Wow! The year is really going by fast isn’t it? Just over a month ago we were celebrating the birth of Jesus, today he’s beginning his public ministry. And in just over two weeks (Feb. 13) it’ll be Ash Wednesday. That means that counting last week, we have just four weeks of Ordinary Time before we begin Lent.
Ordinary Time usually gets slighted because of its name - “Ordinary.” Ordinary usually means something like “plain” or “common.” But when the Church uses the word “ordinary,” it means “ordinal” or “counted.” In this case we are counting the weeks up to Lent.
And it should be as special as any of the other seasons that we celebrate, because instead of isolating one aspect of our faith, like the Incarnation or the Resurrection, Ordinary Time incorporates the fullness of our faith into our lives. It’s that time when the Light of Christ becomes brighter and brighter, getting rid of the darkness in our lives.
Now, most of the readings over these few weeks call us to think about vocation - being called; called to be witnesses and disciples of Jesus Christ. And they lead us to reflect upon the challenges - and the benefits of calling ourselves disciples and allowing the light of Christ into our lives.
Several weeks ago we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany and reflected on the three wise men. There is a follow-up story that says that on their way home, the three wise men couldn’t agree on which star to follow. Melchior followed a bright star in the northwest sky, claiming that it was the one that would lead them home. Caspar followed an equally bright star in the northeast sky. Balthasar parted company with the others and followed a bright star right in the middle of the northern sky.
The story concludes that they all arrived at their home city on the same day at the same time. They each came from a different direction and on a different road. They realized that they had been following the same star only from a different angle.
St. Paul today addresses the same issue with the Corinthians. Their different directions were causing them confusion and disagreement. They needed Paul to tell them that their focus is Jesus. And Isaiah tells the people that they have seen a great light. This light will make their gladness even greater, will increase their joy and that it will remove the burdens of life that they bear.
In today’s Gospel, as Jesus begins his public ministry, we see that he is that great light that calls people to vocation. Just as he calls Peter, Andrew, James and John to discipleship, he calls us as well. Last week it was the nation of Israel that was called by God, and Paul, who said he was “called” to be an apostle and the people of Corinth, to whom he was writing - “called” to be holy or in other words called to be saints. Today we hear about Jesus’ call to his first disciples. He calls to them “Come after me.” An interesting thing to note here, is that the disciples of Jesus, unlike other people who wanted to become disciples or apprentices of a particular teacher, or tradesman, or craftsman in those days and for a long time afterward, unlike them, it was Jesus who called his disciples, not the other way around. In other words, most of the time a would-be disciple or apprentice had to ask the teacher if they could join him to follow in his footsteps. And then usually they had to prove themselves worthy, sort of like Ralph Macchio in the “The Karate Kid.” But Jesus is different, he calls his disciples just like he calls each and every one of us.
Now, a good question for us would be: “What is this darkness that we are called from?”
John Justis Landsberg, a great spiritual writer of the 16th century wrote: “What is this darkness? What ever is present in our intellect, in our will, in our memory that is not God, or which has not its source in God; that is to say, whatever is in us that is not for God’s sake, is a barrier between God and the soul - it is darkness.”
Whatever is in us that is not for God’s sake.
It’s Christ, our light, who removes this darkness that’s a barrier between us and God. Our motives as Christians - as disciples of Christ - should be to spend our lives opening ourselves up more and more to that light of Christ.
But a second question for us might be: “What, exactly, does it mean to be a disciple of Christ?” Many people call themselves Christians. Are all Christians disciples of Christ? Are wetrue disciples? What does it mean to be a disciple?
A disciple or apprentice could be defined as: someone who has decided to be with another person, following, watching and learning, in order to become capable of doing what that person does or to become what that person is. Be it a cook, or a bricklayer or an artist or whatever.
How does this apply to discipleship to Jesus? What is it, exactly, that he, the incarnate Lord, does? Or in other words, what is he “good at?” What is Jesus “good at” that we would like to be “good at” too?
We find the answer in the Gospels that we hear at every Mass. What does Jesus do? What is he “good at?”
He lives in the kingdom of God, and he applies that kingdom for the good of others and even makes it possible for them to enter it themselves. All the other theological truths about his person and his work don’t detract from this simple point. And it is what he calls us to by saying “come, follow me.”
As disciples of Jesus Christ, by our conscious choice and by God’s grace, we are learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God. This is the crucial idea. It means living our lives within God’s will, with his life flowing through ours. Another way of putting this would be to say that I’m learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live life if he were me. Not necessarily learning to do everything he did, but learning how to do everything I do in the manner in which he did all that he did.
So as his disciple I am not necessarily learning how to do special “religious things.” My discipleship to Jesus is, within certain limits, not a matter of what I do, but of how I do it. And it covers everything, my whole life, not just the "religious" parts.
Again, I am learning from Jesus how to lead my life, my wholelife, my real life. And notice, I’m not learning from him how to lead his life. His life on earth was a beautiful, transcendently wonderful life. But it has now been led. Neither I nor anyone else, even himself, will ever lead it again.
What he’s interested in is my life, that very existence that is me. The whole me. The me at work. The me at home with my family. The me out on the street. And that’s where I need Jesus. I need to be able to lead my whole life as he would lead it if he were me.
Our sanctification doesn’t depend upon changing our works, what we are doing with our lives, unless they’re inherently sinful, but our sanctification comes from doing for God's sake all the things that we commonly do for our own sakes.
But the way to begin this is by making a decision, a decision to become a life student of Jesus. A decision to say “Yes Jesus, I want to walk in your kingdom and I want to share that kingdom with others.”
Because in the last analysis we fail to be a disciple only because we do notdecide to be one. We do not intend to be disciples. It is the power of the decision and the intention over our life that is missing. Jesus calls all of us: “Come, follow me.” We should apprentice ourselves to Jesus in a solemn moment, and we should let those around us know that we’ve done so.
It could really prove to be a major turning point in our life if we would, with the help of the Spirit, ask ourselves if we really do intend to be life students of Jesus. A true disciple. Do we really intend to do and be all of the high things we profess to believe in? Have we decided to do them? When did we decide it? And how did we implement that decision? And did we, like the earliest diciples, share that decision with others. Are we witnessing to others by the way we live our whole lives, inviting them to the kingdom of God that Christ shares with us?