Come, follow me!
Today’s Gospel marks the beginning of the Ministry of Jesus. John had been arrested, so what the Baptist had already said about himself, namely that he would decrease and Jesus would increase was actually happening. The Gospel tells us that instead of going to Nazareth (in other words, instead of going home), Jesus went to Capernaum, the place of Mission. As it happened long ago, the Prophet Isaiah had looked forward to a future time when the Land of Zebulun and Naphtali would receive a great revelation; this Revelation happened in and through the Words and actions of Jesus in the Capernaum area. However it would seem that it was not the sayings of the Prophets which influenced Jesus as to the kind of person he was to be or the places that he should go to. The Spirit led Jesus, into the fulfilling of all the Prophecies of old. Moreover, the Gospel community of Matthew who wrote this version of the “Good News” looked back upon the sayings and stories of Jesus many years after His Resurrection, and with the Old Testament as a background to the center stage of Jesus of Nazareth. It was after this community reflection, on the life of Jesus, and the Christ of faith, that they could see the great jigsaw puzzle of God’s saving actions, where making a complete picture which came true in Jesus of Nazareth. This picture became clearer when pieces from the Old Testament which made sense, and underlined the identity, message and mission of Jesus found their correct place within the overall picture. Hence the identity, message and mission of Jesus continues in and through His living Body, the Church today.
In having the very powerful words of the Prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading, describing the place and activity of the Promised Messiah’s mission, it causes us to pause and catch our breath as to its implications for us today. The faces have changed, but the message remains the same.
The Message of Jesus is a very simple one, yet deeply profound. ‘Turn from your sin, and turn towards God, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.’ For some of our more senior members of our Parish community, they would remember the Parish Mission Fathers coming around, 40 to 50 years ago, with their sometimes fire and brimstone sermons, in order to encourage people to do exactly what Jesus is requesting. Religious Orders like the Redemptorists and Passionists would be invited by the Parish Priest to give a Mission in the Parish. Usually there would be two Fathers, one old one, the other a young one, or a fat one and a thin one. The Mission Fathers had been formed in Preaching, and they were filled with stories, and crowds of people would come to the church. The Parish would undergo a through renewal. Now, I am speaking about the 1950’s and 1960’s and well before that…… Television was only just becoming popular, and most people worked from 9 till 5 unless they did shift work, as we used to call it. Also, people were generally at home of a night, so they were free to go to the Mission!!!There is something else about the Mission; it was a bit like the Circus coming to town! The Mission Fathers brought fresh air to the Parish, and they were very entertaining as well. The banter between the Mission Fathers was akin to Laurel and Hardy! Some people were so keen in listening to the Fathers that they would find out where a Mission was on, and turn up for it…..hopefully for spiritual reasons, eh eh.
There is an old story told about two Passionist Fathers giving a Mission in a certain suburb of Sydney. These two men were seasoned Missioners! There was an older priest and a younger one. Over the period of a month, that being the length of the Parish Mission, the first three weeks were made up of intensive visitation of all the Parishioners, even the ones who may not want to see a priest! Finally, the Church would have lots of people coming each night to the last week of the Preached part of the Mission… There would often be so many people that they was only standing room left! After each evening session of the Mission, the people would be lined up in queues to go to Confession…and if someone tried to jump the queue, my goodness, it would be like WWIII! On the other hand, the Mission Fathers had a keen eye on the crowd of people, with their experience they could sense if their words for a ‘change of heart’ was really getting through to the people. The results of their preaching could be seen in the huge crowds lining up for Confession after the evening session. Now, there was an elderly couple who always used to be among the first people to arrive in the church, so that they could get a good seat, especially in the front row because both were a little hard on hearing, and there were no loop systems in the Church in those days…..sometimes there was even no public address system. The Mission Fathers had great timbered, strong voices, that they could even be heard a block away from the Church. Now, let’s get back to this elderly couple sitting in the front seat. The Mission Fathers noticed them every night of course, because one could not miss them….they were right in front of the Mission platform where the Fathers would give their Sermons…..and with no notes! A great and awesome Crucifix would be behind them, and they would preach the Word in the shadow of the Cross……during the Sermons, all eyes were on the Preacher, and the Preacher had his eyes on them!
Now, over the period of the week, the Fathers noticed that this elderly couple in the front seat seemed to be unmoved by the piercing words from the Preachers; and they never fronted up to Confession! The last night of the Mission was a lively Sermon on Death, preached by the senior Father. No one could be unmoved by the powerful words of the Preacher, except this elderly couple in the front seat. So after the final sermon, the senior Father could not contain himself but went and spoke with this elderly couple as to their lack of external contrition….So, Father Kevin went to the couple and said,’ Excuse me, I have seen you here every night!’ Then Fred who was more hearing impaired than his wife said to Alice, ‘What did he say?’ So Alice shouted to her husband…’The Priest said that he has seen us here every night!’ With a loud voice Fred said, ‘Oh, tell the Father that we have seen him every night too, and he needs to lose some weight!’ This was not the answer that the Priest expected. So Father Kevin then spoke to Alice saying, ‘You both don’t seem to be spiritually moved by the Mission!’ Fred said, ‘What did he say?’ Alice shouted into her husband’s ear, ‘Father said that we don’t seem to be spiritually changed by the Mission!’ With a twinkle in his eye, Fred shouted to the Priest: ‘don’t worry Father, we don’t belong to this Parish, so your words do not apply to us, it is better to go to a Mission than to go to Worth’s Circus!!!!!!!’ Fr Kevin smiled and said, what Parish are you from?’ Alice said ‘that they were from the next door Parish’. Fr Kevin excitedly said, ‘we’ll be giving a Mission there next month!’ Fred heard this part of the conversation and shouted to the Priest….’Oh, we won’t be there because we have already been’…………such are the ways of our great Irish ancestors! Let’s get back to the Homily!
Turn away from sin! In other words, in hearing the truth of the message, it is up to us to ‘change our hearts’ and undergo an internal conversion. This is not just a once in a lifetime experience. In order for us to develop our Christian calling, we do need to attend to this exercise on a regular basis. As the famous Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman once said, ‘to live is to change, and to become holy or whole is to have changed often.’ We are called to be a Holy People, and this is not measured by the number of prayers that we say, or the callouses on our knees, but rather by the ‘change’ that ‘prayer and contrition’ can make in us, namely to be more wholesome – Christ-like people. When we work at this, true evangelizing is taking place in us, and this has a domino effect upon other people. Let us Pray: Lord, may your Spirit within me touch the hearts of those I meet today, either through the words I say, the prayers I pray, the life I live or the very person that I am’. Amen.
Now, let’s look at the next part of the Gospel passage for today….the calling of four of Our Lord’s future Apostles….Simon and Andrew, James and John. We need to look at this very carefully so that we can tune into the full import of its meaning then, and for us now!
The calling of the Apostles by Jesus, and their response, is deeply linked to the first part of the Gospel where Jesus is calling people to change their hearts, and not only hear the Good News, but be, the Good News.’ As a result of a ‘turned around’ way of life and resolutely following Jesus through thick and thin, we are walking editions of the Good News. Notice that when Jesus calls his future Apostles to follow him, there are no ifs and buts from the Fishermen. They heard the call, and they responded immediately, leaving their security behind, and placing their adherence to Jesus, even though it was to be a bumpy ride for them, as it is for us. Notice that the first two fishermen were casting their nets…..a very important an exacting task. In the middle of that, they stopped and followed. The next two fishermen were mending their nets…another exacting task; they stopped and followed! So, the new life that they were responding to from Jesus was a different kind of fishing and mending…….it was fishing within humanity and mending themselves so that they could be what was asked of them by Jesus. Mending is a very important issue…we all need mending; the Apostle needs mending, we the body of Christ need mending; our outreach in mission can be mending for others, as well as ourselves. We are always keen to have our Car serviced regularly so that it can perform well. If we don’t mend our car, it will eventually ‘give up’ on us and then we need Road Service! In short, as we see in the Gospel today, mending, proclaiming the Word, and responding to the Word, are all part and parcel of our Christian calling.
When did we last stop, look and listen to check out our Christian performance? There is no time like the present, maybe part of the Gospel message is for us to do it now!
PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION
Leader: With Christ’s light shining on us, let us bring our needs into the presence of God.
Reader. For all Christians: that they may faithfully spread the light of Christ to others. We pray to you, O Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.
Reader. For unity in the Church: may we all strive to accept one another as God accepts us, in Christ crucified. We pray to you, O Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.
Reader. For the leaders of the world: may they work together to promote peace and justice for all peoples. We pray to you, O Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.
Reader. For all Australians: may we work together as brothers and sisters to recognise and respect people of different faiths and cultural beliefs. We pray to you, O Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.
Reader. For catechumens: may they persevere in their journey towards baptism. We pray to you, O Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.
Reader. For all gathered here: may we strive to hear and recognize the call of Jesus and to follow him in service to the Church and the world. We pray to you, O Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.
Reader. For our deceased relatives and friends: may they enjoy the light of eternal life. We pray to you, O Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.
Leader. Almighty God, may the radiance of your glory light up our hearts, and bring us safely through the shadows of this world until we reach our homeland of everlasting light. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Fr Kevin Walsh
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia