February 10, 2019 – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I will be delivering the following homily at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today:
I came to a decision last night that I wanted to share with you. Earlier this week, I read a news story about Deacon Lawrence Girard, a deacon serving in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Deacon Lawrence is 100 years old and is still assisting at eight Masses per week. Someone sent me that article and asked if I will still be serving St. Pius when I am 100 years old. I thought about it and made a decision.
Fr. Jim is approximately 10 years my senior. So, I have decided that I will serve St. Pius until I am 100 years old IF Fr. Jim agrees to remain as pastor until he is 110.
The ball is in his court now.
I was ordained a deacon in 2012. When Bishop Coyne laid his hands on my head, the visible sign of God’s sacramental grace, and invoked the blessing of ordination, my life was changed forever.
I remember feeling like Isaiah must have felt in today’s first reading, “Here I am, Lord. Send me!”
By ordination, deacons are given the special duty of reading the gospel, expressed by the bishop in these words: “Strengthened by sacramental grace you are dedicated to the People of God, in the service of the liturgy, of the Gospel, and of works of charity.”
You may have noticed before coming to the ambo to read the gospel, I go first to the celebrant of the Mass. He offers me a special blessing that I might “proclaim the gospel worthily and well.”
It is an honor to read the gospel. I take this role seriously; I don’t want the gospel to be merely words on a page. I want the readings to come to life. To do this, I need to climb inside of them; I need to be a part of them. So, I ask myself, “What must it have been like to be there when this happened? How would I have felt? How would I have responded?”
Today’s readings offered a great opportunity for me to put on the skin of Simon and insert myself into the story. We heard the story of Simon’s call – a life-changing event for him. Consider the sequence of events in today’s gospel. It began with Jesus, a stranger at the time, climbing into Simon’s boat. It ended two or three hours later with Simon’s life turned completely upside down – the direction of his life changed forever.
My ordination took less than two hours, but I had over five years to discern and prepare for it. Unlike Simon, I was able to make a calculated, prayerful decision over a long period of time. His entire conversion process occurred in a matter of hours.
This was more than a career change for Simon. It was not simply a matter of saying, “I’m not going to fish anymore.” The gospel says, and I quote, “…they left everything and followed him.” Simon left his business, his home, his family – everything – to follow a man he’d just met.
My ordination has required me to sacrifice a certain amount of my personal time in service to the Church. However, unlike Simon, I have maintained my livelihood, I live in the same home, and my family is intact. Simon sacrificed everything.
It was not a temporary life change for Simon either – he didn’t step away only to return to his former life at a later date. Simon, who would become Peter, ultimately became the rock upon which the entire Church was built.
What was it that transpired in those few short hours that completely changed Simon’s life?
The story does not tell us what Simon was feeling or exactly what it was that triggered his life-changing decision. Jesus was decisive and spoke with authority. His words were captivating. He was powerful yet soft-spoken. He challenged yet spoke of love.
There was something different, something special about Jesus. This was made clear by Simon’s willingness to accommodate the odd requests Jesus made. Simon had returned from an unsuccessful night of fishing. He just wanted to wash his nets, go home, and get some sleep. Yet when Jesus climbed into his boat and said, “Take me out a short distance from the shore,” Simon did it.
Simon had dropped his nets into the water over and over again throughout the night, catching nothing. He was a professional fisherman who knew these waters, and yet when this stranger with no fishing experience said, “Lower your nets for a catch,” Simon did it.
In his lifetime, no one ever caught so many fish that their nets might tear. Simon knew catching that many fish was supernatural. He knew he’d witnessed a miracle. He was in the presence of something much bigger than himself and was frightened by what it meant for him. Yet, when Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; follow me,” Simon did it.
This gospel passage is a tremendous story of conversion. It is a story of an unwavering response to a vocational call. It is a story of faith and trust. However, the gospels are not just stories. The word gospel means the revelation of Christ or something regarded as true and to be believed.
The gospels are a road map for us to follow. They are a glimpse into what living a life for Christ truly means.
Your life is a gospel story. You are the main character. Right now, Jesus is in your boat with you.
He is giving you instructions. If you listen to him, he will guide your boat and tell you where to drop your nets. However, he will also challenge you to do difficult work, work that you may not immediately understand, work that may take you out of your comfort zone. He recognizes that fear could get the best of you. Just as he did with Simon, Jesus is locking eyes with you and saying, “Do not be afraid; follow me.”
When Jesus asked Simon to convert his heart, he did it. Will you?
It’s your Gospel story. How you respond determines how the story ends.
May I suggest using the same response we heard from Isaiah: “Here I am, Lord. Send me!”