3rd Sunday of the Year John 3:1–5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29–31; Mark 1:14–20
Come Follow Me Jesus can do more than inspire us. He can enter our person and help us achieve our fullest potential.
In September of 1862, the Civil War tilted decisively in favor of the South.
The morale of the Northern army dipped to its lowest point of the war. Large numbers of Union troops were in full retreat in Virginia.
Northern leaders began to fear the worst. They saw no way to reverse the situation and turn the beaten, exhausted troops into a useful army again.
There was only one general who might be able to work this miracle. That was General McClellan. He had trained the men for combat, and they loved and admired him. But the War Department didn’t see this. Nor did the Cabinet see it. Only President Lincoln saw it.
Fortunately, Lincoln ignored the protests of advisors and put McClellan back in command. He told him to go down to Virginia and give those soldiers something no other man on earth could give them: enthusiasm, strength, and hope.
McClellan accepted the command. He mounted his great black horse and cantered down the dusty roads of Virginia.
What happened next is hard to explain. Northern leaders couldn’t explain it. Northern soldiers couldn’t explain it. Even McClellan couldn’t quite explain it.
McClellan met the retreating Union columns. he waved his cap in the air and shouted words of encouragement.
When the tired men saw their beloved teacher, they began to take heart. They began to get the unexplainable feeling that now things could be different. Now things could be all right again.
Here’s how Bruce Catton, the great Civil War historian, describes the excitement that grew and grew when word spread that McClellan was not back in command.
“Down mile after mile of Virginia roads the stumbling columns came alive, and threw caps and knapsacks into the air, and yelled until they could yell no more . . .because they saw this dapper little rider outlined against the purple starlight.
“And this, in a way, was the turning point of the war. . . . No one could ever quite explain it.” This Hallowed Ground
But whatever it was, it gave Lincoln and the North what was needed. And history was forever changed because of it.
The story of General Mcclellan illustrates dramatically the impact a leader can have on the human spirit.
In one of his essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson has this remarkable line:
“Our chief want in life is somebody who can make us do what we can.”
And one of the persons who can do this is a great leader. We ourselves cannot trigger the great potential that lies within all of us.
Most of us are like that bottle Aladdin found on the seashore. We have a magnificent genie inside us. But that genie can’t get out by himself. Nor can we ourselves release him. We need some Aladdin to come along, pull the cork, and free the genie for us.
And this is also what Emerson had in mind. Right after saying “Our chief want in life is somebody who can make us do what we can,” he adds, “That is the service of a friend.” And I would like to add, “That is also the service of Jesus Christ.”
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the Gospel. And no gospel story shows it better than the one in today’s reading. It illustrates what Napoleon once said about his own power to spark something in the hearts of men. He said:
“The lightning of my eye, my voice, a word from me, then the sacred fire was kindled in their hearts. I do, indeed, possess the secret of this magical power that lifts the soul.”
And, indeed, Napoleon did possess that power.
Jesus possessed the same power also, but to an infinitely greater degree—as Napoleon noted further on in the same passage.
What is there in Jesus that makes him so different from other leaders? The answer is simple.
Other leaders can only influence us, inspire us. Their impact on us, however, is purely psychological. The impact of Jesus, on the other hand, is not only psychological but also mystical.
What does this mean?
It means that other leaders can fire us up. They can excite us. They can inflame our emotions. They can excite our imaginations. But other leaders can’t give us their spirit. They can’t share with us their own personal power and strength. If their followers are to change, the change must come about through the followers’ own power and effort.
In the case of Jesus, all this is different. Jesus can put his spirit in us. He can share his own power with us. He can enter our mind and our heart and help us do what we could never do alone. To have Jesus enter into our life, we need only open our mind and heart to him. He will do the rest.
And this brings us to our final and most important point.
There is only one thing Jesus can do for us. He can’t open the door of our mind and our heart against our will. He can do everything else, but he can’t do this. We hold the key to the door our mind and our heart. And only we can admit Jesus into our life.
And that takes us right back to today’s gospel. Today’s gospel shows us how to open the door and let Jesus in. It also names the price we must pay if we want to do this.
We must do what the Apostles did. We must be willing to pay the price they paid. We must be willing to burn all bridges behind us and follow wherever Jesus leads.
If we decide to do what the Apostles did, if we decide to risk everything for Jesus, he will do for us what he did for them. Jesus will make us partners in his work and give our lives a new meaning beyond our wildest dreams.
Let us close by paraphrasing a beautiful meditation by Edward Farrell in his book Surprised by the Spirit.
“Who is this man walking along the shore by the shimmering sea?
“Who is this man—bright, shining, and terrible—who looks at us with searing eyes—eyes that search our very soul?
“Who is this man who sees our thoughts and reads our inmost heart with loving, knowing eyes that say: ‘Nothing less than all of you is what I want’?”
Series II 3rd Sunday of the Year John 3:1–5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29–31; Mark 1:14–20
God’s Call Today God is still calling people in modern times, just as God called people in biblical times.
At the age of 15, Margaret Mehren was a member of the Nazi youth movement in Germany.
After the war she learned about the atrocities in Nazi concentration camps. And she was shocked. Suddenly she realized that Hitler wasn’t the glorious leader she thought he was. She vowed never again to believe an adult.
It was in this frame of mind that Margaret also began to have doubts about her atheism. One day she even prayed to God, saying, “God, if you do exist, give me some sign.’’
About this time she ran across a Bible. She tried to read it several times, but it made no sense to her. Then one night she picked it up again. This time it made sense! She wrote later:
Something happened to me when I read the words of Jesus. I knew he was alive! . . . I knew he was there, even though I could not hear or see anything.
Jesus was real, more real than anything around me—the furniture, my books, the potted plants. I was no longer alone. My life was no longer a dead-end street. A few years later, at the age of 21, Margaret became a Franciscan nun. Today, 25 years later, she’s a missionary, teaching minority students in South Africa.
Margaret Mehren’s story dramatizes the fact that God still calls men and women today, just as God called Jonah in Old Testament times and James and John in New Testament times, in today’s gospel.
When we speak of God’s call to people to be God’s prophets or of Jesus’ call to people to be his disciples, we frequently speak of it as a vocation. The word vocation comes from the Latin word meaning “to call.’’
We also think and speak of God’s call as being directed to young people, especially. And certainly that is true.
One of the great spiritual leaders of our time was the Indian Jesuit Anthony de Mello. Tony said he felt God’s call in his teens.
When he asked his father for permission to become a priest, Tony’s dad said no. He had only two other children, both daughters. It was Tony’s duty to carry on the family name.
Then, after a span of 14 years of having no children, Tony’s mother became pregnant. When she was taken to the hospital for delivery, Tony ran the entire four-mile distance on foot.
Arriving breathlessly, he asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?’’ When his father said it was a boy, Tony said, “Great! Now I can become a priest.’’ And at the age of 16, he entered a seminary in Bombay. He went on to become internationally famous.
But older people are also called to follow God. In fact, this seems to be a new pattern that is emerging.
To illustrate, consider the actual resumes of five men from a sizable list of men who entered the Jesuit order in 1987.
First, there’s Vince, who is 33 years old. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and taught and coached sports at both the high school and the college levels.
Second, there’s Mike, who is 26 years old. He graduated from Harvard University and worked with the homeless in Baltimore and, as a teacher, with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in the South Pacific.
Third, there’s Rene, who is 27 years old. He graduated from the University of California and worked as an engineer with Texas Instruments.
Fourth, there’s David, who is 28 years old and a convert to Catholicism. He graduated from the University of Southern Alabama, spent four years in the navy, and later worked as a physical therapist.
Finally, there’s George, who is 30 years old. He graduated from Syracuse University, spent five years as an air traffic controller, and worked with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Alaska at a radio station.
These are just five men, chosen at random from a list of men who entered just one religious order in 1987.
The point is this: God is still calling people today, just as God called Jonah in Old Testament times and James and John in New Testament times.
And God is calling both men and women. And God is calling both young and old.
This brings us to the practical application of this to our lives.
First, if we are parents, have we ever talked to our children about praying for guidance when it comes to choosing their life’s work?
Second, have we ourselves ever prayed to God that one of our children might be called to serve the Church in a ministerial way?
And if we are a single man or woman—in our teens, our twenties, or our thirties—are we praying for guidance, asking God for guidance in choosing the right life’s work in the future?
Or have we ourselves ever prayed to God, offering to serve the Church in a ministerial way?
Or have we ever thought of volunteering a year of our lives to serve the Church, as did 26-year-old Mike, who worked as a lay volunteer in the South Pacific, or as did 30-year-old George, who worked as a lay volunteer in Alaska? Working as a volunteer with other volunteers—both men and women—is one way to find out whether a life of service to the Church is something that makes us happy or brings us the kind of fulfillment we are searching for.
These are just some of the considerations that grow out of today’s readings.
These are just some of the considerations that every parent and every single person should reflect on in the light of today’s readings.
For God is, indeed, calling people in our times, just as God called them in biblical times. And God is calling both men and women, young and old.
Let’s close with a reflection by Cardinal Newman:
God has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have a mission. . . .
Therefore, I will trust him. . . . He does nothing in vain. . . . He knows what he is about.
O my God, I put myself without reserve into your hands.
Series III 3rd Sunday of the Year John 3:1–5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29–31; Mark 1:14–20
Call of Jesus Jesus continues to invite us to a closer walk with him.
Jesus said . . . “Come. . . .” At once they left their nets and went with him. Mark 1:17–18
Recently, someone was explaining an idea for a new trivia game. He called it “Past and Present.”
The first card deals with a celebrity’s past and contains two questions. The second card deals with a celebrity’s present and also contains two questions. Here’s an example.
Card 1: Entertainment Tonight did a feature on TV of the film star who gave Elvis Presley his first screen kiss. First question: Who is she? Second question: Why did she stop acting? Card 2: People magazine recently interviewed the same film star. First question: Where did they find her? Second question: What is she doing now?
The answer to the first set of questions is Delores Hart. She gave Elvis his first screen kiss in the movie King Creole. Five years later, in 1963, she stunned the film industry by entering a convent and becoming a nun.
The answer to the second set of questions is that she is still a nun at the same convent in Connecticut. When asked what it was like to give Elvis his first screen kiss, Sister Delores laughed and said jokingly, “That one has lasted 40 years.”
When asked if she still thinks about the movies, she gave this surprising answer: “I’m more in touch with the heart of the acting profession now than I was as a young actress.”
Sister Delores went on to say that she still retains her membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy still sends her all first-run movies, and she still casts her vote each year for the Oscar awards.
That brings us to a question that people often ask about Sister Delores. Why would a young film star give up an exciting career in the movies and enter a convent?
She said it wasn’t a sudden bolt of lightning coming out of the blue. Rather, it was a slow-dawning awareness that Jesus was calling her to a life of special witness as a nun.
Clearly, a seed was planted when, at age ten, she got permission from her parents to become a Catholic.
And, no doubt, the seed began to sprout when, as a busy film star, she began to take time off to make informal retreats at a Benedictine convent in Connecticut.
Finally, the seed began to bear fruit during her role in the film Lisa, which dealt with the Holocaust and the suffering of its innocent victims.
I like the story of Delores Hart for two reasons: First, it illustrates how Jesus still calls people today to a special relationship with him—just as he called Simon and Andrew and James and John in today’s Gospel. Second, it illustrates how, if our hearts are open to Jesus, he can use us to do very special things.
And that brings us to ourselves. What might the call of Sister Delores and the call of the disciples in today’s Gospel be saying to us?
Speaking for many, these calls challenge us to ask ourselves two questions: How open is our own heart to Jesus? What might Jesus be inviting us to do at this stage of our life?
Consider how one man answered those two questions.
Tom Schuman was a general counsel for a Fortune 500 company. He had a six-figure salary and all the comforts and perks that go with it. Then, at 54, he did the unthinkable. It happened one morning at Sunday Mass.
His pastor announced that unless a volunteer director could be found, they might have to close a shelter for the homeless that the parish ran jointly with Christ Lutheran Church. After praying over the matter and consulting with several people, Tom retired from his job and volunteered.
He says that in the first year alone, he learned more about life than in all the previous years put together.
Tom also said that what was true of him was true also of the many volunteers with whom he worked at the shelter.
Before volunteering, they were barely aware of the homeless problem. When they did see a homeless person, they were critical of why someone would deliberately choose to live in such a humiliating fashion.
Like Tom, the volunteers soon learned that few homeless people deliberately choose to live that way.
Being homeless is often the result of mental illness or alcohol or substance abuse, which renders people virtually unemployable.
That brings us back to ourselves. What might Jesus be saying to us through the life stories of Delores Hart and Tom Schuman?
First of all, both stories make it clear that Jesus still invites people to a closer walk with him today, just as he invited Simon and Andrew and James and John.
Second, the stories illustrate that, if our hearts are open to the call of Jesus, he can do very special things through us.
More importantly, they tell us something that may come as a surprise to us:
When Jesus invites us to walk more closely with him, that invitation doesn’t take the joy out of our lives.
On the contrary! As in the case of Hart and Schuman, it gives our life a joy and a sense of fulfillment that we never dreamed our life could ever have.
This is the good news that Jesus invites us to ponder as we prepare to celebrate the mystery of our faith at the table of the Lord.
Let’s close with a meditation that sums up the two options of life open to us:
I watched them tear a building down; A gang of men in a busy town. With a mighty heave and lusty yell, They swung a beam and a side wall fell.
I said to the foreman, “Are these men as skilled As the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He laughed and said, “No indeed! Just a common laborer is all I need. And I can wreck in a day or two What it took the builder a year to do.”
And I thought to myself as I went my way, “Just which of these roles have I tried to play? “Am I a builder who works with care, Measuring life by the rule and square, Or am I a wrecker as I walk the town, Content with the labor of tearing down?” Anonymous