The English word “silly” has a blessed history. It actually derives from the German word for “Blessed” or “holy”. There are other words in our language which at one time described something interior as a state of being, and yet later, came to describe an outward state of behaving.
Silly, for us now, usually refers to something childish, even somehow cute. It can mean trivial and or stupid as well. In our cultures, religion, believing and trusting in faith are very silly and those who live according to religious traditions are silly. Ah, how true that is if we believe that we are blessed.
As we live the Eucharist throughout our days, we are encouraged to appear to be doing unusual, complexifying, eye-catching things, that to some, might bring the reaction of negative shaking of heads. We can pray these days with how our faith and the actions flowing from our beliefs might seem silly to some, such as going to mass, visiting the prisoner, clothing the naked. We can pray with how unconformed our lives are or are not. How blessed do we think we are?
God calls more than once. We hear about Jonah’s being called a third time, in our First Reading today. In the first chapter we read about his being called to go to the great city of Nineveh and announce that God knows their wickedness. Jonah decides to run away and takes refuge in a ship. In the second chapter of this book, Jonah decides to sing a great song of praise and thanksgiving for God’s having called him out of the belly of a huge fish into which he had been swallowed.
Now we hear the first call repeated and the prophet, still drying off, takes his walk in faith, announcing a time of repentance and reuniting with God. After only one day, everybody hears and responds declaring a forty-day fast. This sounds good, but if you want even more action, read the next chapter, the fourth.
The Gospel has three calls as well. The past two Sunday’s Gospels gave us pictures of John’s baptizing and handing over his disciples to the following of Jesus. In our first line, Mark has John exit the stage and the spotlight directs our attention more directly on Jesus. John is arrested and Jesus takes His rightful place as the “New-Caller” to right living. This is Mark’s major theme, that Jesus,“Son of God” has come to be the Savior of the World.
The second call is to His first two fishing-partners. Simon and Andrew are casting their nets, but we do not know if they are actually catching anything. Jesus catches them however, by inviting them to follow. Now maybe the fish were not attracted to their style of casting nets, but these two brothers become attracted quickly to His call, His person and His new form of fishing.
The third call and response is made to two more brothers, James and John. Fishing may not have been too successful that day, because these two were mending their nets and when they saw Jesus, followed by Simon and Andrew, they must have said, “Well, what the heaven, why not!” They left their father and the hired men fishless and wordless to follow along; to where, they didn’t know.
Some time ago I was walking along the mall of our campus and stopped to chat with three young female students. After a short conversation I felt a sense that they would wish me to move on. “Ah”, I said, “I get the picture. You are sitting here fishing.” They laughed and softly encouraged me to move on, that there were three prospective catches coming along behind me. Not wishing to impede progress, I progressed toward my office.
Were there any permanent catches that day? If there were, and I have seen many these past eighteen years around here, the call, the net, the invitation have all resulted in walks smack-dab into mystery. Tomorrow evening I will visit a couple whose wedding I witnessed years ago. Their daughter and her Confirmation classmates will gather for a little chat about that sacrament. Her parents have lived their calling to listen to and reveal God’s love for them.
The Sacrament of Confirmation has much to do with listening and being caught-up in what is heard. Simon, Andrew, James and John listened and were caught. They had to be strengthened often to that same call, because they listened also to other calls from within and around them.
These young people are in that same tension between the many calls of this world and the one call of Jesus to right living. Yes, the sacrament is about a strengthening for doing, but what is more important is the inner strength to listen for the encouraging, and often challenging, voice of Jesus inviting us to real life. The doing will follow what is taken in or what catches us up.
Each sacrament is a graceful strengthening of course. They have this in common, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.” Each sacrament strengthens the recipient to live as a sacrament, or outwardness of Jesus. Confirmation offers the grace to resist alien voices which can sound so attractive and full of life. We are not abandoned to our own selfish fishing in which we become tangled in our own nets and never leave our old boats and castings.
“Look up at the Lord with gladness and smile; your face will never be ashamed.” Ps. 34, 6
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