Saturday, January 3, 2009

Jan. 4, 2009: Feast of the Epiphany

This past week things have been quiet [‘knock on wood’]. The school was out, the parish office was closed, and there were no funerals. When things quiet down we tend to get reflective. The New Year naturally makes you think about what happened in the past year and makes you hope about what will happen this coming year. As I was washing dishes on the New Years day, I noticed a small dish on the window sill with inscription on it. It reads, ‘Faith makes things possible, but not always easy.’ 

For those of you who have heard bits here and there of my vocation story heard me say that I believed I would be the least likely person to become a priest. First of all, not too long ago I was a person who disavowed religion altogether. Secondly, I believed I didn’t have the temperament or the gifts to become a priest. A priest is a very public person; he is a person whose daily work is to interact with people and to address large crowds. A person who is energized by interaction with people would be well suited for this; there is a technical word for this type of personality—an extrovert. Will it surprise you that I do not become energized through interaction with people? Instead, spending time alone energizes me. The technical word for this is an introvert. In the business world, we would say I do not qualify for the job or that my talents do not match the job I’m applying for. In the middle of the seminary, I almost joined a contemplative religious order where I thought interaction with the public will be minimal; it was an option that was within my comfort zone. Before entering the seminary, I was an engineer living in a cubicle; I enjoyed the lifestyle of Dilbert, the comic strip character. My spiritual director had a couple of questions for me when I was about to join the order, however. First, he asked me, “What are you afraid of?” Second, “What does Jesus say about fear?” I remembered how Jesus reacted to Peter when Peter began to sink in the sea in his attempt to walk on water. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:31) I was afraid of facing my own weakness and afraid of exposing that weakness to the people.  

‘Faith makes things possible, but not always easy.’ Typically when we decide to give something to the Lord or say ‘yes’ to His call, we usually require God to abide by our terms and conditions. And if God does not abide by our conditions, we change what we decide to give. For example, when Jesus called me to be a priest I told him, “I’m really not good with public speaking so I only want to be a hermit priest in some monastery.” But we learn very quickly that Jesus operates very differently. JESUS DOES NOT CALL THE QUALIFIED, JESUS QUALIFIES THE CALLED. Either Jesus will stretch the gifts that you already have, or He will bring out the gift that you never possessed through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this way, Jesus humbles us; we realize that Jesus accomplished great things through us despite our limitations. We know we didn’t do it. It was His actions through us.  

Let’s take the example of the magi in today’s gospel. The magi were wise men who knew the signs of the stars. They were not Jews, so they did not know the whole Old Testament history of the longing for the arrival of the Messiah (unlike the Jewish chief priests and scribes). All they knew was that there rose a star in the sky, and it signaled rise of a new king of the Jews. How they chose the gifts they brought remains a mystery. But in hind sight, they brought gifts that revealed correctly who the infant Jesus really was. Gold was a symbol of royalty and thus revealed Jesus as the king. Frankincense was used by priests in sacrifice thus revealed Jesus as the divine priest. Myrrh was a spice used to bury the dead, and it revealed Jesus as one who is to die to redeem us. The magi did not know exactly why they picked gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They were inspired by the Holy Spirit to bear these gifts and forever be etched into the history of the New Testament. Likewise when we say ‘yes’ to God’s call, we do not know what kind of gifts God will draw out from us and what kind of results God will accomplish through us. We will look back with wonder, “How did I ever do that? It must be God.”  

Does it surprise you when I say that all of you here, without exception, is called by Jesus? Have you said, ‘yes’ to Him? Have you opened yourself to the possibility that Jesus wants to accomplish great things through you? Are you prepared to be surprised by the gifts that Jesus will draw out from you that you thought you never had? 

Some of you here are undoubtedly called to the life of priesthood and religious. Do not be afraid of that possibility. Some of you here are called to build up St. Aloysius parish as a co-worker of Jesus. Next few weeks, we’re going to ask you to go one step further by answering ‘yes’ to be formed as a “Co-worker in the Vineyard.” If doubts still remain, I want to ask you two questions. What are you afraid of? What does Jesus say about fear?