Saturday, February 9, 2019

Feb. 10, 2019: 5th Sunday Ordinary C

Feb. 10, 2019: 5th Sunday Ordinary C

It was the year 1219 more than 800 years ago. Two Italian men wearing rags were found traversing a city in Egypt where the Sultan of Egypt defeated 5,000 Christian crusaders. The soldiers quickly captured and beat these poor Italian men and brought them before the Sultan of Egypt, Malek al-Kamil who was the nephew of the famous Sultan Saladin. The Sultan asked them by whom and why they had been sent, and one of the two, Francis of Assisi, replied that they had been sent by God, not by men, to show the Sultan and his subjects the way of salvation and proclaim the truth of the Gospel message. The Sultan asked Francis to stay with him for several days for he was impressed by Francis’ enthusiasm, courage, and love that flowed from him. Fast forward 800 years in 2019, another Italian man bearing the name of Francis arrived in United Arab Emirates (UAE) several days ago. He rode in a South Korean car costing $18,000 trailed by luxury cars costing several times more. Later, he celebrated a historic Holy Mass in a sports stadium in Abu Dhabi for a crowd of 130,000 Catholics from 100 different nations. Inside a country known for opulent wealth and excess, Pope Francis preached about happiness or blessedness being poor in spirit by witnessing the lifestyle of Jesus. He said,

“Let us look at how Jesus lived: poor in respect to things, but wealthy in love; he healed so many lives, but did not spare his own...He came to serve and not to be served; he taught us that greatness is not found in having but in giving. Just and meek, he did not offer resistance, but allowed himself to be condemned unjustly. In this way Jesus brought God’s love into the world. Only in this way did he defeat death, sin, fear and even worldliness: only by the power of divine love.”

When we reflect on the lives of Francis of Assisi, Jorge Bergoglio (aka Pope Francis), Prophet Isaiah and Peter, we see a reflection of our own selves. Our Lord calls ordinary men and women to be “fishers of men” to spread God’s peace, love, and mercy. At the time of God’s calling, we may feel unworthy and feel the pang of guilt of our sins; because of our unworthiness, we decline the invitation from God. We may also decline the call because we are too busy, too preoccupied with the demands of our jobs, or we are angry at God. Just as Jesus entered into the fishing boat of Peter fully knowing his faults and weakness,  Jesus accepts each of us where we are and as we are.  While our human efforts alone may not produce much fruit, together with Jesus, we may witness amazing fruits through our humble efforts. Just as He instructed Peter,  "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch," if we but humble ourselves and listen obediently for His direction in prayer, unexpected fruits for God’s Kingdom will result through our love in action. As Pope Francis said, we imitate Jesus by serving others, doing little things with great love for Jesus. Greatness before God’s eyes is not about having but giving.

The lyrics from an old hymn, “How Can I Keep From Singing,” reminds us that this life is not about building for ourselves the most comfortable environment where we expect no suffering. Rather Christ invites his disciples on earth to reflect on how He gave His life for others out of love, enduring suffering patiently that came His way, and trusting His Father during storms of life. The words of the song are:

What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth

No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

God’s purpose for us does not depend on our virtue or worthiness. Jesus does not wait for us to be perfect before calling us to work with him in serving others. Rather, our humble acknowledgement of our littleness and weakness opens the doors of our hearts for Christ to work through us. Like Peter, we make mistakes while we try to serve Jesus and our neighbor. But as the saying goes, “God doesn’t call the qualified; rather, God qualifies those He calls.”