Homily - The Call to be a Christian

9 February 2019 | General Interest


The Vocation or Call to be a Christian – a  true follower of Jesus

Lk 5.1-11, Is 6.1-8, 1Cor 15.1-11

One of our common problems is often having a sense of unworthiness, or not being up to a certain task, being weighed down by our weaknesses and even a sense of guilt for the things we’ve messed up or not achieved our hopes, or where we’ve done wrong, or sinned, in the traditional way.  The trouble is this can weigh us down to not realizing our strengths and recognizing the fundamental goodness (God given) within ourselves.

The readings today are all concerned with a sense of not being up to the task ahead for Isaiah the reluctant prophet, Paul the great missionary, and Peter, the fearful and weak,  rather than fearless and strong leader!

The first reading from Isaiah somehow reminds me of the current PM with a lump of ‘uncool’ coal in his hand, but Isaiah’s not in parliament and the coal is not in his hand, but it’s a hot coal to cleanse his lips, and hopefully not literal, but rather a metaphor for firing up his role as a prophetic preacher with a daunting task!   Next we have Paul reflecting on his U turn conversion, after falling off his horse and losing his sight, transformed from avid persecutor to committed proclaimer of the Gospel.  He describes his unworthiness, and yet determination to pursue his mission as a Christian, despite his limitations and weaknesses.  Remember how he speaks of his troublesome lifelong ‘thorn in the flesh’ along the way, and his darker, more depressed moments.  Then we have Peter as the hope of the side, in one sense, and yet, on the other hand, weak,  but encouraged by Jesus to wake up to himself and get on with the job, first with a highly successful haul of fish, after initial failure, and then with becoming a follower of Jesus, with a view to ‘fishing’ for people, thus engaging others with the Gospel message.

It all takes time, and not always progressive or continuous improvement, but with personal setbacks and failures along the way.  Peter is up front and honest about himself in the first place, insisting on his unworthiness, and remember later, his worrying about who might be the greatest among them, not wanting to hear about suffering and the cross, going off to sleep, then denial at a critical moment for Jesus, and disappearance into the darkness.  These are very human role models to give you and me hope when we fall backwards, more often than not!

After the French Revolution in the late 18th century, religion and Christianity lost favour in France, and elsewhere, with the governing class and the ordinary people too, with many of those keeping their faith becoming somewhat negative about the world around them, and also themselves.  It led to a spiritual darkness called Jansenism (later classified as a heresy), which focussed on human nature and the world being fundamentally evil, rather than good, so that the model of life as “a valley or vale of tears” (as in the old prayer “Hail Holy Queen”)  became the norm for some.   There’s no joy on this earth, so keep out of trouble so that you can get to heaven, avoiding the obstacles that lead to the highway to hell or eternal punishment from a vengeful God.  So the God of love and mercy proclaimed by Jesus was lost in guilt and fear, totally the wrong way to go!!

If we allow ourselves to be weighed down by feeling unworthy or bad about who we are, then we limit our capacity to be effective agents of change in making a positive contribution to the lives of those around us, and our world.  Jesus proclaims a Gospel of love of God and neighbour, but also love of self.  This isn’t about being narcissistic, telling myself how great I am, but more having a certain confidence and determination to be and do the best we can in all the circumstances of our lives and relationships.

My friend Martin Ashe (PP Mernda) was talking to me about an 18th century Italian priest named Bruno Lanteri, influenced by his Mamma who always told him: “Never give up on yourself”.  He was determined to change the Jansenistic negative view about self and the world in practical ways, encouraging his parishioners and others to see God as a God of mercy and love, and who is always there to forgive failings and who understood human frailty and weakness and failure.  It was said that the practical application of his message made a big difference to the village communities in which he worked (near Turin), where an atmosphere of encouragement and co-operation countered the fear of damnation and the unhealthy emphasis on personal unworthiness and sinfulness. The people were happier with themselves and each other, and presumably, with God,  as a result of  Lanteri’s example and vision.

The life and death of each of us has an influence on others, says Paul, and you and I don’t have much say about our birth or death!  It’s what goes on in between (‘the dash’) that we have something to say and do, as we live, grow and learn, facing up to life’s challenges and unpredictabilities and uncertainties. 

Today, I had the privilege of celebrating the Funeral Mass of a beautiful person whose life was cut short, it could be said, most unfairly, by a debilitating illness, from which she had suffered for the last 3 years, dying at 54, mother of 3 lovely teenaged children (twins Isabella and Teresa and Anthony), and a loving wife (to husband Joe), of over 20 years, sister (and daughter (of Mamma Isabella).  It was a very sad, but moving and powerful moment, to be with them, and pray and anoint her, in ICU with other family members, as they sat around her, to comfort her as she faded away.  There was a real sense of warmth and love, and appreciation of who she was and what she meant to them.  The celebration of her life was sad but filled with gratitude for a woman who had made such a difference to so many others, first and foremost family, but also innumerable friends, such that the church was full, with standing room only for a substantial number also, the biggest since the Christmas family Mass!

Margaret Vartuli led an ordinary life extraordinarily well, clearly touching so many in positive ways, and making a difference, as we say.  The eulogies about her from her loving husband, children and best friend, all highlighted her generosity of heart, enthusiastic spirit and active Christian faith, lived out in ordinary ways.  From what I could gather, she was a humble person, who would have been shocked or amazed at the massive crowd who came to express appreciation for her and offer sympathy and support to her family.  Her determination to continue to live life well, and her love for those closest to her was clear, to the extent that she didn’t allow her debilitating illness to prevent her from constantly thinking of her family, more so than allowing herself to wallow in self-pity, feeling sorry for herself, given the severe nature of her condition.  What really struck me was her obvious concern for Joe and her 3 children in particular, and the effect her illness and death would have on them. Still, they will no doubt be sustained by faith, gratitude and happy memories, despite the sadness of loss and the sense of unfairness at her loss. As a parish community, we offer our ongoing prayers, sympathy and support.

And so, there is need for a deeper awareness of the  call of Baptism for us all, so, like Isaiah, Paul and Peter, you and I end up having the confidence to say: “Here I am; send me.”  A personal response from each of us is the call to live the Christian life and to contribute to making a better world as a result of applying Gospel principles as we follow him, as do the happy inner-circle, but flawed (giving us all hope!), trio Peter, James and John, after they have headed into the deep and then into the net of freedom and security of a God of love, as revealed in Jesus.


john hannon                                                                   9th  February  2019


Brendan Byrne SJ provides another interesting insight with the word ‘zogrein’, which infers catching alive, connected with keeping in some protective way, so that the metaphor applies to not being enmeshed in the net, but being made more secure, brought into “the more abundant life of the Kingdom of God.”  Another commentator,  Bill Grimm SM,  takes an angle on what he calls “a world starving to hear of God’s love.  The world is swimming around in confusion, waiting to be brought into God’s net.” 


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