Once there was a highly-respected company with an opening in its sales team, and when it advertised the position, there were more than a thousand applicants. Of the many letters and resumes, one stood out. It said: “I am presently selling furniture at the address below. You’ll be able to judge my ability as a salesman if you stop in at a time of your choosing and pretend that you are interested in buying furniture. You’ll know me by my red hair, but I’ll have no way of knowing you. That way, the sales ability I show will be my everyday approach, and not a special effort to impress a potential employer.” The company’s personnel director was impressed with the young man’s honesty, so he took him up on the offer; he secretly evaluated the applicant by posing as a customer at the furniture store, and in fact ended up offering him the job (Gerard Fuller, Stories for All Seasons, p. 69).
Quite often the best way to judge a person’s character is to observe him or her under everyday conditions, rather than special occasions when he or she might be trying to impress us with an extra effort. Jesus understands this idea, too. He calls all of us to follow Him—but relatively few of us are asked to do something dramatic, such as going as a missionary to Africa, or heroically risking our lives by jumping in front of a speeding car to rescue a child who wandered out onto the road. Our Lord wants us to follow Him in everyday ways, thereby making routine things into occasions of grace. His call, though unique for each of us, doesn’t require a once-in-a-lifetime effort, but a practical and down-to-earth commitment lived out each day.
As we see in our readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, God calls people who are sinners, people who are saints, and people who are in the process of changing from one to the other. Eli, the priest, was living and serving God at a religious shrine. He was an elderly man and, unfortunately, a failure as a father, for his two sons grew up without firm discipline from him and ended up becoming wicked men. Nevertheless, God used sinful Eli to help prepare young Samuel for his calling as a great prophet. God also uses holy people to show others the way. John the Baptist was widely respected as a just and righteous man—so much so that he had his own disciples. When John pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God, two of these disciples left John and began following Him; soon afterwards, they brought Peter to Jesus as well. They and certain other men became apostles; they weren’t holy at first, but eventually they became saints, especially after spending time with Jesus over the next three years. Becoming holy usually doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time. This idea helps explain St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians. Paul had established a community of sincere Christians in the Greek city of Corinth, but because they were surrounded by constant temptations—especially of a sexual nature—some of them fell back into sin. Therefore, Paul reminded them that sexual immorality is wrong, and urged them to remain true to the new way of life they had received.
Some Native American cultures or tribe considered it important to give every boy approaching the teenage years a sense of his destiny—so he would be sent off by himself to a mountain or into the desert or wilderness for several days, giving him the opportunity to meditate on life and to seek inspiration and guidance on the course his own life should take. If, for instance, he saw a majestic waterfall on the side of the mountain, it might mean he was destined to become a strong and powerful leader, and so he might choose for himself a new name like “Mighty Waters.” If the youth observed a hawk swoop down and kill a dangerous snake, that might indicate he was to become a fierce warrior, and a name like “Valiant Guardian” might be appropriate. If he heard the distant chant of a medicine man caring for a sick child, perhaps he too was called to serve in that way—and would thus call himself “Good Medicine” (James F. Colaianni, Sunday Sermon Treasury of Illustrations, Vol. 1, p. 130). We have been given a name speaking of our own destiny: the name of Christian—and to live up to it, we must help make Christ present to the world around us.
The things you and I are doing today—including those we do when no one is looking, and those routine habits we take for granted—are helping determine our eternal destiny: namely, whether we will be happy forever with God, or utterly miserable in our separation from Him. In a very real sense we can say that today is the most important day of our lives, for yesterday is gone, and tomorrow may not come. Therefore, we must use this day, and the simple, routine opportunities it presents, to express our love for God and our desire to follow Jesus.
Chances are someone will ask you for a favor today. Do your best to respond, even if it’s inconvenient. It’s likely someone will offend you or treat you unfairly at some point this coming week. Forgive that person, even if he or she isn’t truly sorry. Later on you may encounter someone who’s feeling lonely or confused, angry or hurt, frightened or unloved. Share Christ’s love by your words and your presence, even if you’re not quite sure how to do this at first. You’ll probably be asked sooner or later by your parish, your community, or your local volunteer group, to get involved somehow and to lend a helping hand. Seriously consider it, instead of automatically answering no. Your example will be noticed, today and tomorrow and all the days to come, by your children or grandchildren, your relatives, your neighbors, and by people wondering if what the Church teaches about the meaning of life is real. Witness to the truth of the Gospel—not by putting on an act, but by putting on Christ; live out your faith each day in a simple, down-to-earth, authentic manner.
We never know who might be watching, and who may be influenced by our example; nor do we know whether we’ll have another opportunity after today to express our love for Christ. That’s why we must make good use of this ordinary, presumably uneventful Sunday in January—for it’s an important step in our journey from sinfulness to holiness, and a day of grace in which God can touch others through us, and an opportunity to demonstrate that the Gospel is practical, possible, and truly Good News. We’re not applying for a new job, as was the furniture salesman, but his approach is the correct one; our faith should be visible everyday in everything we do. Today is our chance to respond to God’s call. If we are truly Christ’s followers, we will understand this truth, and act upon it.