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February 21, 2017

The Greatest Summons

Most renowned speeches or stories do have a single line or phrase encapsulating their whole essence. And many a time, these lines or phrases end up characterizing or defining the entirety of the subject’s persona or life project. This is especially true in literature, politics, and in movies. For example, when we hear “Even you Brutus!”, we immediately associate that with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Whenever someone says: “I have a dream!”, our minds flash back to Martin Luther King Jnr. And at the mention of “Yes, We Can!”, Barrack Obama comes to mind. In the Gospel of today, we hear the greatest line ever spoken, the greatest summons ever issued: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). With these words, our Lord Jesus inaugurates his ministry as he embarks on the mission to reconcile us with the Father. Jesus Christ, the Messiah of the Father, the greatest man that ever lived uses the greatest command ever given to call back God’s greatest work of creation (humanity), as he launches the greatest ever earthly project – the redemption and salvation of mankind. This is in order to undo the greatest human tragedy -sin, and to achieve the greatest ever transformation – the divinization of man. Going by our introductory premise, the summons to repentance summarizes the entirety of our Lord’s mission on earth.

The arrest of St John the Baptist was a signal for Jesus to formally launch his mission.  Prior to that, he had been constituting his cabinet by gathering his Apostles while also preaching and baptising on a small scale. John’s arrest and incarceration was the trigger that ushered the Messiah on to the centre-stage. John the Voice fades as Jesus the Word becomes visible. When the moment came, our Lord moved to Capernaum and called his first Apostles – Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Jesus went out to these fishermen as they plied their trade on the Sea of Galilee. He called each one by name, and invited him into his ministry of building God’s Kingdom on earth. Today, Jesus continues his work in the same way, calling normal fishermen, regular folks like you and me, to repentance and to become his messengers. This is our twofold vocation – to repent, and to help bring others to repentance. Since no one can give that which he/she does not have, we could not possibly help others to repentance unless we ourselves first repent.

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Dear friends, Jesus did not issue this summons from a distance. He went to the Apostles while they were fishing –right in the middle of their everyday work. He went out to the lakeshore looking for them. He stepped into their environment; he “invaded” their private space, and he “breached” their comfort zone. Jesus walked into their ordinary lives!Our Lord is not a fringe player – he always wants to be involved and to make it personal. This is the same way he relates with us. Jesus is always coming out to meet us, walking along the shore of our lives, and sharing in the everydayness of our existence. Our Saviour is always thinking of us, watching us, and calling out to us through the Church and through our conscience – regardless of convenience. He desires us to follow him more closely today than yesterday, and more passionately tomorrow than today.

Thus, we only need to listen, to pay attention and, when necessary, to leave behind our nets, our relationships, our boats, etc. – anything that hinders us from hearing and heeding the call of our Lord. Jesus calls each one personally to follow him, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that: “Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness” (#30).  Some people he calls to the priesthood, and some to the religious/consecrated life. Some he has called to a single/celibate life, and most others he has called to the married state – to become co-creators with him. Whatever our calling may be, the Lord is inviting us today to leave behind our personal plans and trust exclusively in him – just as Peter and Andrew left behind their boat, their nets, and their business. Jesus wants us to become his co-workers, but we must first repent.

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Without repentance, no other vocation can be fruitful! The call to repentance is an ever-urgent, ongoing concern. Repentance means turning away from anything and everything that stands in the way of our fellowship with the Lord. Repentance brings about a conversion of heart, and conversion is a grace from God. We experience conversion because the Holy Spirit reveals God’s love, his mercy, and his holiness to our hearts. But there is a human dimension to conversion as well. Conversion happens when a person decides to turn away from sin and turn to the Lord. It happens when we heed Jesus’ call to repentance! Therefore, two things are crucial today – to repent from our sinful and selfish ways, and to keep our inclination to sin (concupiscence) in check through a regular examination of conscience. A monthly visit to the confessional is highly recommended even when we are not in mortal sin. We can rest assured that a regular pious confession is always a great spiritual aid. Also, we are invited to practise the daily act of the particular examen. This is the habit of focussing on one area of weakness in our life daily and praying about it while striving for improvement.

In all, the Lord’s call to repentance has a currency to it that is un-put-down-able and which we can ill-afford to neglect. It demands an urgent, personal response. We can be sure that Jesus our Saviour will never let us down! As the Scripture rightly says, he “is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph.3:20). May the Father of mercies help us to heed Jesus’ call today – to repent of our sins and to follow him more closely. May he shower us with the courage to be his fearless witnesses wherever we might be as we help others to hear and respond to his two fold.

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