The Call to Be United With God and One Another
Paris, January 23, 2015 (Zenit.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo
1) The call to conversion.
The readings of the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday take us back to the theme already meditated a week ago: Vocation.
Last Sunday in the first reading of the Mass we had been told of the vocation of Samuel who answered the call saying “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God called him by name because he always calls by name, pronouncing it with love. Can you imagine how shocked Paul must have been when, on the road to Damascus, he was called with love by the One he was persecuting? We too are called with love to bring into the world the truth of love of Christ who calls us to work with him in the harvesting of the world.
The Gospel of last Sunday spoke of vocation and in particular of the one of the first disciples who followed Jesus thanks to the desire present in their heart that Jesus recognized turning toward them and asking “What do you seek?”
In today’s Mass, the prophet Jonah (First Reading) and the call of the first disciples in the version of the Gospel of Mark (Third Reading) show us that vocation has, as first condition, conversion that is realized following Christ to be with Him and like Him. He is the Way to follow discovering that the road to take is new not because it is different from the old one, but because new is the motivation or, better, the direction of our following. To say more, when life’s journey is done humanely and without faith, it is a road that goes from life to death: we are born and we die. The path of the Gospel, namely with Christ, is on the contrary from death to life. The path is new and Jesus calls us and invites us to take it following Him.
To go on this journey is an act of faith and trust in Christ, which implies a change in thinking and action that leads to take the way of the Lord, whose names are “mercy, love, goodness and justice” (see Psalm 25). Along these “paths” each of us must walk, putting our own steps on the “footprints” of the Lord Jesus who two thousand years ago walked the roads of Galilee (see Mk 1.14 to 20) and doesn’t stop walking and calling even now.
If the fishermen Peter and Andrew, James and John called by the Messiah who was passing by followed right away, it is because they understood that there was life, otherwise they would have been stupid and unreasonable. And then, as they followed him, they realized the logic of the journey. Then it was very reasonable to walk after Christ who had called them. In fact, in following him with loyalty and patience they have experienced the fruits of this journey. Faith is not irrational, it is not jumping in the dark, it is the opposite, it is very rational because it is very reasonable in the sense that if anyone gets a sensible proposal, it is reasonable to leave and follow. “Following Jesus is just that: to go with Him , behind Him for love: the same path, the same journey. The spirit of the world will be the one that does not tolerate and will make us suffer, but of a suffering like that of Jesus. Let ask this grace: to follow Jesus in the way that He has revealed to us and that He has taught us. This is beautiful, because He never leaves us alone. Never! He is always with us” (Pope Francis, May 28, 2013).
2) Conversion of the way to be
Following Christ, the disciples understood that Jesus was the Son of God in constant search of man. They discovered a God “stubbornly” in love with humanity.
Even today, even if the man stubbornly refuses his benevolence and stubbornly rejects the guarantees of salvation and joy, Christ continues calling him to himself and implementing that dialogue made of familiarity and mutual trust which was started with the conversion to the Gospel that is Christ.
In fact, prior to a “moral” conversion (namely of things to do better and of commandments to observe), there is the “existential” conversion (in Hebrew, the word conversion means to change direction of the feet: before one was going in one direction, now he goes on the other, toward the truth). If we consider the Latin etymology of the word “conversion”, we learn that this word comes from the verb cum-vertere = to turn to, that is to say that those who convert turns their gaze to secure it on the person of Jesus and on his “unprecedented request” to be the complete answer to our question of life and true love.
Conversion does not consist only in stopping doing evil and in the effort to do good. It is to “convert” life to Good. It is Someone to love before being something to do.
In this aspect the following sentence of Kafka is striking “I’m not alone because I received a love letter, but I’m alone because I did not respond with love” (Kafka, The Castle). Almost certainly this great writer was referring to an experience of human love, but, in my opinion, Kafka describes the situation of the present day men and women toward God, toward Christ, the embodied Good to love.
This uneasy question that arises from our loneliness receives the true answer from the proposal of love that Christ gives to each of us, priest, religious or lay people. The vocation of Christ, before relating to the state of each of us (single or married, ordained or lay), concerns our life that has to be converted in its entirety. Christ calls us to participate in the agony of eternal Love who calls us by the infinite gift that He is, and who takes upon himself all the consequences of the love that we reject and that make us inhuman. If we respond to this Love with love by offering all ourselves, whether through virginity or in marriage, we will not be alone, and we will shine in the Presence that is the Life of our life.
In this gift of ourselves to God, at home or in community, in the church or at work, we will live a fraternal enthusiasm, creating around us a climate of kindness that will allow us to discover the hidden treasure that there is in the neighbor.
3) Conversion and consecration.
Today’s readings call us to conversion. This is the first word of the preaching of Jesus, which is significantly combined with the willingness to believe “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mk 1, 15).
The first aspect of the vocation to which Christ calls you, therefore, is to repent and believe the Good News (Gospel means precisely joyful and real news) that comes from God: God, for love, was made flesh because God is Love; he was born as a child like every child to talk, live and die like us, to share all that is fragile so that we might live our fragility with the joy of being able to discover and feel inhabited by the infinite beauty and goodness of God.
The second is to follow Christ. The Gospel cannot be reduced to an idea, a philosophy, a mystical private experience; it is rather a relationship, a standing, a being assigned to a person.
We must follow him to be with him, to be like him. Vocation is to be in the company of Jesus, to be with him and like him. Jesus calls us to be, like him, children of God. This is the essence of the call. But it is not a call made with a magic wand. It is a journey. Jesus says to those he encounters “Follow me, my own path, my own footsteps, my own life and you’ll see that your life becomes like mine.”
In the Old Testament the journey to excellence was the exodus. Today our exodus is testified in particular by the consecrated Virgins in the world who testify that, when one finds something that is worth infinitely more than all he has, it is worthy leaving all the human and material assets. These women (and we too) have discovered the meaning of life: Christ! They witness in a radical way that God has the primacy in our lives.
Humanity today needs authentic Christians: men and women who through their living and silent testimony are prophets of a new world. It is not important if they continue or not carrying on with their job, even the Apostles continued fishing after the resurrection of Christ.
To follow Christ in full abandonment does not necessarily imply that one must leave the job that gives him a living. The abandonment of one’s life means offering it to God, joyfully. It means, first of all, that the purpose of one’s life is no longer his or her job, his or her own net and boat nor his or her own fish: Christ as the purpose of life is much more interesting. In Him, life finds its full and lasting meaning. One leaves human love for the divine Love.
In this regard St. John Paul II wrote:
(Apostolic Post-Synodal Exortation, Vita Consecrata, nr. 18).
” The Son, who is the way which leads to the Father (cf. Jn 14:6), calls all those whom the Father has given to him (cf. Jn 17:9) to make the following of himself the whole purpose of their lives. But of some, those called to the consecrated life, he asks a total commitment, one which involves leaving everything behind (cf. Mt 19:27) in order to live at his side and to follow him wherever he goes (cf. Rev 14:4). In the countenance of Jesus, the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) and the reflection of the Father’s glory (cf. Heb 1:3), we glimpse the depths of an eternal and infinite love which is at the very root of our being. Those who let themselves be seized by this love cannot help abandoning everything to follow him (cf. Mk 1:16-20; 2:14; 10:21, 28). Like Saint Paul, they consider all else as loss “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ”, by comparison with which they do not hesitate to count all things as “refuse”, in order that they “may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8). They strive to become one with him, taking on his mind and his way of life. This leaving of everything and following the Lord (cf. Lk 18:28) is a worthy program of life for all whom he calls, in every age.
Patristic Reading-Golden Chain on Mark 1:15
15. And saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel.”
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: The Evangelist Mark follows Matthew in his order, and therefore after having said that Angels minister, he subjoins, “But after that John was put into prison, Jesus came, &c.”
After the temptation and the ministry of Angels, He goes back into Galilee, teaching us not to resist the violence of evil men.
Theophylact: And to shew us that in persecutions we ought to retire, and not to await them; but when we fall into them, we must sustain them.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: He retired also that He might keep Himself for teaching and for healing, before He suffered, and after fulfilling all these things, might become obedient unto death.
Bede: John being put in prison, fitly does the Lord begin to preach: wherefore there follows, “Preaching the Gospel, &c.” For when the Law ceases, the Gospel arises in its steps. [p. 20]
Pseudo-Jerome: When the shadow ceases, the truth comes on; first, John in prison, the Law in Judaea; then, Jesus in Galilee, Paul among the Gentiles preaching the Gospel of the kingdom. For to an earthly kingdom succeeds poverty, to the poverty of Christians is given an everlasting kingdom; but earthly honour is like the foam of water, or smoke, or sleep.
Bede: Let no one, however, suppose that the putting of John in prison took place immediately after the forty days’ temptation and the fast of the Lord; for whosoever reads the Gospel of John will find, that the Lord taught many things before the putting of John in prison, and also did many miracles; for you have in his Gospel, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus;” [John 2:11] and afterwards, “for John was not yet cast into prison.” [John 3:24]
Now it is said that when John read the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he approved indeed the text of the history, and affirmed that they had spoken truth, but said that they had composed the history of only one year after John was cast into prison, in which year also he suffered. Passing over then the year of which the transactions had been published by the three others, he related the events of the former period, before John was cast into prison.
When therefore Mark had said that “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom,” he subjoins, “saying, Since the time is fulfilled, &c.”
Pseudo-Chrys., vict. Ant. Cat. in Marc.: Since then the time was fulfilled, “when the fulness of times was come, and God sent His son,” it was fitting that the race of man should obtain the last dispensation of God. And therefore he says, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Origen, in Matt., tom. x, 14: But the kingdom of God is essentially the same as the kingdom of heaven, though they differ in idea. [ed. note: see Origen, de Orat. 25, 26 in Matt. t 12.14 (?)]
For by the kingdom of God is to be understood that in which God reigns; and this in truth is in the region of the living, where, seeing God face to face, they will abide in the good things now promised to them; whether by this region one chooses to understand Love, or some other confirmation [ed. note: By ‘confirmation,’ seems to be meant the perfecting of spiritual natures; see Thomas Aq., Summa Theologica, part 1, Q62, Art 1. It answers to (Greek word) as used by St. Basil; de Sp. S 16] of those who put on the likeness of things [p. 21] above, which are signified by the heavens. [ed. note: “Coeli” is commonly interpreted of the Angels, by the Fathers.]
For it is clear [ed. note: see Chrys., in Matt., Hom. 19 in c. 6,9] enough that the kingdom of God is confined neither by place nor by time.
Theophylact: Or else, the Lord means that the time of the Law is complete; as if He said, Up to this time the Law was at work; from this time the kingdom of God will work, that is, a conversation according to the Gospel, which is with reason likened to the kingdom of heaven. For when you see a man clothed in flesh living according to the Gospel, do you not say that he has the kingdom of heaven, which “is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost?” [Rom 14:17]
The next word is, “Repent.”
Pseudo-Jerome: For he must repent, who would keep close to eternal good, that is, to the kingdom of God. For he who would have the kernel, breaks the shell; the sweetness of the apple makes up for the bitterness of its root; the hope of gain makes the dangers of the sea pleasant; the hope of health takes away from the painfulness of medicine.
They are able worthily to proclaim the preaching of Christ who have deserved to attain to the reward of forgiveness; and therefore after He has said, “Repent,” He subjoins, “and believe the Gospel.” For unless ye have believed, ye shall not understand.
Bede: “Repent,” therefore, “and believe;” that is, renounce dead works; for of what use is believing without good works? The merit of good works does not, however, bring to faith, but faith begins, that good works may follow.
Hermas – The Shepherd VI, 2; XII, 5-6
Hear now,” said he, “in regard to faith. There are two angels with a man — one of righteousness, and the other of iniquity.” And I said to him, “How, sir, am I to know the powers of these, for both angels dwell with me?” “Hear,” said he, and “understand them. The angel of righteousness is gentle and modest, meek and peaceful. When, therefore, he ascends into your heart, immediately he talks to you of righteousness, purity, chastity, contentment, and of every righteous deed and glorious virtue. When all these ascend into your heart, know that the angel of righteousness is with you. These are the deeds of the angel of righteousness. Trust him, then, and his works. Look now at the works of the angel of iniquity. First, he is wrathful, and bitter, and foolish, and his works are evil, and ruin the servants of God. When, then, he ascends into your heart, know him by his works.” And I said to him, “How, sir, I shall perceive him, I do not know.” “Hear and understand” said he. “When anger comes upon you, or harshness, know that he is in you; and you will know this to be the case also, when you are attacked by a longing after many transactions, and the richest delicacies, and drunken revels, and various luxuries, and things improper, and by a hankering after women, and by overreaching, and pride, and blustering, and by whatever is like to these. When these ascend into your heart, know that the angel of iniquity is in you. Now that you know his works, depart from him, and in no respect trust him, because his deeds are evil, and unprofitable to the servants of God. These, then, are the actions of both angels. Understand them, and trust the angel of righteousness; but depart from the angel of iniquity, because his instruction is bad in every deed. For though a man be most and the thought of this angel ascend into his heart, that man or woman must sin. On the other hand, be a man or woman ever so bad, yet, if the works of the angel of righteousness ascend into his or her heart, he or she must do something good. You see, therefore, that it is to follow the angel of righteousness, but to bid farewell to the angel of iniquity.”
“This commandment exhibits the deeds of faith, that you may trust the works of the angel of righteousness, and doing them you may live to God. But believe the works of the angel of iniquity are hard. If you refuse to do them, you will live to God.