3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 22 January 2023 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 8: 23-9:3; Responsorial: Psalm 27; II: I Corinthians 1: 10-13, 17; Gospel: Matthew 4: 12-23

We have returned to Ordinary Time. Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany celebrations are passed for another year. We are back to…the ordinary. Whatever that may be or might bring. And the Word of God, Jesus Christ the Living Word, calls us to follow him. Jesus calls us individually and together to God’s Kingdom.

PLEASE. Let’s STOP whatever we are doing or are concerned about and let the Truth penetrate our lives deeply, eternally. Jesus is calling you. Jesus calls us, together to follow him. Our gospel shares how Jesus, as his earthly ministry begins walks along the Sea of Galilee and calls Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John to stop what they were doing and follow him.

He proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and God calls us to repentance. It is liberating to observe that while we tend to think of repentance as the turning away from sin, (which is very correct) it is also much more. Peter and the others were not apparently sinning. They were only trying to work at their fishing and sustain their lives and the lives of their families. But then, Christ calls them to leave behind their tasks, and their livelihoods and follow him in simple faith. Jesus called them as he calls all of us, from where we are in their lives to follow him into the service and riches of God’s Kingdom. There is a passionate simplicity in this call we share. We must remove the meaningless and return to the meaningful. In the weeks ahead the Gospel of Matthew will be sharing how Jesus would go on to lead his followers in the dynamic quest of holy love.

God is calling. Scripture and the lives of the faithful clearly affirm that God calls us each, by name. The plans and designs of our Creator are known by God while we are just forming in our mother’s womb. There is no lack of the vocation or call to follow God. Again God is calling. The very evident lack is not from God. Is it not, instead the lack on our part to listen? Is it not also often like the sheep in the photo above? We hear, and we believe Jesus may be calling us to follow him. But we come to the gates, the barriers that would block our path. We then focus upon many good things that nevertheless take our eyes away from Jesus. We are told we must learn so many things and teachings. Doctrine, theology, philosophy, natural law, liturgical practices, family practices, ethics, and more. Each of these is an important and needed tool in the work of God. But they should never replace the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As St. Paul warned in our second reading from first Corinthians the disciples then, and now were becoming distracted by their penchant for certain apostles, teachings, and agendas. Division and strife follow whenever that occurs, again then and now.

God IS calling. Now in this twenty-first century, the Holy Spirit is seeking men and women willing to leave the darkness and violence of the world and to seek and serve Christ and his kingdom. We are called to follow Jesus in Penance, in God’s purpose and plans, and to proclaim God’s Kingdom of healing and holy love.

God is calling us to Penance. We hear of penance, we hear of repentance, and immediately think of sin, the evil of which we must repent. And indeed this is one part of this beautiful living mosaic of faith. But true penance is a lifelong part of our Christian discipleship. The Holy Spirit, brightening the living Word of God will always show us our next steps. And often those steps may bring us to adjust or even radically change our path. We should always be learning, from God of what in our lives that hinders us from knowing, listening to, and following Christ. Jesus is the Shepherd of our souls. We are his sheep. We may see what is a closed gate when God is simply calling us to shift our eyes from the gate back to him.

Jesus is calling us to grow in the purposes and plans of his kingdom. St. Anthony of Padua was a man who knew the power of penance that would lead him more powerfully in the plans of God. Early on in his life, Anthony heard a call to follow Jesus into holy orders. He entered the Canons Regular of the Augustinian order. But God called elsewhere through some visiting itinerant Franciscan monks. Anthony became a Franciscan and purposed to go to Africa and preach to the Muslims. He had a longing to die a martyr for his Lord. He set out on his quest and was shipwrecked. There then followed a serious illness that would weaken him for the rest of his short life. He returned to Italy and grew in a deeper realization of the simplicity of the Gospel call, purpose, and plans of God for his life. St. Anthony would journey on to become a powerful preacher and sharer of many miracles as he worked to proclaim Christ and his healing power.

The Holy Spirit strives to proclaim through our actions and words the healing graces of the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father. Countless are the many plans and purposes of God working through God’s people and creation. God has for each one of us plans and purposes that mold together lives using our talents, experiences, learning, or simply our lives. God knows us each, our needs desires, attributes, and wounds or weaknesses. And God will use the entire person we are for his kingdom and our good. We can only learn these plans as we daily follow Jesus. However every day we are each called to proclaim the healing, holy love of His Kingdom. We must heed, carefully, prayerfully our words. Are we telling of Jesus? Is His mercy, hope, healing, and grace our message? Or are we prophets of anger, doubt, fear, or hate? Are we focusing on a gate that is closed or the way of Christ leading us to his green pastures and the table he has set for us? It is very easy to lock into our agendas, our preferences in liturgy, theology, politics, or even family matters. Are well willing to allow the growing graces of penance, of seeking, together the will of God, and then to share the joy-filled sound of proclaiming the hope of Christ?

In so many ways and places, now more than ever great is the need for our lives to proclaim, in holy mercy, the simple Gospel of Jesus. To offer the real promises of learning and growing in the plans of God for our lives. and to show, in our deeds and words honest vibrant lives of faith living the path of peace as we seek, always to draw closer to God.