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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the spiritual life, there are very common patterns that run throughout our lives. Sometimes it takes years of study and discernment to find those patterns, but today's Gospel gives us one very common pattern, a pattern for becoming a devoted follower of Jesus. This pattern of living is not only for us to follow Him, but also for inviting others to follow Our Lord as well.

The first step in this pattern is hearing the Gospel proclaimed to us. All of us, at one time or another, have had the teachings of the Lord explained to us, showing us why it is necessary to follow Him for salvation. Many of us may have heard it many times, through homilies, spiritual reading, religion classes and so on. At some point, there was someone willing to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to us.

The second step is to hear Our Lord's call to follow Him. We know that Jesus is always pulling on our hearts to become more deeply devoted to Him and follow Him, but we often don't hear that call because of events in our lives or ignore that call because it might cause us to move out of where we're comfortable. Even with our reluctance to answer that call, Our Lord is calling to us much as He called to Simon, Andrew, James, and John on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
The four fishermen show us an example of the third step: responding to Our Lord's call by following Him. These fishermen left behind everything they had, especially their livelihoods, to follow Jesus. To give up everything and follow Our Lord is the ultimate sacrifice, one that we may not be called to make, but we still need to follow Him with the willingness to sacrifice anything to serve Him.

As followers of Our Lord, we are not only challenged to follow His will, but also to evangelize those around us, to bring the whole world to follow Christ. It's a difficult challenge to be sure, and may not always be welcome by those we interact with on a daily basis, but these three steps also give us the guidelines to evangelization.

First, we must be willing to proclaim the Gospel, both in words and in deeds. If we truly wish to follow Our Lord, we must act as He would have us act, and be willing to give up those thoughts and behaviors which are contrary to living the Gospel. Likewise, we must be willing to talk to others about the Gospel, which will be difficult at best and will mean saying somethings which will not be popular, especially in the area of morality. Our culture here in the United States, as well as throughout much of the developed world, has rapidly slid away from the promotion of Christian values. We are challenged to stand up to that culture in defense of life and morality, both on a national level through political action, but also on a personal level through our conversations with those we meet every day. It is extremely difficult to speak up to promote the Gospel, but Our Lord asks each of us to do just that.

Along with proclaiming the Gospel, we can call others to follow Jesus, much as He called the fishermen on the shore. Many of us know someone or several people who may have left the practice of the Catholic faith for various reasons. Sometimes they may have just stopped going to church, not going on Sunday any more, or they may have started attending another church. For whatever reason they may have for not attending, we need to reach out to them and invite them to come back. It may not always be met with approval, but we still need to make the effort to invite them.

Finally, following Our Lord may bring with it some difficulties. St. Paul, whose conversion we also celebrate today, frequently had to suffer through persecution because of his willingness to follow Christ and spread His Gospel. Even through the persecutions, St. Paul dedicated his life to Christ's Gospel, and we must be willing to do the same. Persecution may come for those who follow Christ, but we need to remember that the Kingdom of God is at hand, as he tells us in today's Gospel passage. We follow Our Lord so that we may have a share in that Kingdom. The persecutions of this life will pass away, to be replaced with the joy of the life to come.

By following Our Lord, we may come to feel like Jonah in the first reading who was reluctant to go through Nineveh announcing the Lord's message. Jonah did what God commanded of him, and the people of Nineveh repented. We must also be willing to proclaim what Our Lord has commanded of us so that our world may repent and turn to Him.

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