12 January 2024

'I waited, waited for the Lord and he stooped down to me.' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B


From The Gospel of John, directed by Philip Saville

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel John 1:35-42 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Apostle St Andrew
Zurbarán [Web Gallery of Art]

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother (John 1:40; Gospel)

The Memorial of St Anthony the Abbot (c.251-356) is observed by the Church on 17 January, this coming Wednesday. His story is very much connected with the First Reading and Gospel of today's Mass the main theme of which is vocation, one's specific call from God.

Each year the Second Reading in the Office of Readings for St Anthony the Abbot in the Breviary makes me smile as it seems that the young Anthony discovered God's call by being late for Mass. Here is how St Athanasius tell us this story in his Life of Anthony, which he wrote around 360.

He went into the church. It happened that the gospel was then being read, and he heard what the Lord had said to the rich man 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'

The young man Anthony, whose parents had died about six months previously, took these words to heart and went to live in the desert. He became, without planning it, the 'Father of Monasticism' in the Church. And perhaps if he had not been late for Mass that day the Gospel - Matthew 19:16-26 - might not have struck him as it did. He was to be 'later' than most in another sense in that he was 105 when he died, a remarkable age to live to now but even more remarkable in the fourth century. It was through being late for Mass that Anthony discovered what God had in mind for him.

The reading from St Athanasius ends with a detail that always touches me: And so the people of the village, and the good men with whom he associated saw what kind of man he wasand they called him 'The friend of God'. Some loved him as a son, and others as though he were a brother.

St Anthony the Abbot
Zurbarán [Web Gallery of Art]

In 2007 I officiated at the wedding of a young couple in the Philippines (photo below) whose punctuality eventually led them to the altar. While at university they belonged to a Catholic association that planned an outing for a particular day. They were the only ones to turn up at the designated time and while waiting for the others to arrive their conversation led them to see that they were more than just members of the same association.

Officiating at the wedding of friends in 2007
[M & J now have five children, God bless them]

A vocation is very personal and often comes through another. The young Samuel heard God's voice calling him three times, thinking it was the voice of Eli, who eventually realised that it really was God's voice that Samuel had heard. The reading concludes with these words: Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his placeAnd the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”

The description of St Anthony the Abbot by those who knew him as The friend of God goes to the heart of what a Christian vocation is. It is to come to know oneself as a friend of God, as one whom God loves personally and who is called to know God intimately. That is how it was with the two disciples in the Gospel, Andrew and John the Evangelist, who never uses his own name in his gospel. They felt a desire to come to know Jesus, who read their hearts and invited them to where he was staying. 

That was the turning point in their lives. And Andrew was so excited that he ran to tell his brother Simon. When he met Jesus he found himself with a new name: You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter). This means 'Rock' and was his specific vocation, to be the Rock upon which Jesus would build his Church. And before he got his new name Jesus looked at him. Some translations add the word 'intently' or 'hard' to 'looked'. Clearly Jesus was looking with great love into the soul of Peter. About four years ago I heard a married woman share with a group of married couples that the first time she met the man who was to become her husband, at a party, he looked at her and for the first time in her life she realised her own self-worth. In that look God was leading her and the man to discover their vocation in life.

The verses of the Responsorial Psalm are taken from Psalm 39 [40]. The opening verse is expresses both our desire for God and God's desire for us: I waited, waited for the Lord and he stooped down to me. He heard my cry. He put a new song into my mouth, praise of our God.

He stooped down to me reminds me of the line in Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem God's GrandeurBecause the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

And the Second Reading, which is not linked by theme to the First Reading and Gospel, tells us more about our very dignity as Christians and, indeed, the source of our vocation. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

By baptism each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit and it is the Holy Spirit Who leads us to discover our specific vocation in life by leading us into an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus and allow him to look at us as He looked at Simon before giving him his new name / vocation.

Central to the spirituality of St Columban, patron saint of the Missionary Society of St Columban to which I belong are the words of St Paul in the Second Reading: You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. St Columban wrote: Christi simus non nostri Let us be of Christ, not of ourselves. And we are also living in a world where so many do not glorify God in their bodies and where humans are treated as commodities, millions being killed before they are even born, with pressure now to kill off those who are old and 'useless'.

A while ago I came across a Chinese proverb that says: A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. Our song is praise of our God. Our very vocation as Christians is to sing praise of our God by the way we live. That is why genuinely saintly people attract us so much. 

The Prologue of the Catechism of the Catholic Church sums it all up: "FATHER, . . . this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3). "God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3-4). "There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12) - than the name of JESUS.

God's Grandeur
by Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ
Performed by Lance Pearson

Traditional Latin Mass

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 01-14-2024 if necessary).

Epistle: Romans 12:6-16. Gospel: John 2:1-11.  

The Marriage at Cana
Marten de Vos [Web Gallery of Art]

'Do whatever he tells you' (John 1:5; Gospel).

1 comment:

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Father Seán,
Well composed with true biblical stories and then one of your own experiences while working.
May we all be able to bring others to God and to pass on his Word for Eternity!