Sunday, February 7, 2016

Time to Renew

A policeman stops a car and asks the driver, "Ma'am, do you know why I've pulled you over?" "Well it certainly wasn't for speeding, Officer," she answers. "No," he replies, "you weren't speeding. But I've been following you for awhile, which means I've observed you laying on the horn, making obscene gestures, and shouting rude comments to other drivers. So when I noticed your bumper stickersJesus is my copilot and Follow me to Sunday SchoolI couldn't help but assume that the car had been stolen..."

Make sure there's enough solid evidence to convict you of being a Christian! Do that by making a good Lent.

  Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

As most of you know,
I went on a brief trip this past week
So last Saturday night, I was packing my bags.
The plan was to fly out of Montréal on my way to Texas,
and as I was finishing up, I thought,
“I’d better grab my passport.”
Which is when, less than 24 hours before my flight,
I made the unfortunate discovery:
my passport had expired back in October.
As I paced around the darkened rectory,
I tried to figure out what I should do.
There’s no way to renew your passport in Malone, New York,
at 11:00pm on a Saturday night—I checked.
Maybe my enhanced drivers license would be enough?
I checked that, too…and it wouldn’t.
Maybe I could talk my way out of it—
after all, wouldn’t they take a priest at his word?
While I might be able to pull that off once,
there wasn’t much chance I’d get away with it four times
before returning home.
My U.S. citizenship, of course, hadn’t been revoked…
…it’s just that I didn’t have
any current, valid credentials to prove it.
Finally, deciding that I still really wanted to get to the ordination,
I broke down and bought all new plane tickets—
now flying out of Lebanon, New Hampshire,
at a much higher price,
and with much less desirable connections.
It was a humbling and costly mistake.

We’ve just heard again the familiar tale
of the call of Simon Peter, the fisherman.
It’s a striking vocation story.
As such, it’s frequently used to help people reflect upon
the particular vocation God has for each and every one of us—
the call to live singly or in Christian marriage,
to enter the clergy or the religious life.
This Sunday,
I want us to reflect instead on our common vocation:
the call we all share as the baptized.
We’ve all been called to drop our nets and follow Jesus,
to lead lives of real holiness,
to become saints.

You see, at Baptism,
we became citizens of the kingdom of God.
Nothing can change that:
our citizenship cannot be revoked.
Our baptismal calling remains throughout our lives.
But we can—and often do—take it for granted.
As an old saying goes,
“If you were arrested and changed with being a Christian,
would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
That I once was baptized,
or received the other sacraments in due course,
provides a vital foundation, to be sure.
But what about how I lead my life today?
What’s my level of involvement and commitment?
In other words: Do I have an up-to-date Catholic passport?
Do I have current, valid credentials
to prove my place within the Body of Christ?

Married couples commonly renew their vows
on significant anniversaries—
as do religious sisters and brothers.
We priests renew our priestly commitment each year
at the Chrism Mass in or around Holy Week.
But we will all have the opportunity
to renew the promises of our Baptism
as we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter.
It could easily be a hollow ritual for us—
simply repeating the words and going through the motions.
Or we could take the coming 40 days of Lent
and prepare to make this Easter a truly new beginning.

You see, the Season of Lent—which starts this Wednesday—
is the Church’s annual “grace period”
for renewing your spiritual passport.
The prayer and the fasting and the almsgiving—
all the things we choose to “give up”
and the extra things we promise to do—
should be more than a quaint religious custom:
they ought to aim at renewing our Christian life at its root.
Our many varied Lenten observances
should have but one common goal:
to get back to the heart of our baptismal vocation.
Am I becoming any more holy?
Do I take seriously the call to become a saint?
Do I hide behind my fears and feelings of inadequacy,
or am I prepared to leave everything to follow Jesus?
Will I take advantage of this coming Lent
to assemble current, valid credentials, proving beyond a doubt
that I’m a committed disciple of Jesus Christ?
We mustn’t forget, friends, that the stakes here are pretty high:
when it comes to reaching life’s final destination,
failure to keep our passport renewed
will result in less-than-desirable connections,
and may exact an extraordinary cost.

Our baptismal vocation is not a goal that we pursue,
but a call that we hear.
It’s not directed by our desires, but by God’s.
And deciding to obey the call of God’s voice
often involves doing things we simply don’t understand.
Noah had no clear idea why God told him to build that ark.
Moses led his people to the shore of the Red Sea
without a plan to get across it.
Mary couldn’t understand how she would be 
both a virgin and a mother.
And Peter lowered those nets again
even after a whole night without a catch.
We need to place out full trust in God’s plan,
rather than in our own limited understanding of things.
What we think is realistically achievable is far, far less—
our expectations are often much, much lower—
than the incredible possibilities God has in store
for those who willingly embrace their vocation
and heed his voice.

The gospel story we hear this Sunday
is of Simon Peter’s first call;
Jesus would call him to follow many times more—
every day, in fact.
The same is true for you and me.
So renew your spiritual passport!
Be always ready to go!
God wants to take you some amazing places!

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