When did you experience a day when nothing would be the same again? One of those milestone moments in your life. A thing that you can point to as something that definitively altered things for you, your experience, and your routine. Maybe you thinking back to the first day of school or graduation days. When you started your first job. Moved to a new town. My God-daughter just got her driver’s license this past week – that triggered memories of what a pivotal day that was – the excitement of driving alone for the first time. As ordinary, routine as life can be, where days, weeks, months, and years can fly by that seem lost in our memories – there are those days that forever stand out in our hearts and minds, the days when everything changed: the day you met your future spouse, a wedding day, the day you had a child – an ordination day.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the the THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME – January 22, 2023, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim
Some months ago, a former parishioner shared on her Facebook page the 25th anniversary of a life-changing day for her, that she marked every year… Well, truth be told, that she had marked every single day since that day: The day when she became sober.
I had met her probably only a few months into her sobriety, and never even knew about it until recent years. At the time as a 25, 26-year-old newly ordained priest she was in a group of parishioners around my age – mostly couples that had become friends of mine. It wasn’t uncommon on the weekends to meet up at some of the local bars in the neighborhood. It never registered to me when she would order a non-alcoholic drink that she had struggled with so many demons as she had. How disastrous and difficult, life-threatening alcohol had been for her. The tremendous challenges she was facing every time she was with us as the rest of us were enjoying having a few drinks together (and benefited from her as our designated driver) that she was struggling with temptations to drink, but didn’t want to isolate and not be out with friends. But for her, on that day 25 years earlier, she decided that was a dividing day from who she was to who she would become. She said that she found herself waking up if not still drunk, severely hung over, having to go to work as a college student in (of all places) one of the biggest party schools and cities in Florida. As she recounted on her 25th anniversary she just knew this had to stop. She didn’t know how she would do it but set off on this journey that now was 25 years later. She didn’t sugarcoat the difficulty and wasn’t looking for praise, but simply wanted to share how important this realization was and to share with the world, to others who were struggling and not believing that things could be different – that they could. She would be a witness and a friend to anyone who wanted, truly wanted this new life.
I was – I am – so proud of her. It is an incredibly courageous thing and sadly is something that’s more counter-cultural than ever to commit to sobriety. 25 years ago there was a greater push for people to wake up to the harmful effects of alcohol – now we have so-called government leaders gleefully legalizing even more dangerous substances like marijuana… That helps contribute to all kinds of influences that enable and encourage reckless behavior and is causing higher rates of addiction, to the point that some can’t even imagine going sober for a week. But this woman and countless others bear witness to the possibility of breaking these addictive cycles, the positive shifts and transformations of life it has brought to them that they can all trace to a particular day when their lives changed.
Most changes are a bit more gradual – we have time to plan and anticipate them. But there are those like that when something hits us and we make a choice that truly is a dividing line in our lives from who we were to who we will become.
That came to mind when praying with today’s scriptures. Every year we hear from one of the Gospel writers about how Jesus called his first disciples. More than likely these men had some encounters and heard Jesus preach a few times before this incident. Yet there’s something definitive about this particular day where He calls them. Jesus had just preached saying “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And then somewhat simply says a few words that invite them to follow Him – and they drop everything and do just that.
St. Matthew though precedes this with some interesting details. He tells us that Jesus “…left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,” and then references what we heard in the first reading as he continues “that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.”
Up until this moment for the Jewish peoples, that land of Zebulun, Napthtali was reminders of loss and desperation. Just hearing those names would be like us hearing “Ground Zero” or “Pearl Harbor” – but even worse, because there was no recovery, no rebuilding, no subsequent victories that had come after those horrendous attacks. Rather, they saw that it was there, that the Kingdom of Israel had started to completely fall apart. These were the first of the 12 tribes to fall as enemy empires kept invading, pillaging, and subjecting the peoples which led to a period of decline that decimates the entire Kingdom of Israel. Centuries before Jesus’ birth though, Isaiah prophesies that God will restore hope – the gloom, the darkness will be dispelled, and the yoke that burdened them would be smashed starting right there. And the people waited for centuries for that day to come.
As these two sets of brothers- Simon Peter & Andrew, James, and John see Jesus, hear His call to repentance, and invitation to follow Him these hopes and dreams for Israel from the prophet Isaiah are renewed. They see the light, they hear the good news – and they decide nothing else matters. That nothing would ever be the same for them. This becomes a day where they left behind their livelihoods – leaving their nets. A day where their lives were completely re-ordered and re-prioritized – leaving their families. They could have had no idea what each day that followed would look like, the challenges, the trials, and how radical this decisive moment would be. But they heard His voice, saw His face, and knew they didn’t want to let this opportunity pass them by and become a day they regretted.
For a majority of us, our lives as Christians is something that’s been part of who we are for our entire lives. Being baptized as infants we can easily fall into treating it as a box we check in how we identify ourselves: Male or Female; Race; Ethnicity; Religion. A few years ago, Pope Francis asked an audience of thousands of people “which of you knows the date of your baptism?” Suggesting that we should celebrate that day every year. But despite the attention that challenge received at the time, I’m pretty sure that most of us don’t know that actual date, let alone do we mark it or celebrate it each year – myself included. Because it’s a fixed part of our history, we might not have the dramatic memory of pinpointing the day our lives changed by being baptized into Christ. But the radical shifting that comes from following Him, letting Him reorder our lives, and our priorities is something that has to be true for us as well. This is why we reflect on this day for Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John.
Just as someone whose life of sobriety started on a particular day challenges us to evaluate our relationship with alcohol, to reconsider if there are other destructive influences undermining my physical, emotional and spiritual health and be inspired by their example to confront them, or to give thanks for the blessings we enjoy… Peter, Andrew, James, and John remind us of the importance of Jesus’ call to discipleship. How we can, like they, recognize in our time, plenty of examples of gloom and darkness we see in our world; that the prophecy of Isaiah of the light to come has been fulfilled in Jesus. That this good news can be actualized and realized when each of us follows the first disciple’s example: Hear the call to “repent” – examining my life, and my conscience, and commit to removing those things that are not of God, going to confession, and being free from any sins. And then resolving to follow Jesus. Follow Him by committing to prayer. Follow Him through my selflessness and sacrificial offerings to others, especially those in need. Follow Him by letting go of the anger, and the pain and offering forgiveness. Follow Him, striving to do all those things, knowing that they’re hard, knowing we’re not perfect but that He keeps calling and inviting us to get up, to keep pursuing and striving and trying. And finding in the process, when we do, that no day will ever be the same.