In my family, annual vacations have always been a priority. Looking back, all have brought grace-filled moments and, given that there are six of us, always a tussle or two. But, despite the latter, I can’t think of one that I’ve wished we’d never taken.
Today, however, with all but one of our four daughters in their twenties, my wife and I are nearing the so-called “empty nest.” For me, this has resulted in a new tradition of spending one-on-one time with each of my “grown” girls.
This past Wednesday, at a prayer group, I mentioned that I had just returned from a long-planned vacation with daughter #3. I noted that this now 21-year-old daughter and I had been planning, for several years, a vacation to Key West. For me, that small island is a place with great familiarity, given that my father loved traveling to the Keys and would sometimes bring me along.
Upon checking into our hotel, we walked several miles, had dinner, and then returned to our hotel room. Early the next morning, my daughter said, “Dad, let’s go outside.” Just before sunrise, we had located a series of hammocks situated on the Gulf of Mexico shoreline, when I told her: “I’ve never been in a hammock.” Aghast, she told me that “this was my lucky day.” After clumsily making my way into a hammock, and she into hers, we laughed and I confided that I was from the Jaws generation which immediately brought a “what’s that” response. I told her that when I was a teenager, eight-years younger than she was right now, that movie was released. And ever since, I’ve have had a fear of being eaten by sharks. Which brought more laughs and another response: “Dad, you’re safe in the hammock.”
As the sun rose and we shared that moment together, I felt that God had called me to that place, to be with this daughter. Truly, it is a moment that I will forever cherish; and, from her perspective, a memory she will keep stored deep within her heart long after yours truly has exited the scene!
Throughout Salvation History, we witness many callings. They are mysterious and wonderful for they are centered on God’s summoning voice, where He calls us to be His own. We see this when God called Abraham and the people of Israel. We see this in God’s call to the Church. And we realize this, in very personal ways, when God calls you and me out of our fallenness— to Himself. He asks us: “Do we want to be well?” And upon our yes, God begins to “move things along” in our lives.
When we submit to God’s divine plan for our lives or, as I like to describe it, our “higher calling,” something amazing happens. While we have the potential to become great saints, we mostly carry out our “higher calling” (or discipleship) in ordinary ways: as moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, friends, encouragers, as one whom God has placed-and-planted in the world to make a difference!
We might ask, in our day and age, how does God call us? While that answer varies from person to person, I think that, overwhelmingly, it is —over and over!
On this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, in our first reading from the Book of Jonah (3:1-5, 10), we hear about a triumphant Jonah, a bold and confident prophet who walked through the town of Nineveh instructing all within his earshot to turn back to God, which they did. But, if we turn back the clock to the beginning of the Book of Jonah, we find a different reality. Rather than a bold and confident prophet, we find a disobedient one. For Jonah had rejected his divine commission, been cast overboard in a storm, swallowed by a great fish, rescued in a marvelous manner, and returned to his starting point. It is as if God had said to him: “Jonah, it is time for a do-over.”
For Jonah and us (God’s modern-day disciples), today’s Psalm (25) refrain provides us with the vibe: “Teach me your ways, O Lord.” And when we fail on repeated attempts? Well, God says once more: “Okay, let’s do this one over.” Truly, He never gives up on us!
In today’s Gospel passage (Mark 1:14-20), Jesus is calling his disciples from the ranks of fishermen. In his reflection (National Catholic Register) for this Third Sunday, Msgr. Charles Pope lists several qualities of fishermen that would have attracted Jesus. They are: Patience (as fishermen often wait many hours for a catch); Professional (as fishermen learn about different fish and when they will be most present); Purposeful (because when they are fishing, that’s what they are about); Pursuing (for fishermen go to the fish); and Partnered (as fishermen work in teams just as Jesus sent out His disciples—two by two).
In the end, God calls and then waits for us to respond. For the choice of following His call for our lives and becoming a disciple is uniquely ours. So, do we heed His call and prosper? Or, do we ignore it at our peril?
In the 2000 movie, The Family Man, a young man is given a choice between two paths: the first leads to worldly success and the other to a reality of less financial wealth but containing a wife and two loving children. As you might imagine, he takes the path of worldly success that didn’t include his college sweetheart.
But 13-years later, after having achieved worldly success, he finds himself alone one evening, on Christmas Eve, when an angel provides him with a “glimpse” of what his life might have been had he chosen the other path. And, after having been provided this insight, he seeks to change directions and find the path that will lead to lasting happiness.
The heart of the movie rests in his gradual realization that his “other life” has disappeared and that he’s now a “family man” and gifted with the opportunity to experience all that he missed by putting his career ahead of personal goals.
Two-thousand years ago, while walking past the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two fishermen, Simon, and Andrew. Jesus said to them: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And as we heard, Our Lord also extended an invitation to James and his brother John. And they all followed Jesus.
Today, Jesus offers you and me a similar opportunity to become His committed disciples. But, He always gives us the freedom to say “Yes, Lord” or to simply walk away.