is enough. We know the face of who is calling to us, in the faces of others we can follow.