Bible Reading for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Mark 1: 14-20

GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, S.J. (The Freeman) - January 24, 2021 - 12:00am

The Call of Jesus

Today’s Gospel shows us the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, his public life. He announces a message, and initiates a program of action. The message – “repent.” “Turn away from sin, and believe in the Good News.” The action – he invites or calls his first disciples. In these two steps we find the dynamics and process of our relationship with God, in particular with Jesus.

The first step is the call to repentance, to a change of life and orientation, values, and way of thinking. A story may illustrate this point. There was a university professor, who went searching for the meaning of life. After several years and many miles, he came to the hut of a particularly holy hermit and asked to be enlightened. The holy man invited his visitor into his humble dwelling and began to serve him tea. He filled the pilgrim’s cup and then kept on pouring so that tea was soon dripping onto the floor.

The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “Stop! It is full. No more will go in.”

“Like the cup,” said the hermit, “you are full of your own opinions, preconceptions, and ideas. How can I teach you unless you first empty your cup?”

In any relationship with God, it is God who takes the first step. He lets us experience Him as a loving God reaching out to us. The call to repentance is an invitation to empty ourselves and respond to Him in love; to change our lifestyle, open our eyes and ears to his loving presence. to be sorry for our sins – all the things that keep us from loving God and our brothers and sisters.

Renouncing a life of sin and sinfulness to open oneself to the loving relationship with God; that is not very easy, because oftentimes we are attached to our sinful ways. St. Augustine used to pray, “Lord, grant me the grace of chastity, but not yet.”

All the Saints went through a kind of conversion, of repentance –  of turning their lives around. St. Ignatius turned from the life of a hidalgo to that of a pilgrim. St. Francis Xavier turned from his aspiration to be a prestigious university professor to that of a zealous missionary. St. Monica prayed for ten long years before her son, Augustine turned to God.

Before conversion people are often self-centered. The basic concern is what do I get out of life. The center is “I” and “My”; “me” and “mine” – that is why there’s no room for God.

The beginning of conversion is found in the wording of the song “Paghahandog ng Sarili” which says, “I’m passing through this world only once… Whatever good I can do, I must do now, because I’m not going to pass this way again.”

This leads us to the second point. Jesus invites or calls us. When we repent of our sins and open ourselves to God, we may be able to hear His call. God does not force us to do His will.  He invites, He calls. He calls the disciples and us to be his friends and companions, to share in his mission. Like what Jesus did with the first disciples, he calls us to be “fishers of men and women.”

Every now and then people ask me, “How can I know what is the will of God for me?” There is no short cut formula. The best way is to get to know Jesus Christ personally, intimately – through the Sacraments, and praying the Gospel, so that you begin to put on the heart and mind of Christ. If you are familiar or intimate with Christ you can ask yourselves, “What would Jesus do, if he were in my place?” or “What is the more loving thing to do?”

God gives us many ways of knowing His will according to our levels of spiritual growth. Even for non-Christians, they have the natural wisdom of the elders, and their conscience, although these are not as systematic as what St. Ignatius proposes in the Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius himself at the earlier stage of his spiritual journey let the donkey do the discernment for him – whether or not he was going to kill the Muslim, who had been insulting our Blessed Mother. He said to himself, “When we come to the forked-road, I will let loose the reign of the donkey. If the donkey follows the road taken by the Muslim, it means God wants me to kill the Muslim. If the donkey takes the other path, it means God wants me to spare the Muslim.” The donkey decided to take the other path than that of the Muslim.

In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius gives us three moments for making a good spiritual decision. The first moment is when God’s call is very clear – like when he calls the first disciples in today’s Gospel, when he calls Matthew from the tax-collecting table.

You may be surprised that today God still calls in this way at times. My niece, who became a nun told me the story of her vocation. After becoming an accountant, she worked in a prestigious accounting firm, and was later offered a job by another firm almost doubling her salary, but God called her to be a religious. One Holy Week, when she entered the church, she felt the Lord hugging her heart and saying, “I want you to serve me.”

My niece thought that it was just her imagination, and ignored it. The following year the same thing happened. This time she consulted a priest, who advised her to be open to the call. Then the year after that, she looked for a place to make her retreat. She looked for the nearest retreat house, so that she could escape and run back home, if she didn’t like it. When she entered the Manresa Retreat House, she immediately felt so at home.

There were two groups of retreatants then. She intended to join the group not concerned about discerning religious vocation. But she ended in the group discerning religious vocation.

As I look at the circumstances, it seems God made it very clear to my niece what He wants her to do.

For Ignatius, the second moment of finding God’s will is through the experience of spiritual consolation. A person may consistently be attracted to a certain state of life, or profession. Or, a person may consistently experience God’s approval and peace, when he thinks of the decision he has to make. On the contrary, if what he decided on is not according to God’s will, he will experience doubts, restlessness, and God being distant.

The third moment, when the movement of the heart is not clear, a person begins with the use of reason, reflecting on the pros and cons (the reasons in favor, and the reasons against) of each alternative. Then he decides which of the alternative is more reasonable. Upon arriving at a tentative decision, he brings the decision to prayer for confirmation. The consistent experience of spiritual consolation means a confirmation of the decision. While the consistent experience of desolation will indicate that something is amiss.

The call of God is not just to a state of life, like being a priest or religious, or getting married. God calls people to a particular mission.

Some examples of other kinds of call: Every year many young men and women – college graduates, or young professionals – respond to God’s call to join the Jesuit Volunteers of the Philippines (JVP’s) to work for one or two years among the poor. I know of some nurses who volunteered to help the suffering people in East Timor. Some doctors who give up their best clinic hours (Saturday mornings) to help the poor in charity clinics. For the past so many months so many heroic people responded to God call to be frontliners in the fight against Covid-19.

Some people may be called by God to teach – teaching for them is not just a job or career, but a vocation – sharing in the mission of Christ to care for the young. Some may be called by God to be models of loving parents implanting Christian values in the children. Others may be called to reform the business world, or to put Christian values into politics. I know one of the awardees of the Ten Outstanding Mayors of the country, who turned down an offer of millions of pesos just to put his signature endorsing a questionable contract. What motivates these people? Knowing their spiritual life, I would say that at one point in their lives, they heard the voice of Jesus saying, “Come… I will make you fishers of men and women.”

Let us spend some time to look back into our lives. Have we ever heard the invitation of Jesus, “Come, follow me…?” Have we responded? If we have not, maybe our cup is too full!

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