Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

How many took notice of the January polar vortex temperatures in the Midwest?   Thank God I was here and not there.  I read a story about a monastery in Iowa. All the nuns were gathered at the abbess’s bedside, as she was dying. One nun handed her a glass of milk with plenty of brandy in it, to warm her and ease her pain. The abbess took a sip and suddenly perked up. Another nun asked for the abbess’s dying words. The abbess took a huge gulp of the brandy/milk mix, and said, “Don’t sell that cow!” Now there's a mix that will keep you warm in a polar vortex!

The word of God takes us back in our imaginations to the eighth century before Jesus (700s). A man named Isaiah has an awesome experience of God in the Jerusalem temple. The temple shook with the thunderous acclamation of angelic creatures, and Isaiah was awestruck. Then an angel cleansed him with God’s mercy.

God then commissioned Isaiah, filled with God’s grace, to become a prophet, to speak on God’s behalf to the Hebrews. Although they had not kept their promises to God, God had kept his, summed up in that simple yet profound statement, “You are my people, and I am your God.” Isaiah challenges us to remember that God has called us to be faithful to our baptismal promises, to live a life worthy of our calling as sons/daughters of God our Father.

In his letter to the Christian community, Paul emphasized his one passion in life: to preach Jesus once crucified and now risen and alive among us. Paul wrote that he too was called to be an apostle on the road to Damascus in Syria, and that experience of the living Christ turned Paul’s life upside down. God’s grace, Paul proclaimed, made him what he is. And God’s grace, which we should pray for every day, can make us passionate about proclaiming God’s good news: Jesus is alive. And because he lives, we live eternally.

In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus went into the deep waters of the Sea of Galilee with Peter and the other fishermen. Peter, while skeptical about fishing again after catching nothing all night, recognized something special in Jesus. So, Peter cast the nets again and made a sensational catch. Suddenly Peter experienced the awesome presence of God in Jesus. He cried out, “Lord.” And then Jesus, the master, calmed them, “Do not be afraid,” and called Peter and the others into discipleship. And how did they respond? They left everything they had and followed Jesus.

These three biblical personalities—Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus—accomplished much because they loved much; they were on fire with an intense love of God and a compassionate love of their fellow human beings with a message of hope about the future. Theirs was a purpose-driven life, to quote Rick Warren’s best seller. They fired people up with God’s grace to choose their better selves, to give their time and talent for the furtherance of God’s kingdom of truth and justice and freedom and peace, and standing up for what's right.

Jesus, the master, has called us to a life of discipleship through the life-giving waters of baptism. Now what is baptism? To begin with, baptism is God’s gift to you and me. And our basic response to God’s gift is gratitude. Gratitude that we are alive, gratitude that we are who we are. Baptism is a mystery that transforms us at the very core of our being into new creatures.

Baptism plunges us into the mystery of Jesus Christ. Paul captured this magnificently when he wrote to the Christian community in Galatia: “Christ lives in me.”

Yes, God has made us “new creatures.” The living Christ is our exemplar or model. In fact, the universe reflects the presence or glory of God in myriad forms. And baptized and confirmed in the Spirit, we celebrate the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at the table of the Lord.

This celebration sends us out among others to live a Godlike life, to live in a manner worthy of our calling, to treat all God’s creatures with respect—especially human beings, for humans are made in the image of God.

But what precisely does “sent out to others” mean?

Each one of us has gifts or talents that can empower or build up other people. Football’s Tom Brady, or celebrities like Denzel Washington or Lady Gaga, are not the only people with gifts or talents. You and I have special gifts and talents, by virtue of our baptism. We possess the power to believe, to hope, and to love. And within our common life, there are many splendid callings.

I love the image of “a thousand points of light.” God can shine through us with transcendent brilliance. And those who ask for the grace to draw closer to God glow with that radiance. They become one of those points of light. Teacher or student, businessman or businesswoman, whoever you are, you have a specific vocation/calling to fire up people with God’s grace so that they will choose their better selves, give their time and talents to others, and stand up for what is right, by simply being who they are. Yes, we are called to become one of those thousand points of light.

God has given all of us gifts. Let us rejoice as the Virgin Mary rejoiced. Yes, always look for the good in ourselves, in others, and in the situations in life. And then we will truly, with God’s grace, realize our authentic potential as sons and daughters of God our Father. I close with a prayerful thought that sums up the search for our authentic self:

Fortunate are the persons, who in this life can find,
a purpose that can fill their days and goals to fill their mind.
For in this world there is a need for those who’ll lead the rest,
to rise above the “average” life, by giving of their best!
Will you be one, who dares to try when challenged by
the task, to rise to heights you’ve never seen, or is that
too much to ask?

May we all realize that, in the end, the purpose of our baptismal calling is to matter, to make a difference for the better by giving the best we have in service to one another! And then we will realize with God’s grace our authentic selves.

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