2nd/3rd February 2019

posted 4 Feb 2019, 01:42 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (2 & 3/2/19)


In June last year we began the Year for Priests, and next week the Archbishop is asking priests to speak about their personal understanding and experience of the priesthood.  Today, though, I’m going to focus on the lay vocations to the single life and married life.


In the past, when people spoke about “having a vocation”, they were referring either to a calling to the priesthood or the consecrated life.  The trouble with that emphasis was that it could be misinterpreted as saying that it was priests and religious who did all the work in the church, so if you were particularly zealous in your faith then you ought to think about joining a religious order or becoming a diocesan priest.  But, right from the start of Christianity, there have always been zealous laypeople who spread the faith, and some who were martyred for it as well.  In this country, think of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales – not all of them were priests or religious.  St Margaret Clitherow was a married woman who was crushed to death for harbouring priests.  The English mission at that time of persecution wouldn’t have been able to survive, had it not been for laypeople supporting and hiding travelling priests, helping them to avoid capture.  So, as St Paul was saying in the second reading last week, everyone has a role in the Church – no-one is surplus to requirements.


In today’s world and today’s Church, there are more opportunities than ever before to serve as a layperson.  Lay chaplains are becoming a more familiar sight in schools, prisons, hospitals, the Apostleship of the Sea and so on.  And there are still all the usual openings – in the workplace, in the home, nurses, teachers, parents – there are so many places that a priest or a sister is not able to be, and by working together we have a whole army working for God, rather than just one or two people.  In the first reading, we heard God say to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.  So now brace yourself for action.”  Jeremiah had a special calling as a prophet, a calling that was unique and rare; we too, each and everyone of us, have a calling from God that is unique to us.  Some callings are more low-profile than others; I once read we can sometimes value more what could perhaps be called the more extravert gifts, such as prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues.  But there are also in Scripture what could be called more introvert gifts.  In the Old Testament, God tells Moses that He has filled Bezalel with the spirit of God in wisdom, knowledge and skill in every kind of craft:  in designing and carrying out work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones to be set, in wood carving and in executing every kind of work (see Exodus 31:3-5).  There are also other gifts that might be more underrated, but are still essential.  At the hospital, the good work of the medical staff can only take place because there are other people behind the scenes who make sure that the correct items are ordered, that the water, gas and electricity bills are paid, that infections are kept at bay by keeping the place spotlessly clean and so on.  The same is true for the Church, whether we are talking about keeping the church building going, through cleaning and maintenance, or the Church the People of God being kept going through individual Christians supporting each other in good times and bad.  It’s sometimes said that behind every successful man is a surprised woman; for many Christians, but not all, marriage is what helps to sustain and support them and grow the mission of the Church.  The second reading today is one that is often chosen for weddings, and it reminds us of the important role that love has within the Church.  St Therese of Liseux, who wasn’t married, but was a Carmelite nun, said that without love at the heart of the Church, everything would fall apart; apostles would not preach the Gospel and martyrs would refuse to shed their blood.  She saw her vocation as love, love beating at the heart of the Church which animates all the other vocations.


Love can manifest itself in many different ways, and sometimes it might even be in a form of “tough love”, perhaps a love that, whilst accepting others as they are, loves them so much that it doesn’t want them to stay that way, but to grow.  And that can mean difficult conversations and occasional conflict too.  In the Gospel today, the people changed from admiration to anger at hearing a message they didn’t want to hear – that sometimes, pagans are more open to God than God’s own people.  Time to reflect and time to change.


So in summary I can say that we all have a vocation, of one sort or another.  Our task is to discover what it is and to use it for the building up of the People of God, which is the Church.