Deacon Michael Tan’s Homily for the Fifth Sunday Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8; Psalm 137:1-2a, 2bc-3, 4-5, 7c-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
Out of interest, I googled the word, ‘vocation’, and came across vocation as 1. A strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation. 2. A person’s employment or main occupation. 3. A trade or profession. All these three understandings of the meaning of ‘vocation’ are based on what somebody does in earning a living. In addition, the first meaning also speaks of a ‘strong feeling’ of suitability for a particular career, reducing vocation to nothing more than one’s internal ‘feelings’
These modern understandings of vocation are not based on who we are before God, or who we are called to be in following Jesus. On the other hand, all three readings this Sunday teaches us about the foundation for our vocation, the ‘rock’ on which our vocation is built – our vocation is not just a career, a job, or merely our ‘internal feelings.’
Instead, our vocation – individually and as the People of God, arises from the depths of our very being – we are conceived in, through and by the Love of God. Our vocation arises from the Love of God who calls us forth to a vocation of lives lived in faith, hope and love for our neighbour. Our vocation does not depend on our ‘inner feelings’ or on our job/career or on how much we earn.
The word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin word for ‘to call.’ The meaning of vocation is both individual and personal, as well as communal – in other words, God calls us individually and as a people. Individually, we may be called in a particular way to live a Gospel lifestyle in a particular way of life, career or profession. As the People of God, we are called to reach out to those on the margins of society with the love of Jesus for the poor, the marginalised and those broken by the pressures of daily living.
It is always God who takes the initiative in calling us – our vocation is not just an inner feeling. We find this in all three readings. In the first reading from Isaiah, God calls Isaiah through a vision in the Temple, in the second reading, Paul refers to his background as a persecutor of the Christian community, when as in the Acts of the Apostles, he was called while on the road to Damascus, when God appeared to him as a sudden light from heaven. Finally, in the Gospel, we find Jesus calling Peter and the Apostles by a miraculous catch of fish when it was least expected. Since they were experienced fishermen, and had laboured all night and caught nothing, and fish are not usually caught during the day, together with Jesus not appearing to be an experienced fisherman to Peter – Peter had to learn that his human understanding and expectations had to give way to obedience to Jesus. Peter then showed great honesty and humility in admitting that he was a sinful man to Jesus.
When God calls, we become aware of our unworthiness, our sinfulness. This awareness is not meant to be something morbid nor is it to make us dwell obsessively on our sinfulness. We become aware of our unworthiness and sinfulness, so that we can then respond with gratitude and thanksgiving to the grace of our call. We do not merit our vocation, which is pure grace on God’s part. In this sense, our vocation is not our ‘private possession’ but a calling to go out on mission in following Jesus in our lives.
Our calling is also for a specific purpose in a specific time and context in world history – our mission is in the service of salvation history, where we, the People of God, walks with the Peoples of the world, serving them in their hour of need as the ongoing, historical presence of the risen Christ in the world that God loved so much that He sent His only son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that through His life, death and resurrection, all may be given the invitation to enter eternal life, life to the full.
Our vocation is nourished by Word and Sacrament – the Word of God nourishes and strengthens us in responding to Jesus, the Word of God, just as in the sacraments, especially the eucharist, we are nourished by the body and blood of Jesus, true God and true man. ‘Eucharist’ also means thanksgiving – and every eucharistic celebration is a celebration of thanksgiving for the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
To illustrate this aspect of thanksgiving, I will share a story of a young man, who did not get enough marks at the HSC to get into studying medicine at University. He then made a novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. When the day of enrolment at University came, his name had been transferred to the school of medicine. He then went back to the church and put a note of thanksgiving in the petition box. The next week, he attended Mass there. The Gospel of the day was Jesus healing the ten lepers, but only one leper came back to thank him. The priest who preached mentioned how important thanksgiving is for answers to our petitions – and only in the previous week, he had received a note of thanksgiving from a young man studying medicine at University. The priest’s homily confirmed for this young man his vocation to be a doctor whose calling was to remain faithful to Jesus in his professional career. He was to give thanks to Jesus for his vocation, especially at each subsequent Mass that he participated in. The Mass would be the centre of his vocation to be a Catholic doctor for his patients in his professional career – a career that is not just ‘inner feelings’ or an occupation to earn an income, but a career that is the outcome of his vocation, his call to follow Jesus faithfully in his life.
Deacon Michael Tan is a member of the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Parramatta and serves the parish community of St Madeleine Sophie Barat Parish, Kenthurst.