Saturday, September 12, 2009

Lord, who do you say I am?

HOMILY ON VOCATIONS FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 13, 2009:

One day the famous Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a camping trip. As they lay sleeping one night, Holmes woke Watson and said, “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson said, “I see millions of stars.” Holmes asked, “And what does that tell you?” Watson replied, “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small in comparison. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. And what does it tell you Holmes?” Holmes answered, “It tells me that someone stole our tent.”

A simple question can often elicit some very different answers. In our Gospel today, Jesus asks a simple question, “Who do you say that I am?” Scripture scholars tell us that this passage, this question, is the very heart of Mark's Gospel. The first half of the Gospel leads up to this question, and the second half flows from it. Up to this point, Mark has been preparing for the revelation of Jesus' full and true identity as the Messiah and here in the answer that Peter gives it is revealed, “You are the Christ.” From here to the end of the Gospel deals with the fulfillment of Jesus' mission as the Messiah. What we have in this passage is Jesus examining his disciples to see whether or not they’ve got the point.

When it comes to discerning a vocation from God, this very same question is also at the heart – who do you say that I am? But for someone discerning a vocation, it has two parts. The first is the same as it is in our Gospel today – a recognition of the full and true identity of Jesus. We come to a moment in our lives when Christ is fully revealed to us as our Savior; as our Lord; as our Everything. And then comes the next question – this time it is not Jesus asking us, but it is us asking Jesus, “Lord, now that I know who You are; in your sight, who do You say that I am?” As Jesus answers that question, He reveals our vocation. It is the most important question that anyone can ever ask in their life. What is God’s plan for you? What would God have you do; have you be? Let me give you the example of my own life.

Twenty years ago, I was an investigative news reporter in Southeastern Massachusetts. I covered crime and politics – some would say that is redundant – and I really loved my job. Just think of the show “Law & Order” and the excitement and intrigue of rushing to the scene of a crime and reporting on the police teams as they tried to crack the case; or being in the courtroom as the great drama of a court case unfolded. As I said, I really loved my job.

Now, as for my faith life; at this point, it was nearly non-existent. I grew up in a very Catholic Irish-American family. As a child, I attended Catholic schools most of my life. Went to Mass every Sunday. Prayed the rosary regularly. But, God had simply not fully and truly revealed Himself to me. I hadn’t yet made that leap of faith. Once in my early 20s, I moved out on my own, began working in the news business, and basically stopped going to Church – except on Christmas and Easter, to keep Mom happy.

Then, there was this one Saturday night. On this night, I felt an urge that I had never felt before. It was the desire to go to Mass. At first, I didn’t know what to make of it, but I followed through on that desire the next morning. I sat as far in the back as I could in a very full Church at the 10 a.m. Mass. And I remember the most spectacular thing happening. As the priest, Fr. Mark, delivered his homily, it felt as though every word he spoke was meant for me; and perhaps only for me. It seemed he was even looking directly at me as he was speaking. I left that Mass unsure of what to make of it and decided I would challenge God to see if he could do it again the next week.

So, one week later, I went again – and God came through again. This time, not only with the homily, but even more importantly in the Eucharist. On that Sunday, my heart was opened for the first time to the full and true identity of Jesus in the Eucharist. The priest spoke those words that we have all heard a thousand times, “Take this all of you and eat it. This is my body, which will be given up for you.” And for the first time in my life, I knew that those words were true. It really was His body; He really had done this for me. Jesus was there – fully and truly and powerfully present in the Eucharist. As this powerful moment was taking place, the choir began signing Psalm 139 as our communion hymn, “O God, you search me and you know me…You know my resting and my rising. You discern my purpose from afar, and with love everlasting you besiege me: In ev’ry moment of life or death, you are…For you created me and shaped me, gave me life within my mother’s womb. For the wonder of who I am, I praise you: Safe in your hands, all creation is made new.” God was definitely showing off at that point.

But, in that moment, in that precious moment, I met Jesus for the first time and could answer His question, “Who do you say that I am?” You are the Christ. You are the living God. You are really here. You really want to touch my life and be a part of it. And that lead me to ask of God the question, “Now Lord, who do you say that I am?” Who am I in Your sight?

I began meeting with that priest, Fr. Mark, and what began as an urge to go to Mass on a Saturday night, lead me to a passionate desire to want to give all of my life; all of who I am to God as a Franciscan and as a priest, and 18 years later, I live a life in which I would not change a thing because it is a life lived in answer to the question, “Lord, who do you say that I am?” And living what God has in store for us is the most spectacular thing anyone can ever do.

And that is the heart of vocation, of discernment, of calling. If you are a young person here today, open your heart to the true and full presence of Jesus in this Eucharist – it is there that He reveals Himself to us and shows us what we are called to be in His sight. You know, the crisis we have in vocations today is not one of calling – God always calls – it is one of awareness. We must pledge to be the people who support and encourage vocations – especially to consecrated religious life and the priesthood. My challenge to everyone today is this – if you have ever thought of someone that they would make a good priest, a good deacon, a good religious brother or sister – tell them; pray for them; encourage them.

And if you’ve ever had that thought about yourself – listen to what Jesus wants to reveal to you; and talk to someone about it. Attend the Eucharist regularly; daily if you can. Let Jesus show you what He has in store for you. Talk to me; talk to one of your parish priests; or a religious that you know and trust. And pray.

“Jesus asked them, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter said to him in reply, ‘You are the Christ.’” And, let us have the courage to ask Jesus, “Lord, who do you say that I am?” And, give us the courage to follow.

May the Lord give you peace.

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