Matthew 4:12-23; 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
When we were younger Jesuits, we were often asked what it felt to be “called” by God. I turned 54 this month and have been a Jesuit for 30 years; the question has barely come up. Were I ever to be asked again what it feels to be “called,” maybe now I’d answer the question the same way many of my brother and sister religious feel about being in religious life this long: that answering the call is the worst thing that we’ve ever done…and the best thing that’s ever happened to us, too.
“Did you ever fall in love, Father/Sister/Brother?” many of us are asked. And I answer that with, “Oh, but we still fall in love while in religious life, of course we do. We’re not androids!” But unlike lay people who can express love in the most exclusive and intimate ways, it can be the worst thing to be so passionately in love, but to stop at a threshold. It’s like stepping on the gas and the brakes at the same time…because we have a vow. And yet, the best thing about religious life is being privileged to have the front-and-center seat in people’s lives. Sure, we don’t have any one person to call our own. Yet, many people come to us with a cry for help, and share with us things they wouldn’t even dare tell their parents, their lovers, their spouses, or even God!
Another worst thing about religious life is being under superiors or bishops who don’t happen to like us, or whom we don’t like, or both. This isn’t just a corporate-world reality, you know. It happens in religious life, too. But like your bosses, our superiors get to decide assignments and trajectories, in spite of the bad chemistry. And we have to obey. And yet, the best thing about religious life is the grace of coming under the care of superiors and bishops who have such hearts of gold—who are fatherly and motherly, who sincerely want only the best for us, and most of all, who quietly and warmly witness to the healing kindness and presence of Christ.
A third worst thing that can happen in religious life is being a witness to—or even being on the receiving end of—the sexism, homophobia, egoism of fellow religious. Why do you think Pope Francis revolts bishops and cardinals with his support of women’s rights, his reluctance to judge homosexuals, his scathing criticism of the lavish lifestyle and clericalism of the hierarchy? Because in many levels of religious life, those things still thrive. And yet, being in religious formation gives us the opportunity to precisely confront our own hurtful prejudices, to admit to bigotry, to answer with brutal honesty why we denigrate women and fear gay people, and all this by psychologically retracing our steps back to that deep, dark place in our history where all of this was birthed…and be given all the help to heal so that we may help heal others, too.
So, you can imagine, on that ordinary afternoon on that beautiful Galilee lakeshore, abandoning their nets to follow Jesus must’ve been the worst decision that Peter, Andrew, James, and John had ever made in their entire lives. No more source of income. No more security for their families. No discernible long-term goals. Many enemies. Death by crucifixion, lions, and bludgeoning. And yet, answering the call was also the best thing they’d ever done in their lives. They never thought they had it in themselves to draw people as they preached about the Kingdom of God, to be able to cure every disease and illness just like Master did, even drive out demons in God’s name, and best of all, to be able to form communities despite all the persecution from 64AD to 2020…long after they died, wow!
How about you? All of you were called by God to this particular vocation you’re in right now: parent, spouse, doctor, lawyer, housewife, house-bund. God called and you left your nets behind. What do you think is the worst thing about your decision? And yet, what’s the best thing that’s made all the difference?
“It’s not only you, you know,” I can almost hear God say to us, his children. “Creating you? Calling you? Forgiving you? Healing you? Loving you? The worst decision I’ve ever made in my life! But creating you…calling you…forgiving you…healing you…and loving you…is also the best thing I’ve ever done in my life as God. Why do you think I still keep doing it?”
Thank you, God.
*image from the Internet (credit : The Sower Magazine)