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Posted by on Oct 22, 2023

Beyond Tribal Boundaries

Beyond Tribal Boundaries

When the Jewish people returned from Egypt and moved into the land west of the Jordan River, they were organized into communities descended from Jacob, who was also known as Israel. These communities were called tribes. According to tradition, there were twelve tribes or very large extended families, each with land assigned to its members. 

The tribes mostly got along with each other, but not with outside peoples. During the years described in the Hebrew Scriptures, there were many wars with neighboring peoples. Eventually, only a couple of the original tribes remained. Those were conquered by the Babylonians and carried off into exile. 

Babylon was a powerful nation, but there was another powerful nation to the east – Persia. When Cyrus II, King of Persia, came to power and conquered Babylon, he ordered the release of the Hebrew people, allowing them to return to their land, the territory around Jerusalem in 538 BCE. 

Cyrus ruled an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River by the time of his death. He is recognized as the founder of a great line of kings of Persia. His rule was characterized by a willingness to allow conquered peoples to continue some self-governance and maintain their own traditions. 

We hear of Cyrus’ role in the history of Israel through the prophet Isaiah. “Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus…” The Lord has chosen Cyrus to subdue many nations for the sake of Israel, the Lord’s “chosen one.” Note that Cyrus is called the anointed by God in this prophecy. This term used for anointed is the Hebrew word we translate as Messiah – one chosen and anointed for a particular role. (Is 45:1, 4-6)

God has chosen Cyrus for a specific mission in Salvation History – to return the Hebrew people to their own land. God is not limited by the categories or boundaries of human societies. God works in many cultures and through the interactions of many nations and peoples. As humans, we don’t always see the presence of God in our world and in the events that are taking place. Which of the Israelites in exile in Babylon would have guessed that Cyrus would be the one who would order their return home? Yet, the Lord called him for this purpose, according to Isaiah. 

Many centuries later, another one called Messiah was asked a question intended to trick him into taking a position that would either get him in trouble with the people or with the Romans who had conquered his country. The questioners were Pharisees, teachers of the Law. The question was, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Caesar was ruler of Rome and by extension of the land of Israel. If Jesus said the tax was legal, the people would be upset with him. If he said the tax should not be paid, the Romans would have grounds to arrest him. 

Jesus could see what they were up to. “Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” The coin was a Roman one, with a picture of the emperor on it. Jews were not allowed to make pictures of people or animals, so there would not be any worship of idols. Yet one of those who questioned him pulled out one of the coins and handed it to him. There were other forms of money used among the people. This coin was not typically used in daily life. It was a Roman coin. Jesus asked whose image was on the coin and what was the name written on it. They replied that it was Caesar.  

Jesus knew who it was and what it said, but he asked the question to make it clear that other forces are at play in societies and in world affairs. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  (Mt 22:15-21)

The presence of the Romans in Israel, the status of the Jewish people as subjects of Rome, and the laws governing this small, conquered country all played a role in the way the proclamation of the Good News by Jesus and later by his followers led to the events of his life, including his death and resurrection. The spread of the news of his coming and of the reconciliation between humans and God that he brought was made far easier by the fact that Rome ruled so much of the world at that time. Travel was common, roads had been built and maintained, trade was flourishing, and the world was mostly at peace. 

The growth of the community was not unopposed. Difficulties were common. But the word was received and communities of faith grew. Paul and the others who carried the Good News through the surrounding countries and even to Rome rejoiced in the growth in the numbers of believers. They reminded those new sisters and brothers of God’s love for them and the power of the Holy Spirit, who had come to them and given them strength to live this new way of life. (1 Thes 1:1-5b)

God’s presence and action in the world reaches beyond all boundaries of human communities and traditions. God works to bring good from all that happens. Doors open. Opportunities appear for healing and peace-making. Boundaries break down.

As wars continue in our world today, let’s pray for those in a position to work for international peace, especially for peace between nations that are neighbors and may share some common history. We pray that the Lord will touch the hearts of all involved and help them to see a way forward that allows peoples to live in peace and to grow in wisdom and justice and mercy.  

Come, Holy Spirit. Breathe into our hearts the fire of love, that we may be peacemakers in our own small worlds. Then take that power of peace and move it to the larger stages of life in this world of yours. Surprise us again with the blessings of your love. 

Readings for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

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Posted by on Oct 15, 2023

On this Mountain

On this Mountain

On this mountain, the mountain of the Lord, all will share in rich food and choice drinks, death will be destroyed, tears will be wiped away from every face, and the reproach of his people will be removed from the whole earth. All will rejoice in the salvation that comes from the Lord, on this mountain.

What beautiful hopes and dreams are expressed in this reading from the prophet Isaiah. (Is 25:6-10a) It was a time of impending conflict in Israel. Defeat and exile awaited the people. Destruction of the temple on the mountain in Jerusalem was coming. All seemed hopeless. Yet, Isaiah promised that all would end well, because “the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.”

The Mountain of the Lord, the Temple Mount, in the city known as Jerusalem, is described in this passage from Isaiah. It is named often in the scriptures of Jews, Christians, and Muslims and is revered as a holy place of encounter with the Most High. When the nation of Israel was again established following the Second World War, Jerusalem was to belong to no nation. It was to be a place open to the faithful of all faiths. The name of the city itself identifies it as a place of completeness and holiness, because the Lord dwells there.

An ancient land

Today we witness once again war in the land of Israel/Palestine. The same geographic area has been known by many names throughout history. The father of both Jews and Arabs came to this land from Ur of the Chaldees over 4,000 years ago. The land belonged to others when he arrived. He and his family were foreigners, shepherds, whose God had promised them he would be with them. Against all odds, it turned out to be the case that this God was not one local to Mesopotamia. This God was present everywhere they traveled, including for a time into Egypt.

Abraham settled in the land. He and his wife did not have children and it seemed they never would. But they welcomed visitors one day and the visitors promised that they would have a child. Abraham had despaired of receiving an heir through his wife, so he had a child with her servant. This child, who was named Ishmael, Abraham believed would be his heir. However, the visitors’ promise was kept and a year later, Sarah bore a son for her husband Abraham. This was the child of the promise and he was named Isaac. Ishmael and his mother were sent away.

Thus were sown the seeds of the conflict we see continuing today.

When the descendants of Abraham moved to Egypt during a time of famine, others remained in the land they left behind. Many generations later, these descendants had grown to be a large nation. They left slavery in Egypt, with the help of their God, traveled through the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years and eventually re-entered the land of Abraham and their ancestors. Once again, the land was filled with people. It was not open for a large new group of people to move in without conflict. The newly arrived battled the existing residents and took for themselves most of the land, including the mountain on which the temple was built in Jerusalem.

As we have been hearing in the readings from Isaiah and Ezekiel, conflict continued with surrounding countries, Babylon (Iraq), Persia (Iran), Greece, and others. Sometimes the children of Israel (another name for Jacob, one of the sons of Isaac) won these conflicts. Sometimes they were defeated and the people taken into exile. Always they returned, until the Romans destroyed the temple in the year 70 CE. At that time, most of the people were killed or driven into exile.

Again, non-Jewish people, including the descendants of Ishmael, many of whom had never completely left, moved back into the area and prospered.

It was an on-going cycle of hope and disappointment, building and destruction. This cycle was not unique to this land. It was a cycle we have seen throughout history and in many areas around the world. Peoples come into a new area. Those who were living there previously are defeated. New nations rise, others come later and again war ensues. People are killed. Revenge is taken. Wars continue and hatreds grow ever more deeply rooted.

Is there any cause for hope? Will the cycle never end?

Another perspective

Jesus told a story that sheds a bit of light on this issue. (Mt 22:1-14) It seems there was a king whose son was getting married. The marriage of a royal prince is always a big deal. Invitations to the ceremony and the festivities are generally highly desired. But in this case, when the wedding feast began, none of the guests arrived. The food was ready. The tables were set. Everyone was all dressed up. And no one came.

Well, this would never do. The King sent out his servants to remind those who had been invited. But the guests refused to come to the party. There must have been some mistake, perhaps they didn’t get the date right? So he sent out the servants again with an urgent message. “I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.” The food is going to spoil. We can’t just put it into the freezer for another day! This is the day…

But the guests still didn’t come. Instead, they mistreated and killed the king’s servants.

The king was furious. He sent out his soldiers and killed those who had refused his invitation and killed his servants. He burned their city to the ground.

Still, the food was waiting and there were no guests.

This did not stop the king. He had the servants go out to the main roads and invite anyone they met there to come to the feast. Fine clothes were provided for everyone. It would still be a party worthy of the son of a king.

When the king arrived at the party, one guest stood out. This person had refused the offer of new clothes to wear for the party. He was still in his everyday traveling or work clothes.

This puzzled the king. Why haven’t you put on the wedding clothes that were provided for you? The man had nothing to say for himself. So the king ordered that he be tied up and thrown out of the banquet hall. Jesus finished his story with the words, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Wedding Garments and War?

What does this have to do with the current war between Israel and Hamas?

It seems to me that the critical piece that is missing is something like that wedding garment. What does the wedding garment in the story represent? What does refusing to wear one that has been provided for the guest mean?

We are continually offered gifts by the Holy Spirit, including wisdom, understanding, and courage. These gifts allow us to bear fruit. The fruit we are to bear might be likened to the wedding garments of Jesus’ story. These garments are made of characteristics such as patience, kindness, goodness, joy, gentleness, faithfulness, peace, self-control, and love.

When we are invited to the wedding feast for the King’s son, we wear those characteristics as part of our identity and history. If we appear before the King refusing to wear these lovely garments, we won’t fit in. We will have chosen exclusion.

A change of heart is essential for inclusion at the king’s banquet. Similarly it is essential to the creation of peace in the Middle East and around the world. As long as the children of Israel and the children of Ishmael see each other as enemies who are taking each other’s land, there can never be peace. As long as revenge for injuries and massive destruction of life is the response in difficult relationships, the pogroms, massacres, and the Holocaust that were inflicted on the children of Isaac for so many centuries, and the never-ending cycles of violence over which of his descendants will own and control the land originally settled by Abraham will beset the world.

When the agendas of surrounding countries and peoples also enter into the equation, things get even more complicated. Just as in the past, other nations also played a role in whether there was peace or war in the area, larger forces complicate the realities of today and don’t help bring a peaceful resolution to modern conflicts.

Hopeful prayer

Is there hope? I believe there is always hope. I don’t know what it will take, but somehow, when the original guests don’t come to the wedding feast, there will be a way for the feast to happen anyway. Some will put on the wedding garments and lead the way. The prophet tells us that on the mountain of the Lord there will be peace and abundance. People from all nations will come together to share in the blessings and joy of God’s saving work, the defeat of evil and death. People will learn to forgive. Not necessarily to forget. But to forgive and decide to work together for the common good – that would be a critical place to start. And to trust that together they could all live and prosper. Not an easy step by any stretch of the imagination after so much hurt and anger. But essential.

In the meanwhile, we join together in prayer for peace and reconciliation. Violence does not result in peace. It only leads to more violence.

May the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Ishmael be with their descendants around the world and especially in Israel and Gaza today. May peace and justice begin to sprout and bear fruit in the land that is their common inheritance.

Readings for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Special thanks to Deacon Patrick Conway of Resurrection Catholic Community in Aptos for his insight into the meaning of the wedding garment in today’s parable.

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Posted by on Jan 8, 2023

Epiphany – The Light Shines Forth

Epiphany – The Light Shines Forth

A great light shining forth in the darkness. A manifestation of something unusual. A new understanding of something. All are included as meanings of the term epiphany and are not mutually exclusive. More than one meaning can apply to any particular situation.

Since ancient times, Christians have referred to various events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth as epiphanies. He was born. He was visited by wise men from the east. He was baptized. He was seen after the resurrection. All of these events have been described by the term Epiphany.

The Epiphany of the Lord, celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on the first Sunday following January 1, is the day we remember the visit of the sages from the East. These scholars watched the skies for signs that something important was happening somewhere in the world. Each part of the sky, each constellation, carried a meaning. If something changed within that section, it meant something was changing for humans too. Accordingly, when they noticed a new light appearing in a region of the sky related to the land of Israel and to royalty, they went to see who had just been born. (They lived close enough to this event to go for a visit!)

St. Matthew (Mt 2:1-12) tells of their visit and gives us an historical time frame that also tells us approximately when Jesus was born. “In the days of King Herod …” Herod was king from 37 to 4 BC, so Jesus was born during that time. The travelers stopped at the royal palace to inquire for the new child, a reasonable thing to do, given that the child was born to be a king according to the stars.

The wise ones were sent on to Bethlehem, where indeed they found the child and his parents, no longer in a stable, but in a house. Their gifts were shared and they returned home without checking in again with Herod. An angel had warned them in a dream that Herod was not to be trusted.

This event was and is seen as the first time non-Jews were welcomed into the new manifestation of God’s kingdom of love for all humans. In the past, it had been understood that people would come from all over the world to Jerusalem, to the house of the Lord. But the full meaning of the prophecy of Isaiah (60:1-6) was not totally obvious. “Nations shall walk by your light … your sons come from afar and your daughters in the arms of their nursemaids.” These words originally were spoken in terms of the return from Babylon to Israel. But the early followers of Jesus understood them to refer to people of all nations who would become part of the people of God, children of the covenant centered in Jerusalem.

On this day we celebrate that we are included among the many nations that rejoice at the light dawning with the coming of Jesus. We bring the gift of ourselves to the community of faith. Together we offer our gifts and talents along with the bread and wine on the altar. We sing of three kings coming to visit a baby. May we also sing with reference to our own lives. “Star of wonder, star of night … guide us to the perfect light.”

If you have time and are so inclined, it’s fun to make a Kings Cake / Rosca de Reyes to share with family and friends on this day.

Illustration: The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow – 1563 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder – Look for the magi in the lower left corner of the painting!

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Posted by on Dec 4, 2022

“A Shoot Shall Sprout from the Stump of Jesse”

“A Shoot Shall Sprout from the Stump of Jesse”

Redwood trees in California grow to tremendous heights and can live for thousands of years. Their bark is highly fire resistant. Even when fires come, the trees historically have lived on, scorched, but still standing. They have very tiny cones for such large trees. Folks who visit redwood forests sometimes assume that these giant trees must have very deep roots in order to continue to stand tall through the centuries, sometimes supporting other trees and plants that grow high in their crowns. They wonder how such small cones can lead to the sprouting of such massive trees.

In actual fact, redwood trees have shallow roots. Their roots intertwine with those of the surrounding trees and together, they hold each other up. Their cones and tiny seeds are not essential to the continuation of the forest either. Though some trees can grow from seed, most do not. More commonly, new shoots sprout up from trees that have reached the end of their days and fallen to the ground. These new baby trees grow to new heights of their own. The fallen trees are sometimes called nurse trees.

Redwoods came to mind when I read the words of Isaiah (11:1-10) about the coming of the one who will restore peace among all creatures and with the Lord who made them. “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”

Jesse was the father of David, the shepherd who was secretly anointed to become the second King of Israel. Many years had passed and the kings of Israel were not always faithful to the Lord in their role as leaders of the nation. It was as if the tree of Jesse had been cut down or had fallen and died. Nothing remained but the stump – descendants of Jesse and the promise that the messiah would come from his line.

Isaiah reminded the people that the promise still remains. A new leader will arise from Jesse’s line. This new person will not be a corrupt king. No, the spirit of the Lord will rest on this one, bringing gifts that will set him apart from others. Wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, awe in the face of the wonder of the Lord. This person will judge justly, care for the poor, strike down the ruthless, do away with the wicked, and bring peace to the world. Even the world of the animals will become a place of peace in this vision. When this time comes, the Gentiles will see the signal set up from the root of Jesse and seek out the dwelling of the Lord.

It’s a wonderful picture, one which is still in the process of development. Like the growth of a redwood tree sprouting from the root of a fallen mother tree, it takes time and patience. Fortunately for us, the Lord has all the time in the world!

St. Matthew describes the mission of Jesus’ cousin John. (Mt 3:1-12) John was born about six months before Jesus. As an adult, he spent time in the desert. When he emerged from that sojourn, he began to call the people to repent and turn back to God. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He spoke of himself as a voice “crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord.” People came from far and wide to the Jordan River to hear his message. He baptized people there, symbolically washing away their sins by plunging them into the water of the river.

Religious leaders came out from Jerusalem to see what he was doing, and probably to tell him to stop. But he spoke out against their assumption that because Abraham was the father of the nation, God would not hold them to account for the wrongs they had done. “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” What was really needed was repentance for wrong-doing and a choice to live justly.

John spoke of the coming of his cousin, the one who actually was the promised messiah. “The one who is coming after me is mightier than I … He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.” A new day is coming. A new presence of the divine is coming into the world. Be ready. The shoot has sprouted and the Spirit of the Lord is upon him.

Many years later, St. Paul encouraged the Romans to endure in hope and in harmony as they live as a community of faith. There is to be no distinction between those who are Jewish and those who are Gentiles. Christ welcomes all. He came first to the Jews, in fulfillment of the prophecies and promises made over two thousand years of their history. But that doesn’t make the descendants of the first Israelites better than those who were not the children of Abraham, Isaac and his line. It simply means that the ultimate goal has now been reached. Gentiles are drawn to “glorify God for his mercy.” God’s actions among the Jewish people have borne the long-promised fruit. Humans are unified as one people again and all sing praise to God.

We are in the second week of Advent now. The coming of the Lord among us is both a remembered historical event that we will celebrate at Christmas and a daily event in our lives, as we meet him in the people with whom we interact each day. One day, we will also meet him when the angels lead us into the eternal kingdom.

How are we preparing? Are we taking time to notice the Lord’s presence? Are we rejoicing in the little things? Can we trust that everything that truly needs to be done in the next days and weeks will get done and what doesn’t get done is maybe not all that important?

Let’s promise each other that we will try to stop for a few minutes each day to reflect on the ways in which goodness sprouts from roots hidden deep in the ground, high in the trees, or within each person. May we be blessed with a recognition of the presence of the Lord in each day of our lives.

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

Here’s a good article on Redwood trees.

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Posted by on Nov 27, 2022

Time to Wake Up!

Time to Wake Up!

A new year begins today! Much of the world around us is focused on big sales and preparing for Christmas. But with the First Sunday of Advent, we begin a new year. We light the first candle on our Advent Wreath. We turn our focus to preparing for the coming of Christ. We look forward to a new set of liturgical readings as well. This year we will hear from St. Matthew as he shares the story of the coming of the Messiah.

How does the Messiah come into our lives? How do we prepare for his coming? Is there something different we should be doing? Why do we need to do anything differently at all?

The beginning of a new liturgical year is a bit like the beginning of a school year, after a long summer vacation of sleeping late and playing outside long into the evening. It is not always a welcomed thing to have to get up on time to get to school again. And yet, there is an excitement to be back together and to start doing and learning new things.

We have come through a year of hearing St. Luke’s stories, both those told by Jesus and those told by others about him. What new things will we learn this year?

Isaiah tells us about the time when the exile of Israel in Babylon was drawing to an end. (Is 2:1-5) The people had received permission and encouragement to return to their own land again. Folks who had seen Jerusalem destroyed and who had begun life anew in Babylon were not necessarily excited about returning to a ruined city and once again starting over. They had become comfortable in their new homes.

Isaiah calls them back. “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain… All nations shall stream toward it…” He foretells a time when people from all over the earth will listen to the Lord’s voice, ruling from Jerusalem, judging the nations, and bringing peace to the world. He calls, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

It’s a new time, a new day, a new hope for the peoples of the world.

The psalmist, in Psalm 122, speaks of Jerusalem as well. “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” Jerusalem is the city in which the Lord’s house is located. There the people give thanks. There the judgement seats are set up for the house of David. There the prayers are offered for peace, prosperity, and good things for all peoples. Truly a place for rejoicing.

St. Paul also speaks of waking up in his letter to the Romans (13:11-14). “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” Salvation is at hand. The time of darkness, with all the awful things that can happen in the dark, is passing away. It’s a time for light and life, for conduct reflecting the light of the Lord Jesus. So “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” in this new day and age. Wake up! Let go of the past. Decide each day to live in the light of this new day.

Finally, St. Matthew (24:37-44) relates Jesus’ instructions regarding the final times – the time when the Son of Man will come at last. He begins with an example familiar to all. “In the days of Noah” it was like it will be when the Son of Man comes. Folks lived their daily lives. They ate and drank. They married and gave their children in marriage. They had no clue anything was going to change in their lifetimes. If they noticed Noah’s preparations for a changed reality, they didn’t believe it or change their way of life. The kept on keeping on and enjoying their lives. And then the flood came and they were unprepared.

Similarly, says Jesus, when the Son of Man comes, it will be a surprise. Some will be taken and others will remain behind, living life as they are accustomed to live it. He says, “Stay awake!” Would those left behind have remained behind if they had been paying attention and noticed that the Son of Man had come?

We do not know the day or the hour when we will meet the Son of Man. It doesn’t need to be a great earth-shaking calamity in which the world is destroyed or Jesus comes on a cloud to judge all the people of the world. The day will come on which each of us meets the Lord in person. There are no guarantees when we get up in the morning that we will go to bed at night. And vice versa.

As we begin this new year, it is good to remember that all can change in an instant. So we must remain alert and prepared for meeting the Lord. It may be that we meet him in another person. It may be that we see the Lord’s hand in a beautiful sunrise or sunset or in the smile of a child. It may be that we meet him as we make that final transition into eternal life. Wherever and whenever we meet him, pray with me that our eyes will recognize his loving presence.

Wake up! Get ready! A brand new year of life and growth in love awaits us.

Happy New Year!

Readings for the First Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

 

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Posted by on Feb 6, 2022

With God It’s All Personal!

With God It’s All Personal!

“Nothing personal, but …” These few words so often come before a comment criticizing an action or an idea just expressed that it’s hard not to take them personally. “Nothing personal, but I just don’t see how anyone could (insert your pet peeve).” If I’ve just expressed even a willingness to consider the notion or action named in the pet peeve, I find it difficult not to take it personally when I hear those first words. How about you?

When I looked at the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, it struck me that God doesn’t work this way. God speaks to each of us personally. With God everything is a part of a personal relationship. This includes waking up in the morning, our reactions to the events of our day, the gifts and challenges we experience along the way, and our going to sleep again at night. The entire day is part of God’s personal gift to each of us.

Isaiah lived in the time of King Uzziah. King Uzziah ruled over Israel for more than 50 years. He was a powerful ruler and military leader who, by the time of his death, had become overly proud and at least once even took the role of the high priest in offering sacrifice in the temple. King Uzziah died in 792 BCE.

Isaiah tells the story of his call to prophecy by situating it in a specific time-period (Is 6:1-2a, 3-8). “In the year King Uzziah died…” The heavens opened and Isaiah saw the Lord seated on his throne, his garments filling the temple of the skies, and Seraphim guarding the entire temple. The angels cried out “Holy is the Lord of hosts, all the earth is filled with his glory!” At these words, the house shook and filled with smoke.

Shaking of the earth is a sign of the presence of the Lord – one of the physical manifestations that ancient peoples took as indicators of divine action in the world. Isaiah believed he was about to die – no one could see the face of the Lord and live. He cried out in fear, knowing that he was a person with human limitations and unworthy to see or speak to/for the Lord.

One of the seraphim cleansed Isaiah’s lips with an ember from the altar, purifying him to be in the Lord’s presence. When the Lord then asked, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah was ready and willing to volunteer. This was his call to serve as a prophet – a personal invitation from the Lord and a ready response to serve.

St. Paul also received a personal invitation to serve as an apostle of the Lord. Many people were disciples of Jesus. Many people shared their faith with family, friends, neighbors, and others. But not all were called apostles. Apostle means “one who is sent.” Very few of Jesus’ early followers were called apostles. There were the original twelve, one of whom betrayed him. There was one, Matthias, elected after the resurrection to replace Judas Iscariot. Mary Magdalene was known as the Apostle to the Apostles, because Jesus sent her on Easter morning with a message to the eleven remaining members of that close circle of the twelve followers. And then there was Paul, who became known as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Paul today reminds us of Jesus’ Resurrection and the promise of life for all of us that comes because of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. He speaks of the witnesses of the resurrection and reminds the people of Corinth that many of those witnesses are still alive. Then he speaks of his own calling to be an apostle.

Remember that Paul (then called Saul) was one of those who persecuted the Followers of the Way (Christians before they got that name). He was a Pharisee and a teacher of the Law. He wanted to root out this false teaching, to get rid of all who professed these beliefs. He was on his way to Damascus in Syria to arrest people there and return them to Jerusalem for trial and execution if they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus.

Along the way, he met the Risen Christ. It changed his life. A light flashed from the sky and a voice boomed out, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asked the one whose voice he heard, “Who are you, sir?” and was told, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.” Jesus instructed him to continue on into the city and wait to be told what to do. Blind and disoriented, he did as he was told. In Damascus, a Christian leader named Ananais received instructions in a vision telling him to go to Saul to heal and teach him. (Acts 9:1-19)

Paul became one of the best known Apostles in history and we read from his letters during most of the year in our Sunday liturgies. Yet his call was personal. Jesus spoke personally to him. Saul/Paul responded to a personal invitation.

And then there was the call of the first of Jesus’ twelve closest friends, the ones who came to be called Apostles. (L5:1-11)

Simon was a fisherman in Capernaum. He worked nights, fishing in the Sea of Galilee. He and other fishermen were washing their nets and preparing to go home. They hadn’t caught anything all night. They were tired and discouraged. Then along came Jesus and their lives were changed.

Jesus was teaching and healing in Capernaum. A large crowd was pressing around him and he found himself at the shore. He asked Simon to take him on his boat out into the water a little ways, so he could teach without people pushing against him. He sat down in the boat and began to teach. When he finished, he asked Simon to take the boat out a bit more and drop the nets again.

Simon knew it was a fool’s errand. Fish didn’t bite during the day, nor did they swim in groups where they would get caught in nets. But he took the boat out a bit anyway and did as Jesus asked. To his surprise the net was filled to bursting with fish. There were so many they couldn’t load all of them into the boat. They had to call for help from other boats.

Simon realized Jesus had to be someone special. His fishing partners, James and John, were also there and had the same astonished reaction that he did. He fell down on his knees in front of Jesus and asked him to leave in peace – ordinary folks had no business dealing with the Lord or the Lord’s messengers! Instead, Jesus reassured him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Simon, James, and John took their boat back to the shore and left everything right there. They followed Jesus for the rest of his days, from Galilee all the way to Jerusalem. After the Resurrection, these three men, called by a personal invitation, continued as Apostles to the rest of their community and the world.

In each of these readings, we see the Lord personally calling an individual. In each case, the individual responded and followed in witness to what they had experienced and known of the Lord.

These calls of individuals have continued throughout history, even into our times. Sometimes we think they are only for the very holy or the remarkable, or the very brave, or…. But actually, they come to each one of us. Some are called to do great and very public things. Some are called to live what seem like very ordinary lives. For some the call is dramatic. For others the call comes gently and over time. But each of us is called. Each of us is known personally by our God. Each of us is deeply, deeply loved and cherished, just as we are, by our God. And each of us is called to share that love with our world.

Today let’s reflect on the call we have received from our God. When have we heard the voice of the Lord? When have we seen the Lord’s actions in our own lives or those of our family and friends? When have we known the consolation of the Lord’s presence in tough times? When have we heard the Lord’s chuckle as we realize once again that he has just been waiting for us to notice something important? When have we known the deep consolation of receiving forgiveness for times we’ve really messed up and done something wrong?

We are all called. It’s always personal with God. And it always involves our community and our world. God cares personally about each and every one of us. With God it’s all personal!

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