Saturday, February 6, 2016

Homily for 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Luke 5: 1-11
Is 6: 1-8
1 Cor 15: 1-11
Feb. 7, 2016
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.

From our 1st reading this evening:  “He touched my mouth with the ember, and said, ‘See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged’” (Is 6: 7).

Feb. 2, feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, is observed annually as World Day of Consecrated Life.  The observance is carried over into parishes on the following weekend—this weekend—or most Catholics wouldn’t know anything about it.  So this evening we’ll attend to consecrated life, even if this isn’t a parish.

What is “consecrated life”?  I could put the brothers on the spot and ask them!  Not many years ago, we wouldn’t even have used that term; we’d have said simply “religious life,” i.e., the state or way of living in which one professes vows within a certain religious order or congregation, lives in community with one’s professed brothers or sisters, and follows a certain rule of life—the order’s constitutions.

Nowadays, tho, the concept of consecrated life is somewhat broader, encompassing not only religious like the Christian Brothers, the Salesians, the sisters who taught most of us in school, and the other traditional orders that we’re familiar with.  It also includes other, newer forms of belonging to God, being consecrated to him by vows or another special commitment.  These newer forms of consecrated life are more or less contemporary developments to respond to the Church’s situation today, just as monasticism arose in the 3d century to meet the situation then, and the mendicant orders in the 13th century, the apostolic and missionary orders in the 16th, and teaching congregations in the 19th.

So what forms have arisen in the 20th century?  There are societies of apostolic life—some clerical, some lay, some mixed—that don’t profess vows but demand a profound personal commitment, such as Maryknoll, Opus Dei, and Focolare.

Since Vatican II the Church has revived the ancient practice or “order” (in a different sense of the term) of consecrated virgins:  single women who make a public vow of chastity—usually before their bishop—and live privately in their own homes and also commit themselves to some form of service to the Church, such as catechesis or visits to the homebound, in addition to holding a job that provides for their ordinary needs like any other lay person.

There are also “secular institutes,” which are formal organizations of men or women who take vows, like religious, but who live individually in the world—hence “secular”—in their own homes and carry out the works—prayer or apostolate—proper to their institute largely on an individual basis but guided by a Church-approved rule of life and institutional accountability.  Some of these institutes are the “third orders” of the traditional religious orders, while others (including 2 affiliated with the Salesians) are rather new and not considered “third orders.”

What all the varieties of consecrated life have in common is what we hear in today’s readings:  God has called those whom he has chosen, and he has consecrated them, setting them apart and bestowing his grace, his favor, upon them for his own purposes.

We heard how God called Isaiah for the prophetic office and purified him for that purpose.  We heard St. Paul speak of his call to be an apostle, however unfit he was to be called.  We heard Peter confess, “I am a sinful man,” not worthy to be in Jesus’ presence, followed by Jesus’ call to become a fisher of men and the response of Peter, Andrew, James, and John, “leaving everything and following him” (Luke 5:8-11).

Maybe you’ve seen one of the bumper stickers popular with Evangelicals:  “God doesn’t call the qualified.  He qualifies the called.”  Look at Isaiah, Paul, and the apostles.  Look at the consecrated men and women whom you know.  Not too many of them, of us, were canonization material before God called them.  The consecration, the leading into holiness, follows from God’s call.  God purifies and makes worthy those whom he calls.  Holiness follows, according to their greater or lesser response to God’s invitation.  The Brothers have had saints in their community—not in the sense of candidates for canonization, but in the sense of men of remarkable virtue, day in and day out—and so have the Salesians, and so has any form of consecrated life—the work of “the grace of God that is with me,” as Paul says (15:10).  Of course, some of us still struggle very much to correspond with God’s gifts.  All of us have to recommit ourselves daily to the Lord Jesus, just as you who are married have to recommit yourselves every day to each other.

Why does God call some women and men to be specially consecrated to himself?  God does whatever he wants, of course, so we can’t give an adequate answer.  He has a plan of life for each person he’s created, we know.  That plan, in some form, involves everyone helping someone else to make it thru life and to fulfill the divine plan.  Spouses are called to help each other to become saints:  holy husbands and wives, holy parents; and to help their children develop a strong relationship with God.  (How wonderful that the Church has just canonized Louis and Zelie Martin, St. Therese’s parents!)

Those whom God has called to be consecrated and set apart from the majority of believers, like Isaiah, Paul, and the apostles, he’s called for some purpose that serves the Church, serves to build up the Body of Christ (as Paul spoke of in ch. 12, our readings on the 2d and 3d Sundays of O.T.).  They’re consecrated specially for the Lord’s service.  Perhaps the most urgent purpose for which God calls and consecrates chosen men and women is to be witnesses.  Isaiah was called to be a prophet, a public witness of what God wanted of Israel and a public witness of Israel’s hope.  Paul was called to be a witness “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; [and] that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15: 3-4).  The apostles were called to fish for men and women, to catch them in the nets of God’s mercy.

All whom God has consecrated to himself testify that God’s goodness is more powerful than our sinfulness; that God has 1st place in our lives; that God is worth living for; that God has an eternal plan for our happiness.  Many whom God has called to consecrated life continue the apostolic sort of ministry that we see in today’s readings, the ministry of the Word, as well as the ministry of the sacraments, teaching, and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

But others God has called to be silent witnesses:  to live quietly in vowed poverty, chastity, and obedience, even behind monastery walls (like Therese of Lisieux), giving witness that God is their wealth, God is their love, and God’s will fulfills them, or as Dante wrote, “In his will is our peace.”  Moreover, these consecrated souls do for God’s people what so-called “active” Christians don’t do so much of, viz., pray constantly for the welfare of the Church and of the whole world.  They’re consecrated for prayer, and we could say that their prayer is the glue that keeps the rest of us together.

(Yes, we active, apostolic religious do pray, communally, publicly—we’re doing that right now—and privately, but in terms of time at least, we don’t pray nearly as much as those in monastic life, and we run the danger of letting our apostolic concerns—our teaching, writing, visits to the sick, administration of the sacraments, advocacy for the homeless or migrants or street children, etc.—distract us from putting God in the first place in our lives, of letting God rule our lives completely, of opening ourselves fully to God’s grace, so that it might be effective in us as it was in St. Paul [cf. 15:10].
But, you know, the brothers and I aren’t the only consecrated people here this evening.  We’re the only ones vowed to God.  But every one of you who is baptized was consecrated to God in Jesus Christ, called to live for God by the mercy of Jesus, and to live for God like Jesus.  So all of us pray tonite with the Psalmist:  “Your kindness, O Lord, endures forever; forsake not the work of your hands” (138:8).

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