Before I got accepted into the seminary, I worked at a hardware shop in the city. Technically, my work was a ‘checker’ which included checking the incoming and outgoing deliveries, making inventories of the stock, and even cleaning the gutter located beside the shop during the less busy days. About this time also, my desire to become a priest became very strong. Yet, something held me back. I didn’t formally graduate from High School (which was the main pre-requisite to enter the College seminary). I took a special exam after second year. I passed (thank God) and was accelerated to college studies. Momentarily I felt so elated. But later on it frustrated me a bit, because it is the College seminary’s rule to accept only those who have formally undergone and finished their secondary schooling. Anyway, I didn’t lose hope. In fact, I left it all to God. I consoled myself thinking that if God really called me to be a priest, then he would help me out.
It came one day in an unexpected moment. I was cleaning the gutter when one of the salesladies in the shop came to me and told me that someone was looking for me, a priest. Without much ado, ignoring the not-so-good smell of the gutter that stuck into my shirt, I went out to meet my visitor. It was my parish priest. He came down to the city from his country parish bringing good tidings for me. He’d apparently gone to the seminary to talk my situation through with the rector. He told me that the seminary would take me in. He also assured me of his help in any way. I felt so happy and humbled at the news of my parish priest. I didn’t know how to react or what to say. But silently, I was thanking God for showing me the way, despite my poor background and my unusual circumstance. Until now, I am thanking God for his abundant graces that sustain me all the way up to who I am now.
Friends, you might have heard this story before but bear with me if I told you this again today. I just wanted to share with you my personal experience of a God who called me to be his own as a priest. I just wanted to share with you my experience of the beauty of this God of ours who dares to look beyond our human weaknesses and limitations just to let us know He’s got some great things for us. I just couldn’t help but tell you of the goodness of our God who wouldn’t measure our life by what we do and who we are but by his utter generosity and unconditional love. I am a priest now by the grace of God all because Jesus has invited me and also because he has found something special in me.
St Paul too has experienced the same beauty of our God. In our second reading today, Paul wrote: “I am the least of the apostles; in fact, since I persecuted the Church of God, I hardly deserve the name apostle; but by God’s grace that is what I am…” (1 Cor 15:1-11) For Paul, he would not have deserved such graces from God to him because of what he was before. But God couldn’t care less. He wanted Paul to be at his service so he calls him personally to be his concrete witness for the early Christians Church. This is our God. This is how wonderful he is. If he calls someone, he makes that someone worthy of his service too.
The prophet Isaiah would also attest to us how good and how wonderful our God is especially if he calls us personally. In our first reading today, Isaiah exclaimed: “What a wretched state I am in! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have looked at the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Is 6:1-8). Isaiah admitted and acknowledged his being weak and sinful, yet that didn’t deter God from anointing him as a prophet. Despite Isaiah’s limitations and inadequacies, God calls him and appoints him as his mouthpiece in the world. This just shows us despite our weaknesses and sinfulness, God cares for us. Not only that, he calls us to be his friends.
One beautiful and concrete expression of the beauty of our God is what we have heard in our gospel today. Peter and few other fishermen in Galilee, despite their simple and humble background, were called by Jesus himself (personally) to follow him and become ‘fishers of men.’ He called them where they are at. From being simple and poor fishermen in Galilee, they were appointed to become helpers of Christ in his mission for the world. In calling them, Jesus didn’t ask of them how capable they are or how credible would they have to be. He only expected of them their availability- to listen to his voice; ‘to put out into the deep’ [i.e. to go beyond their immediate needs and immediate surroundings and reach out to serve others]; and to follow him.
This is how beautiful and how wonderful our God is. He looks through us and appeals to our inner goodness and beauty inside. This is how much he loved us. So for him, it didn’t matter if we are rich or poor, or black or white, or man or woman, young or old, as long as (1) we listen to him always, (2) do whatever he tells us and wills for us to do, and (3) follow him on the way of love and life.
And how possibly can we realize these 3 resolutions? Let us learn from the three figures in our Readings today who had experienced the beauty of God and had listened to God’s voice calling them. First, Isaiah, Paul and Simon Peter & other fishermen with him listened to what God has to say and based their personal responses on it. Second, they humbled themselves. They could have protested what is asked of them. Simon Peter for instance, could have said to Jesus: “You are only a carpenter, and I have been a fisherman all my life. I know the movements of the fish and the lake. They usually get to the surface at night. I and the other fishermen with me were spending the whole night here fishing yet we caught nothing. And now you’re telling me, at this time of day, to put out into the deep for a catch? You must be kidding!” Yet Simon Peter didn’t say that. Instead he humbled himself and said: ‘If you say so, then I will.’ And their humility paid off. They caught many. Third, upon hearing Jesus’ invitation, they readily left everything, their familiar surroundings (lifestyle and all) and ventured into an unfamiliar territory proclaiming the love of God for his people while rendering loving service for others. Because of their humble and faith-filled response to God’s invitation and call to mission they became personal friends of God and a proclaimer of his love to all.
In like manner, by virtue of our baptism and by our faith in Christ, we are responding to the offer of personal friendship that God has tendered unto us. How humble and how faithful are we in responding to our call to mission especially in this year of faith?
We don’t have to go to Africa or Asia, or anywhere. Wherever we are, we are called to be alter Christus (other Christs) for others and for the world. We have to note though that there is only one Christ. There is only one Messiah. What we are to exemplify however is that we may be Christlike in our way of living and in by the way we love- that love that has no strings attached.
If you may have remembered, three Sundays ago, we heard Jesus inviting the disciples of John the Baptist to ‘come and see’ where he lives. Then on the following Sunday, we heard him again as he was walking along the sea of Galilee. This time he was inviting certain fishermen to follow him. And we heard the story, they left everything behind (their nets and even their father) and followed him. The disciples followed Jesus and they saw how Jesus observed the Sabbath day. Last Sunday, the gospel tells us that He went to the Synagogue and there he cured the man possessed by an unclean spirit, in the presence of everyone. Today’s gospel is sort of a continuation of how Jesus spent his day. After the synagogue, he went out with his newly-made friends and even cured the illness of one of his friends’ mother-in-law. Then he attended to the crowds who came to him with all their sick and possessed and he cured ‘many.’ Then later on, early the next morning, he left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.’
This must have been the typical day for him. He’s got time for his friends. He’s got time for the people coming to him. But most importantly he’s got time for himself and for his God. In a way, he knows his priorities and he knows how to balance things out. This is for me, the secret ‘ingredient’ that made Jesus so popular for many (poor and needy) in his time and even for us now.
As followers of him, we also ought to imitate the life of Christ as one classical author -Thomas a Kempis said. This doesn’t mean imitating him in his miracles or in his way of preaching but following him in how he keeps grounded on being with his friends, with the people and with his Father all at the same time.
And thus, because of his firm priorities, He transcends any cultural barrier or standard of ritual purity prevalent in his time and culture. He cured in the Sabbath, which is an ‘illegal’ act to the authorities in the synagogue. He ‘touched’ the sick mother-in-law of Simon Peter and cured her from fever. He allowed her to ‘wait’ on them which is not acceptable in his time. The gesture of Jesus was repugnant for the Jewish authorities for they had a strict rule of ritual purity at the time which allowed ‘no adult woman’ to ‘serve a man at table.’
He maintains his personal relationship with his Father in everything he did or said. When he preached he always notes that ‘He is just doing the will of his Father.’ When he cured or did miracles he would make people realize that the kingdom of his Father is a Kingdom of ‘wholeness and holiness, of perfection and eternal happiness.’ This is the secret of his success if we like to call it that way.
Like Jesus we are to make our priorities right. For Him, doing the will of his Father is the main motive of everything he does and says. It is important to remember always that God has willed each and everyone of us to live our lives to the full in the light of his love and care. We can only realize and accept this truth this if we give time for ourselves. We can only see this if we keep our communication with God open. For it is only in the silence of our hearts that we can hear God speaking to us and guiding us in what we are to do in our lives.
However, in our world wherein ‘getting busy or acting like busy body’ is the ‘seemingly’ motive in doing things, keeping time with God is a tough call. It is difficult to stay still and ponder on how God works in us now because we are in the world wherein ‘rushing’ is the name of the game. The consoling thing is that despite our busy times, we still have time to spend with our friends and relatives and with some people around us. Yet at the end of the day, if we don’t go back to God, if we don’t sit down before Him, if we would listen to ourselves, if we wouldn’t confront our own selves, we would eventually lose the meaning of our life. No wonder, we heard in the News, people who are seemingly well-off, with good circle of friends, rich and famous, who have taken their own lives. This can happen if we are just caught up with what we are doing, and not in who we are representing to. We are called by God to be Christ for others. If we neglect this noble Christian and human responsibility we would eventually end up being alone in the midst of the crowd or being impoverished in the midst of plenty.
It is by giving time for ourselves and by bringing our troubles, problems, and concerns to God that we would come to realize that things are not really that bad as they appear to be. If we look at what we have become now, we will realize that sufferings are just really part of our life, but sufferings are not forever. Unlike Job, in our First Reading today, we would come to realize that there is hope amidst all these troubles we are facing, that we can still see and experience happiness here and now despite the sorrows and sadness we may feel at times. St Paul in our Second Reading today also offers us a consolation. For Him God is not a dominant figure telling you what to do and what not. But for Him God is the Good News to be preached, the Good News that He loves and cares all of us now despite our weaknesses and limitations.
So as we continue our reflection for the Day, let’s ask ourselves: Am I living a balanced life?
Do I spend quality time with myself and God just as I spent good times with my friends?
As I skimmed through my notes and reflection or fruits of my thirty-day-retreat which I underwent 2 years ago, I found this meditation I had written on Jn 21:1-14. This was about Peter, after the death and Resurrection of Jesus. I wrote this is in a poetic form.