Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of January 18, 2009
1ST Reading: 1 Sam 3:3-10, 19; Ps 39; 2ND Reading: 1 Cor 6:13-15, 17-20; Gospel: Jn 1:35-42
I deem necessary to give a logical order to the readings to better understand what teachings the Lord wants to send us.
The passage to be placed in the first place is Samuel's, thereafter the Gospel passage and last the passage taken from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians. These readings have in common the theme of vocation, the calling which necessarily sees these two parties: God calling and man responding. The answer is found in the verse of the responsorial psalm: "Behold, Lord, I come to do Thy will"; this is the only attitude that man must have when God is calling him.
Calls and vocations are varied and numerous; today we outline two in particular and one in general.
"In those days, Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called "Samuel!"," and he replied: "Here I am", then ran to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said: "I did not call, lie down again." So he went and lay down. And the Lord called again: "Samuel!" and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said: "Here I am, for you called me." But he said again: "I did not call, my son; lie down again." Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. And the Lord called "Samuel!" again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said: "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the young man. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times: "Samuel, Samuel!" and Samuel said: "Speak, for your servant hears." Samuel grew and the Lord was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground." (1 Sam 3:3-10, 19)
The passage, taken from the first book of Samuel, highlights the call of God to prophecy, that is, God calls someone to play the role of prophet in the community, society and Church. The prophet must not be understood in the pagan sense, Roman or Greek, as the one who foretells the future, who is trying in various ways and by various means, to sharpen his look of the future to decipher and reveal it to those who ask. The concept of a prophet in the New Testament is another; the call to prophecy, in fact, did not end with the incarnation, but with it, this charisma, this gift, has developed further.
The prophet is one who let people known the will is God. Here is the prophet. Of all calls, that of prophecy is the most difficult. The prophet must face, compared to all other vocations, the most tormented life. If you wish to have a confirmation, it will be sufficient to read the great prophets of the Old Testament, particularly Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. You will find that their life was actually the hardest, it even seems that some of them have died violently in suffering martyrdom because of their vocation.
One wonders why this happens also in the New Testament. God, in the New Testament, has certainly spoken in a special way through His Son, as Paul says, but those who study the Holy Scriptures in depth, especially the Gospel, are just a few; this is why God has mercy, compassion and concern for his people and sends his prophets to proclaim His will, to better understand what He said and what is proposed in the Gospel. We realize, however, that this call in the New Testament (when we talk about New Testament we refer also to our current days) is extremely misunderstood. Our Lady too talked about it: the men who have in their hearts the desire to oppose God - how else can you explain the way they act - not being able to assail Him, hurl themselves against His prophets. They try to invalidate the message that they bring, trying to destroy the people in every way, hitting them physically with attacks.
But God is not going to be impressed and so great is His love and the desire to call all men to Him, that He keeps on asking a hard life from some of them, sometimes a life so painful that is draining, exhausting and killing them before they can fall victim to any attack, by calling them to be prophets.
The second vocation we are dealing with is priesthood, so wonderfully described by John.
"At that time John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said: "Look, the Lamb of God!". When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked: "What do you want?". They said: "Rabbi (which means Teacher), where are you staying?". "Come" he replied, "And you will see". So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said: "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" - which means Peter." (John 1:35-42)
It is one of the passages which highlights the humanity of Christ, for Jesus is true God, but also true man. I have already had occasion to point out this detail: Christ goes to the place where John was baptizing and when he saw Him coming, gave the famous announcement that we repeat at the moment of communion: "Behold the Lamb of God." It takes just these few words that God puts in man's heart, to give rise to a desire to follow the new teacher. Then there was jealousy among the disciples of various teachers so that everyone tended to value his own, but here John, who had already said: "It is necessary that I must decrease so that He may increase", knows well who is the Christ and he places himself not even in the position of the slave who is assigned to fasten shoes to his master. Just the enthusiasm, love and faith emerging from these words are enough to push two of John's disciples to follow Christ. Jesus is happy because it actually begins to gather around him those who will form the college of twelve apostles. Well then, He is walking and they follow Him, but nothing escapes Him, he knows very well that they are following Him. Now I would like to dwell for a moment and enter Jesus' heart and in the hearts of the two future Apostles. The Gospel does not mention it, but we have a chance, maybe even the right, to figure out what happened. Jesus then prays for his first apostles and all the others He would have called later; it is the power of prayer of the Son of God addressed to the Father to determine the immediacy of the apostles' response, even on subsequent calls. This deserves to be pondered longer and more carefully.
Luke underlined in his Gospel that Jesus, before calling the apostles, was engrossed in prayer. If He was engrossed in prayer when he called both of them, He will certainly have relied on prayer when He called them one by one or in pairs, as in this case. Confirmation is found in the Gospel, but we are unable to read it with enough understanding, faith and love. If we were able to do it, everything would be clear, nothing would be obscure.
In the heart of future apostles enthusiasm is bursting, but this collides with reality. They leave an established teacher like John and follow a new one. They wandered if He would have been just as strong, powerful and important so that they too, by following Him, would come to light with their personality and would become important. It is humanity that is felt, it is the human desire to emerge pounding in the heart of these two apostles who, as they follow Christ, feel an inner turmoil of thoughts and reflections. Jesus is enjoying this. I manage to see on Jesus' lips a smile of satisfaction, for He knows that this is the way to come to Him. In order to come to Christ, for us who hear His call, we must first of all strip ourselves of our certainties, ideas and values we believe in, emptying of the realities that we are interested in and fill with certainties, ideas, values and realities that are Christ's. All categories of future priests are represented in these apostles. The real answer is the one I have described, then if they will not correspond, will betray or are not honest with their own vocation, is another matter.
Jesus knows that, through word and teaching, there is understanding and knowledge and invited the two apostles to be with Him. We do not know where Jesus would stay overnight, by which family or person He was a guest, but we know that Jesus, for the whole day, provided His two apostles not only with His home but with His whole being. This meant that their enthusiasm that probably during the journey had to fight against the doubts of concreteness, got confirmed in a strong and wonderful way; in fact when Andrea runs into Simon, future Peter, says: "We have met the Messiah". This was after Jesus had spoken to them and had spent important hours, they understood and immediately believed.
The two have certainly said: "We have met Christ, we have met the Messiah." Jesus familiarized with them for what He really was, sent by the Father, the long-awaited Messiah, the redeemer on which rested all the sins of the world to be cleansed.
We touched on some individual vocations, but now we consider a generic one: the vocation to holiness. This is presented in the passage of the Letter of Paul to the Corinthians.
"Brothers, the body is not meant for impurity but for the Lord and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Stay away from impurity! All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but those given to impurity sin against their own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price: therefore honor God with your bodies!" (1 Cor 6:13-15, 17-20)
The call to holiness is not only meant for some people, but for everyone. We are all called to be saints, to be pure and blameless before God. In the passage Paul is considering both the human body and Christ's mystical body.
The body, understood as the physical body, must be respected, must not fall in impurity, bringing it away from God, because it is a temple of the Holy Spirit. This concept is brought to light through the liturgical gestures of purification with incense. In a Solemn Mass, the Pope or bishop incenses the altar, and then returns the thurible to the acolyte, who then goes to incense the assembly. These actions have never been sufficiently highlighted, but they express exactly the idea I have outlined. The Church, through this ritual, suggests that censing goes to the temple which houses the Holy Spirit and just as the altar which will host the Trinity and will receive Christ, true God and true man in body, blood, soul and divinity, is incensed, so it is equally incensed the body of every believer who receives, keeps, hosts the Trinity and especially the Holy Spirit.
Let us pause now to consider the mystical body of which Paul is master. According to Paul it would be absurd and monstrous to think that in the holiness of the mystical body may co-exist some sinning members. That is why the mystical body is the union of all saints, joined together and united to the Saint par excellence that is Christ: this is the call to holiness. We are called to be living members of the mystical body, which is why we must commit all our energy and fiber to reject anything that might offend or soil us as members, to enhance and uphold God's holiness. We all are called to this and it is a feasible thing, it is the talk of redemption and grace. With God all things are possible, thus to keep ourselves holy, honest and clean is possible. Surely, in a materialistic world addicted to pleasure, where we only long to reach the highest peaks of power, it is difficult to accept and respect Christ's teachings, but for us they have a great meaning and it is our wish that this mystical body can gradually expand and embrace all people. It is the will of God, the power of redemption, the task of the Holy Spirit that we must call upon; God the Holy Spirit has the task to help every member of the mystical body to attain holiness. Let us call upon the Holy Spirit, let us obey Christ's teachings, let us get used to converse with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, anticipating what we will do in the Paradise of beatific vision, and if we were to stop for a while in the waiting Paradise, well, let us welcome it too because we know that sooner or later we will be allowed to see and enjoy God.
Have you ever wondered how God is? I have, but I've never been able to give myself an answer, for it seems reductive to think of Him in this or that form. And yet He must be something infinitely beautiful escaping our intelligence and I believe our Lord allows this escape so we may keep alive the will and desire to go and see Him as He really is. We all want to see God, but there is only one path, that of holiness. May God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit help us. Praised be Jesus Christ.