January 17, 2017

Homily | The 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 22, 2017, Year A

The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew by Jesus
Detail, The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, Caravaggio, 1603–1606.

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

One of the most beautiful texts in the whole Bible reads: “Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God. Where you die I will die, and there be buried.” 

People are sometimes surprised to learn that these words are not spoken between two lovers. They are the words of Ruth, to her mother-in-law, and simply mean: I will never leave you. 

That hardly matters. The classical musical setting by Gounod is often heard at weddings. The Weston Priory version is sung by the monks to each other as a pledge of mutual fidelity in their monastic life. The text suits any commitment of persons to each other. 

The response of Simon, Andrew, James, and John to the call of Jesus seems to have been wordless. They just left their family and way of life, and followed him, presumably in the spirit of that passage from the book of Ruth. Three years later, however, at the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane, we read: “Then all the disciples left him and fled.” 

What happened? In that moment they took their eyes off him and thought only of themselves. 

Paul had to deal with something similar among the Christians of Corinth. At least three persons had preached the Gospel to them, and they thought this made a difference. There were rivalries based not on difference of teaching but on the fundamentally irrelevant difference of teachers! I am reminded of a family episode I witnessed many years ago where two children were fighting over which TV channel to watch. Both channels carried the same program! 

With the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul we have just concluded the week of prayer for the Unity of Christians. The hostility among different Christian groups is, thanks be to God, not what it once was, but Unity is a long way off. 

Paul’s response to the crisis in Corinth was to direct attention back to Jesus. “Was Paul crucified for you?” he asks. We could compare those Christians to the people in the first reading who “have seen a great light.” But the Corinthians seemed to be turning away from the light. 

Ecumenism has faded in recent decades. There were fewer joint Christian prayer services this past week than there used to be. Even common Thanksgiving services are becoming a thing of the past in some areas. 

What is the best approach to foster Christian Unity? It can’t be “My Church is better than your Church.” It can’t be “We all believe in the same God, there’s really not much difference.” Rather, as Catholics, we need to be the best Catholics we can be; our Lutheran brothers need to be the best Lutherans they can be; and so with Evangelicals, and all the rest: we all need to be the best Christians we know how to be, within our particular tradition. That means being faithful to Christ first; only he can lead us to a unity we can’t really imagine. 

Saint Richard of Chichester, who died in 1253, is best known today for a prayer he composed: “O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.” That means knowing him, loving him, following him, not wondering or worrying if others are knowing, loving or following in exactly the same way. 

Combining this with our opening quotation, let our prayer to the Lord this day be, “Wherever you go, I will go, ... day by day by day by day by day.”

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