“At once they left their nets and followed Him.”
When I made inquiries about joining the Oblates of the Virgin Mary in Boston in 2000, I was sent a package with lots of information about the congregation. The very first thing that struck me upon opening the package was the quote and question, “The first requirement to be an Oblate of the Virgin Mary is a desire to be saint. Do you want to be a saint?” I was hooked then by this statement and question even though I knew then that I was nothing close to a saint. Even after 15 years in the congregation, I am still far from being a saint!
But I realize now that the moments when I ignored the call to holiness, the moments when I failed to consistently turn away from sin and selfishness and journey towards God and His will for me, the moments when I easily compromised with sinfulness were also the moments of the greatest struggle with the demands of my vocation to give of self completely. The more the call to holiness faded into the background, the more that selfishness seemed to rear its ugly head with a vengeance.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church shows that only a life of continuous conversion gives us the needed spiritual focus and energy to strive for the holiness that befits us as children of the Kingdom: “The first work of the Holy Spirit is conversion. Moved by grace, man turns towards God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high.”(CCC#1989) The Spirit initiates this ongoing conversion in our lives, moving us from sin and self-centered living and drawing us to journey to God and His will for us and our lives. A life of constant conversion is what opens us to the Holy Spirit’s light and strength that we need to strive for the holiness of the Kingdom of Heaven. We succumb to selfishness when we forfeit this spiritual energy and focus of the Spirit that we receive from ongoing conversion.
In Sunday’s Gospel passage, we see the prompt and generous response of the four fishermen to Jesus’ call to them. At once Peter and Andrew “left their nets and followed Him.” Immediately, James and John “left their boat and their father and followed Him.” How could they leave all these good and wholesome things and their loved ones in a moment and follow this Jesus who was only then considered an upstart prophet from Nazareth? Most likely they had heard and were open to Jesus’ earlier call to repentance: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Jesus called all to repentance first before He called the disciples to leave all things and follow Him. By hearing and heeding His call to repentance, the disciples were already disposed to move away from sin and selfishness and move towards God and His will for them. They were ready to respond to the call to leave even the necessary things for the sake of something greater – the kingdom of God.
As they continued to respond to Jesus’ call to conversion from selfishness, they had the strength to follow Him till the end despite their many failures. Jesus constantly invited them to leave not only their nets and careers and relatives but even their own selves, their own plans and their own ways of thinking about the Kingdom. Only the energy and focus that comes from constant conversion could sustain them in their discipleship.
In the Second Reading, St. Paul warns the divided community in Corinth about their divisions and cliques. Because Jesus’ call to constant conversion and journey back to God had faded into the background, they were overcome by their selfish clinging to the community leaders. They had forfeited the light and strength of the Holy Spirit needed to overcome selfishness and to participate in the holiness of the children of God. St. Paul calls them back to their senses by reminding them of the centrality of God’s call to them in Christ Jesus, calling them to holiness of life from the moment of baptism. “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how easy it is for us to ignore the call to constant conversion. We become complacent in this conversion because we see conversion as just a turning away from sin and so we judge ourselves using the 10 Commandments or the precepts of the Church. But if we see the full picture of conversion as a Spirit-inspired and Spirit-sustained turning away from sin and selfishness and a journey back to God and His will for us, it will be hard for us to say that we have arrived at where God wants us to be as His children. The full picture of conversion will move us to open ourselves more to the promptings of the Spirit so that we have energy and focus to strive for holiness no matter our failures. As we keep this call to holiness before us, we slowly conquer the selfish tendencies within us.
No matter what our vocation in life is – single, married, religious, priest, etc – we are called to give of ourselves completely to others in one way or another and thus advance in holiness. A friend of mine who is married with four kids and working over 12 hour daily shifts once said to me, “If you think you are making sacrifices as a religious priest, come and spend a summer with me and my family.” I did and it was an eye opener. Ever since then I have found it difficult to complain about the sacrifices of my vocation and the constant call to conquer self. Unless we embark on a life of continuous conversion without respite, selfishness will dominate us and ruin our beautiful vocations.
We come into living contact with the Spirit of Jesus in the Eucharist we celebrate today. He is the light that “shines on those who sit in darkness.” We have sat in darkness long enough; now it is time to get back and journey to God along the path of constant conversion. Let the Spirit move us to leave all things sinful and self-centered and journey to God. We may fail several times and need to begin again. But if we never give up, at the end of time, we will hear the voice of Jesus say to us one last time, “Follow Me.” Then we shall truly leave all things, even the grave and death, and follow Him into His heavenly Kingdom.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!