Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Audio file (from the vigil Mass)
Before God got a hold on him, Amos was a sheepherder and a tree surgeon. Before God found him on the road to Damascus, Paul was a lawyer and a zealous persecutor of Christians. Before Jesus walked past Matthew, he was a tax collector; James, John, Peter were fishermen; Luke was a doctor. What about Mary? She was a teenaged girl betrothed to Joseph. We have a prophet, twelve apostles, and the Mother of God. From who and what they were before hearing their call, all these ordinary people became extraordinary players in even more extraordinary events. Amos is called to chastise a corrupt priest of the royal court. Paul is called to cease his persecution of Jesus' followers and become one of them. The other apostles are all called to leave their ordinary jobs, to become students of the Master, and give their lives to the preaching of the Good News. And Mary, a virgin girl, is called to become the woman who bears Christ into the world. By the Word of our loving God, ordinary people—just plain folks—are pulled out of the tedious minutiae of just getting through another day and fashioned into instruments of the Divine Will and set out to accomplish a divine purpose. If God will use shepherds, fishermen, a doctor, and a virgin girl to complete His work, why wouldn't He use you, use any one of us?
If called upon to serve a divine purpose most of us would probably react the same way most of the Biblical figures reacted: Who me? Why me? I'm just a bank teller, a cashier, a stay-at-mom, a fast food cook! I'm just a high school graduate; I barely passed my religion classes; I don't like to speak in public; I'm a Big Sinner, probably the Biggest! Given enough time, we could find a thousand and one reasons to avoid being called, a thousand and one excuses not to do whatever ridiculous and potentially embarrassing job God wants us to do. And if we couldn't find the one thousand and second excuse, we'd make one up! Alright, maybe I'm projecting here, maybe I'm telling you more about how I reacted to the call than predicting how you might react. But my point should be clear: when pressed into divine service, quite a few of us truly believe that we are unworthy of the honor, unfit for the job. And we're right to believe it. We are unworthy, unfit to do God's will. . .that is, until He makes us both worthy and fit, until He gifts us with all that we need to accomplish the work He's given us to do. To the shepherd Amos, He gives a prophet's voice. To the Pharisee, Paul, He gives a motivating vision. To Peter, John, James, Andrew, all the apostles, He gives knowledge, wisdom, and authority. And to Mary, He gives a sinless start. What gifts has He given you so that you might complete His work?
Paul writes to the Church in Ephesus, assuring them that he is absolutely confident that they have received their gifts from God and that they have the will and fervor necessary to use those gifts in God's service. When he writes his letter to the Ephesians, Paul is a prisoner of the Roman Empire and from his prison cell he preaches the gospel of freedom in Christ. He shouts out God's Word across the known world. Amos, a sheep-herder and dresser of sycamores, is sent by God to prophesy to Israel. Angrily confronted by the priest, Amaziah, and ordered to leave the temple, Amos says, “I was sent by God to speak His word.” And Jesus, calling the Twelve together, sends his friends into the world, giving them authority to command unclean spirits, to preach and to teach. A prisoner, a sheep-herder, a tax-collector, a handful of fishermen, a doctor, and a few ambitious corporate climbers—all chosen, all taught, all sent to do one thing: speak the Living Word of God in spirit and in truth so that the heirs of the Father might know that their inheritance is at hand. Not one of these apostles or prophets goes willingly. Not one goes without apprehension. Not one of them leaves to do God's will without believing that he is unprepared, unworthy. But they go b/c they trust that God prepares them and makes them worthy to bring His will to completion.
As baptized men and women, we have already accepted the call from God to be His apostles, to be those who go out and preach His gospel in word and deed. As the Body of Christ together in this building, we are here to say “Amen, so be it” to God's charge that we become Christs where we are. And though we may believe ourselves unprepared and unworthy, we are nonetheless vowed to do exactly that. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul takes the time to describe to his brothers and sisters the origin and flowering of their work as heirs to the kingdom. His detailed account of their creation in love and their recreation in Christ's sacrifice is not just pretty theological rhetoric. His goal is to open their eyes and ears to the truth of their identity as ones who have been picked out, selected to do the job God has given them to do. Do you feel unprepared? Who doesn't? Nonetheless, you are a daughter of the Father, an heir. Are you unworthy? Who isn't? Nonetheless, you are a son of the Father, an heir. Are you a prisoner? A shepherd? A fisherman? Probably not. Are we without tools? Training? Experience? Maybe. Nonetheless, we are sent. The only important question now is: will we go? Or will we wrack our brains to invent that one thousand and second excuse to leave God's gifts untouched and go on with the tedious business of just another day? Or maybe, we are willing to pick up His gifts and do His will there's something or someone stopping us. Amos is threatened by a priest who invokes both divine and worldly power. Paul is threatened by imperial Rome. The apostles are threatened by temple, empire, and the rulers of this world—priests, soldiers, and demons. Though threatened from every direction by every force available, Amos, Paul, and the apostles go out anyway and do what their Father has commanded them to do.
Who or what is stopping you? The government? Your spouse? The kids? Your job? If so, listen again to Paul, the prisoner of Rome: “In [Christ] we were. . .chosen, destined. . .so that we might exist for the praise of his glory...In [Christ] you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, [you also] were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance. . .” What worldly power can un-choose you? What relationship do you enjoy that trumps your inheritance as a child of the Father? What deficiency in training, moral purity, motivation, or intelligence can defeat the promise of your baptism? “In accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us,” we are free from every deficiency that limits us, holds us back, or fights to defeat us. His grace, His gifts are lavished upon us and in harmony with these gifts we are forgiven our transgressions and sent out as apostles to give testimony to the freedom we enjoy as God's possessions. So, if we are timid or lax or afraid of doing what we have already promised to do, then it is more than past time to ask for strength, determination, and courage. There's work to be done, God's work. And when we do this work with the Holy Spirit, we are more than merely capable; we are made worthy, fit, and thoroughly prepared. In truth, we are truly blessed.___________________
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