A reflection on the Readings of January 30, 2022 – the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
It is not uncommon for people to ask me, “How did you decide to become a priest?”
Often my answer to this question is a big sigh! First of all, it is a complex story. I find it hard to talk about my call to priesthood in a casual or time-constrained conversation. Secondly, my decision to become a priest was not like Jeremiah’s call in today’s first reading. I did not hear voices or see visions. I was a teenager trying to figure out what to do. I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a priest. I simply wanted to try it out, and then, year after year, for twelve years continued to plow on. On the way, I faltered, I fell, I got up and fell again, and… here I am today. Today, as I approach thirty years as a priest, as I look back at my journey, I realize that this is my calling. The peace I have in the depth of my being—that is what assures me of my call.
Today’s readings revolve around the theme of “the call.” First, there is the concept of the call – the idea that God sets aside chosen people to accomplish very specific tasks. Second, the second reading not only talks about love but also defines love most descriptively. At first, it seems that this reading does not fit into the themes for today. Dig a little deeper, we realize that love is also a calling. Third, recognizing God’s call is only one step of the journey; the challenges associated with the call are a completely different ball game.
The concept of “the call” has both general and particular implications. On a general level, the entire nation of Israel was chosen and called by God. Numerous Old Testament passages tell us that Israel was chosen not because she was powerful, worthy, or necessarily cultured. In fact, they were mere slaves. God called Israel to be God’s instrument. In the manner in which Israel would conduct its religious, political, and social affairs, God’s wisdom and power would be revealed to the rest of the world. Sometimes, Israel lived up to this calling but most of the time she failed. It is in this context that the more particular prophetic office emerges. Prophets like Jeremiah were called because Israel as a nation failed to live up to her general calling. Either the leaders of the nations or the nation itself had violated the Covenant or were living contrary to the laws prescribed by God. Thus, the prophetic office was a call within the call. The coming of Jesus is an extension of the prophetic call. We have numerous New Testament passages that suggest when the prophetic call went unheeded, God sent God’s Son, Jesus. Even though Jesus is not merely a prophet, his mission included the prophetic task of calling people to fidelity. Jesus came to call Israel to her original Covenant.
How does this reflection apply to us? What does God’s general call and the more particular prophetic call mean for us? First of all, in the same way that Israel was called by God, so too is the Church. What is the Church’s general calling? Today’s second reading has the answer. Paul says, “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” The general call of the Church is Love. Paul’s description of Love becomes an invitation to believers on how the general call to love must be lived out by individual believers. Paul says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, pompous, inflated, or rude. It does not seek its own interests, is not quick-tempered, does not brood over injury, does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Paul would emphasize the absolute necessity of Love characterizing Christian life by saying, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues, if I have all faith so as to move mountains, and if I give away everything I own but do not have love, I am resounding gong, a clashing symbol, and I am nothing.” To live out Paul’s description is the most prophetic thing that the Church and Christians can do today. This is what Pope Francis means by asking the Church to be a Church of Mercy.
The mood of today’s first reading and Gospel reading make us aware of the challenge of the prophetic office. Prophets like, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and the rest boldly and fearlessly called the nation and its rulers to fidelity. They were uncompromising in the way they lived out their call. In fact, most of the prophets faced staunch opposition, persecution, and ultimately death. The fate of Jesus was not any different. Today’s Gospel reading describes the initial rejection of Jesus which began in his own hometown. You would think that if you are the most loving person that you would also be the most loved person. The prophets’ lives and Jesus’ life teach us that this is not the case. Evil is powerful. Rebellion is real. Selfishness is easier. Self-preservation is a forceful instinct. Conversion is difficult. In our world, the most loving person may become the most opposed person. This is an irony, but it is true. If you love sincerely, expect to be opposed. It is part of the prophetic calling. Even Pope Francis is not spared.
Let us end this homily with the opening prayer for today’s mass: “Grant us, Lord our God, that we may honor you with all our mind, and love everyone in truth of heart. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.”
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Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.