15 January 2018

Homily - 14 January 2018 - The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

There are many factors parents consider when choosing a name for their child. They will often look for a name that has been used in one or both of their families, a name currently popular, or a name to help their child stand out. Some parents even investigate the origins and meanings of names and choose one they think best. And then, before they know it, Jesus may come along and change the name they have chosen for ever, as happened with Simon.

We might say God has something of a habit of changing names: Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel. When Jesus encountered Simon, which means “obedient,” he changed his name to Peter, which means “recognizing.”[1] The Lord, of course, did not change everyone’s name in this way, but only some of those who were to play a particular and pivotal role in salvation history.

In an age of ever-increasing self-absorption, we might be tempted to wish the Lord changed our names – particularly if we do not like the name we were given – because we forget he has already give us a new name, or, if you will, a series of them. Because we have all been baptized into his Death and Resurrection, “now we all have one name, that which is greater than any. We are called ‘Christians,’ and ‘sons of God,’ and ‘friends’ and [his] ‘body.’”[2] If, then, the name we have is that of Christian, we must know what this name we have been given means.

Saint Augustine addressed these words to his flock in the north African city of Hippo on the anniversary of his ordination: “For you I am a bishop, but with you I am, after all, a Christian. The former signifies an office undertaken, the latter, grace; the former is a name for danger, the latter a name for salvation.” We often think being a Christian is about a moral code, about not doing this or that, but to be a Christian is really about salvation; if we do not realize we need a Savior to rescue us from sin and death, if we do not know ourselves to be sinners, we cannot know what it means to be a Christian.

In each of the readings Mother Church proclaims to us today, it is not difficult to see that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with a new event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”[3] This new horizon can only be seen, this new decisive direction can only be followed, to the extent that we remain in an ongoing encounter with Christ Jesus, to the extent that we allow him to look upon us and on every aspect of our lives, to the extent that we hear and follow his invitation, “Come, and you will see” (John 1:39).

There is a great danger for us to allow this encounter with Christ to be one that is simply in the past. Pope Francis expressed this danger in these words:

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.[4]

This is why he encourages
all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord” (Blessed Pope Paul VI, Gaudete in Domino, 22).[5]
It is an invitation I make to you, as well.

Those two disciples watched Jesus walk by, intrigued by something they saw in him. They followed him to learn more about him, which led them to stay with him. In him, they knew they had found their salvation, and so they brought others to him that the joy of salvation might be in them, as well. As it was with them, so must it be with us.

We like to think it was easy for those two disciples to leave everything behind to follow Jesus, to stay with him, and to bring others to him. They heard his words, we think, they saw his face, they witnessed his miracles. All of this is true, but they still had to “leave behind their own narrow agenda and their notions of self-fulfillment in order to immerse themselves in another will, the will of God, and to be guided by it.” This was not easy then, and “it is no less challenging to follow Christ today. It means learning to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, growing close to him, listening to his word and encountering him in the sacraments; it means learning to conform our will to his.”[6]

If we are, then, to live up to the name we have received, if we are to truly be Christians, to live as members of his Body, one in mind and heart, each one of us must help each other

to grow into a genuine and affectionate friendship with the Lord, cultivated through personal and liturgical prayer; to grow in familiarity with the sacred Scriptures and thus to listen attentively and fruitfully to the word of God; to understand that entering into God’s will does not crush or destroy a person, but instead leads to the discovery of the deepest truth about ourselves; and finally to be generous and fraternal in relationships with others, since it is only in being open to the love of God that we discover true joy and the fulfilment of our aspirations.[7]

This is what it means to be a Christian, to be a disciple and follower of Jesus.

As those gathered to together into Christ, let us pray to live up to our name and become other Christs, pointing the way to the one and only Savior.  May others, watching us, see something different about the way we live. Intrigued by this difference, may they follow us and stay with us. And may we, having befriended them, bring them to Jesus. Let us all strive to build up the Body of Christ and increase the number of those who receive his name. Amen.

[1] Saint Anthony of Padua, Homily for the Chair of Peter, 7.  In Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Vol. IV: Sermons for Festivals and Indexes, Paul Spilsbury, trans. (Padua, Italy: Edizioni Messaggero Padova, 2010), 135.
[2] Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, 19:2-3. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. IVa: John 1-10, Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2006), 82.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 1.
[4] Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, 2.
[5] Ibid., 3.
[6] Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the XLVIII World Day of Prayer for Vocations, 19 November 2010.
[7] Ibid.

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