5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
February 7, 2021
As I mentioned at the beginning of Mass, joining us today, both in person and on-line, are young people who are participating in what is called the SEEK conference, SEEK 21, to be exact. It is sponsored by the FOCUS Missionaries; young adults who are evangelizers on college campuses throughout the United States, including here in Maryland. It is to you, the young people who are joining us, that I address my homily. And I’m confident that if I say anything of value for you who are young, it may also be of help for those of us who have been around a little longer.
The theme of SEEK 21 is “Seek like never before”, that is to say, ‘Seek the Lord and seek his will, this year, as never before.’ Now, 2021, while we are in the grip of this pandemic, is exactly the right time ‘to seek the Lord while he may be found’ – and to seek him more intently than ever. And that’s just what you have been doing these past few days. Thousands of you met in small groups and prayed for the grace to find the Lord, not in spite of the pandemic, but in the midst of it. And more than that, you have sought the direction the Lord wants your life to take, at a time when many doors of opportunity seem to be closing. So let us ask – How do our Sunday Scripture readings shed light on your quest?
The Drudgery of COVID
Well, if ever there were a Scripture passage suited for a pandemic, it has to be today’s first reading from the Book of Job. Job was a truly righteous man who tried to honor God by his life. He was also a prosperous rancher, with money, property, a nice family, & good health. The question arose, would Job remain faithful to God if those blessings disappeared? And disappear they did! Suddenly, Job found himself poor, bereft of family, and sick. Life became a total drudgery for Job, and worse than that, he could not imagine that he would ever again be happy.
Many of us have experienced the pandemic much like Job: our lives were upended. Many of us lost loved ones. Some have lost their health and their jobs. Instead of moving about freely, we’ve stayed home, mostly out of fear. For most of us, spending our days on Zoom feels a lot like drudgery. No doubt, the pandemic has hit different people in different ways, but I’ve often thought about the ways COVID-19 has affected young people. Most of you, even if you test positive, have mild symptoms and you recover quickly. But that’s not the half of it. COVID has changed the world we live in, permanently. If I were a young person, I would wonder about my future, my place in this new world. What would I be looking for?
At the House of Simon Peter
Clearly, Job was seeking something better than his life of suffering. Deep down, he was not just looking for a return of the good old days, when he had his health and more than enough of everything. In his lament, Job was searching for something better. I’d like to think we’re seeking something better also. After the pandemic, I hope we will not just look for life to return to normal, but that we would come out of COVID better than we were before.
What we are seeking, we can find at the house of Simon Peter, a little house in Capernaum that we visited in today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel. When Jesus arrived there, Simon’s mother-in-law was delirious, in the grip of a fever. She was unable to seek out Jesus, but that didn’t matter; Jesus sought her out. At her bedside, Jesus took her by the hand and helped her up. Not only did he help her up from her sickbed, but also, he raised her up. When we read this passage, St. Mark wants us to think about our resurrection, when Christ will raise us up on the last day to be with him forever.
Isn’t this what we are asking the Lord to do for us, who are in the grip of COVID? – To come into our lives, to take us by the hand, individually and collectively, and to raise us up, people all over the world, from the delirium of this pandemic! To rescue the sick from this disease, to protect our loved ones, and to help people whose lives have been disrupted to get back on their feet! Yes, we are seeking all those things, but deep down, like Job, we are seeking more. And it’s Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who will show us what we’re looking for!
‘Woe to Me If I Do Not Preach the Gospel’
When the Lord raised up Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, what is the first thing she did? The first thing she did was to wait on Jesus and his disciples. Without pausing over her cure, she simply prepared a meal for them and served it. Well, if we allow Jesus to take us by the hand, and to lift us up out of this pandemic, what is the first thing that you and I should do? The answer is to serve others. Once Jesus has touched our lives and freed us from ourselves, there is no going back to a former way of life, to an old self-centered, self-satisfied way of life. Jesus raises us up and invites us, even now, to share in his resurrection, because he wants us to seek and find our calling in life, our vocation to serve others. This is why we must seek Jesus, perhaps as never before.
What happened to Simon’s mother-in-law, also happened to St. Paul, as we heard. Once Paul met Christ, who cured him of his spiritual blindness, he found his calling to be a missionary, and so spread the Gospel far and wide. St. Paul knew that if he were to set his calling aside, he would never be happy. “Woe to me”, he said, “If I do not preach [the Gospel].”
Let us be clear, the Lord has already sought you out and called you. The Lord has called all of you to holiness and a life of service to others. He will call many of you to Christian marriage and to family life. But I am sure the Lord is calling some of you to become priests and others to become religious sisters and brothers. After 44 years as a priest, I will tell you that the priesthood is a challenging vocation, but I would not give it up, even for a day, not even the most difficult day. It is the joy of my life and it is my path to discipleship, to service, and to salvation. Dear friends: Seeking the Lord as never before means seeking and finding the specific vocation of service that the Lord has in mind for you, and then answering that call with generosity, joy, and trust in the Lord.
Let me add one more thing. The way to seek your vocation is prayer. After curing Simon’s mother-in-law and many others in the town who were ill, Jesus withdrew to a deserted place and took time to pray to his Heavenly Father. Jesus often prayed to his Father, sometimes spending the whole night in prayer. If Jesus prayed for guidance in his mission, his vocation to be our Redeemer, we too must spend time in prayer if we would discover what the Lord is asking of us. Prayer, heartfelt silent prayer before the Lord and prayerfully reading the Scriptures – This is how we seek the Lord, listen to his voice, and discern his will for our lives. While we are in prayer, we can also hear the echo of the disciples’ voices when they said to Jesus, “Everyone is looking for you!” Whether they know it or not, countless people today are looking for Jesus, and the Lord is calling you to be the ones who will bring his love to them. As he said, “The harvest is rich but the laborers are few!” Today I am seeking from the Lord the favor of many priestly and religious vocations!
Dear young friends and all dear friends in Christ, “Let us seek the Lord while he may be found. Let us call on him while he is near!” And may the Lord bless us and keep us always in his love!