HOMILY, Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: January 25, 2015
Fr. Charlie Fox, Spiritual Director, St. Paul Street Evangelization (www.streetevangelization.com)
Repent, believe…and fish?
In today’s Gospel we cross a kind of boundary line, and begin to see John the Baptist fade into the background and Jesus begin His public ministry. John’s arrest by King Herod brings about the fulfillment of the words John himself spoke before his arrest, when his disciples were wondering about Jesus, then a newcomer on the preaching and baptizing scene. John told them that Jesus was like the bridegroom at a wedding, and John was like the best man. John confirmed that he was not the messiah, spoke of Jesus as the messiah they had longed for, and said in conclusion, “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).
This increasing and decreasing began at Jesus’ Baptism, but it accelerates in today’s Gospel. And if “He must increase; I must decrease” is one of the great mottos of John the Baptist, then we hear a very concise and powerful summary of all of Jesus’ preaching today: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Why is it the time of fulfillment? How has the kingdom of God become present? The simple truth is that the coming of Jesus makes the kingdom present, means that now is the time of fulfillment because Jesus is the fulfillment of all that God has promised. Jesus is God Himself, present among us, and wherever the King is, there you have the Kingdom.
But why is “repent” the first thing Jesus tells us to do? Because nothing else will work for us, nothing good will happen, if we don’t turn away from evil first. To draw a comparison: If I am addicted to junk food, I won’t want vegetables or exercise, and what little bit of each I force on myself won’t make much difference. I need to get the bad side of my life under control, to turn away from it, in order to do the good things that will make my life better. So it is with sin. If I am living a sinful life, I am simply not willing and able to do the good things God calls me to do. We see a great example of a whole city repenting in today’s First Reading, and this reminds us that God can make incredible changes possible for any of us. No one is beyond the reach of God, unless a person refuses to listen or to do what God calls him to do.
So what is the first good thing repentance allows us to do? To “believe in the Gospel,” the Good News that Jesus comes to save us from sin and death. To believe that we can live a new life, live in a new way, just as did those first apostles called by Jesus in today’s Gospel. When we hear that they “abandoned their nets” or left their father and their boat behind, that means they were leaving their old lives behind and launching out into a new life with Jesus. And that takes a whole lot of faith, but we know this kind of faith brings the truly good life, and even more importantly it brings heaven: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
In the meantime, we see right away that these apostles are not just called to hang with Jesus and sort of soak up a lot of good experiences and blessings themselves. They are to become “fishers of men.” In fact, you probably know that the word “apostle” in its Greek root means, “one who is sent.” And for what purpose are they being sent? To do a different kind of fishing—to bring others to Jesus, so that they too can know God’s love, and repent, and believe in the Gospel, and be saved…and become fishers of men themselves! That’s how each of us came to be here. If there were a faith version of Ancestry .com, and if it had a perfect database about how every person came to believe in the Catholic faith, you would see that your faith and mine, and the faith of every person, has been received from parents and grandparents, teachers and priests, friends and strangers going back through the generations all the way to the apostles themselves. Every one of us could chart that out, if we just had all the information. We’ll know in heaven, anyway!
The problem is that many of these “chains of faith” have broken down in the last couple of generations. I’m speaking here very generally, and not about you or any person in particular, but today we aren’t doing a good enough job of passing our faith on to the next generation, and we see the sad and disturbing results all around us.
There is a lot that could be said at this point about what those results are, but I think we know them pretty well. And we could think about lots of important ways we could do a better job. But I want to put in a “pitch” for one particular way our parish is trying to help all of us to grow in faith so that we can live more faithfully and share our faith more effectively: that is the upcoming ChristLife program.
You’ve already heard an introduction to the program, so I won’t repeat it here, except to say that its very purpose is to do precisely what we’ve just been considering together: to bring us to Jesus, to help us know Him better, to repent and turn our lives over to Him, and to live a new life, united with Him in His Church.
Now, you may be thinking that you’re already living the Catholic life pretty well. Praise God! I would only ask you to consider that these times of faithlessness in the world require all of us to be stronger in our faith, to be closer to Jesus, and to share Jesus more enthusiastically and more effectively with others. Maybe ChristLife will help you to grow in your faith. What it can certainly do is put you in a position to help others come to faith or grow in faith, either by inviting them to participate or by becoming part of the program yourself. In a very simple yet effective way, you can give witness to the goodness of your Christ-life.
We need more people coming to this altar to worship and to receive Jesus. Jesus died to give us His Body and Blood. And He greatly desires that all people will come to realize that life without Him is empty, will turn away from the emptiness of the world and to find fulfillment in Him. But they aren’t going to come if they aren’t invited, if they aren’t first accompanied through this process of repentance, conversion, believing in the Gospel, and beginning a new life in the Church.
We need more “fishermen” in the Church, Catholics who invite and help other people to share in the gift of faith. Jesus is asking each of us to do his or her part. Let me put it another way: If you have a son, or grandson, or brother, or nephew who’s a self-proclaimed atheist, wouldn’t you like him to meet someone who could help him know how important his Catholic faith is, could reach him in a way that you haven’t been able to do, maybe because he won’t listen to anyone in his family? Well, just maybe YOU are that someone in the life of somebody else’s son or daughter, or uncle, or grandchild. And if you don’t get busy “fishing”, maybe no one else will.