2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – January 14, 2024
Donor Appreciation Mass 

Welcome to our cathedral to all who regularly worship with us each week and a special word of welcome to so many of you who join us for this liturgy as we give thanks for your generous support of the mission of our Diocese.

Typically, in these initial weeks of the new year, with the Christmas season having come to an end, the Word of God focuses upon the beginnings of Jesus’ public ministry, his proclamation of the Kingdom of God and his call to discipleship.  …  It’s that invitation to follow Jesus that lays at the heart of the message of today’s scriptures.

I don’t know about you, but for me, this annual opportunity to reflect upon our response to the Lord’s call to discipleship can be at once an encouraging yet sobering experience.  And as life unfolds and the years pass, how well I – or any of us – have responded to the Lord’s invitation seems to often leave a good bit to be desired.  It always seems as if there is more that I could do – that there is always someone who seems to be responding to the Lord more authentically than I am. 

That tension that many of us may feel regarding our response to the call of the Lord in our lives is addressed in our first reading from the First Book of Samuel.  While the passage focuses upon the young boy Samuel, who goes to live in the Temple of the Lord and is eventually called by God to become God’s voice in Israel, I would suggest that it’s Eli, the high priest, who speaks to us more than we might imagine at first glance. 

You see, Eli, in addition to being called to serve as high priest, was a failed parent.  The scriptures tell us that his sons were scoundrels who brought shame upon the house of Eli because of the sacrilege that they had committed.  While one might be inclined to say that Eli shouldn’t have been blamed for his sons’ bad behavior, like any of us who’ve faced such disappointments, there was a certain sense of responsibility that Eli owned for their actions.  Moreover, there was also a deep sense of unworthiness on Eli’s part that ensued because of his sons’ actions.

Yet, for as unsettling as the circumstances of Eli’s tenure as high priest might have been, the Word of God offers a hopeful note.  It points out that, despite Eli’s failure, God chose not to be without a voice.  In so choosing, God went so far as to use the failed and disappointed Eli to achieve his plan.

Apart from his personal struggles, Eli knew that he still had a responsibility to the Lord in his mission as high priest.  And so, despite his unworthiness and misgivings about his own personal abilities, he guided the young Samuel, the great and future prophet of Israel, to a deep and authentic relationship with God.  While Eli was not able to open the minds and hearts of his own two sons, he was still used by the Lord to teach another to listen to the voice of God. 

The great Saint Catherine of Siena once remarked, “None of us must complain or run away in time of darkness, because out of the darkness is born the light.”  …  Her words capture the great hope that the Word of God speaks to us today.  It says that for any of us who have been overwhelmed by darkness, for any of us who have experienced disappointed or failed relationships, or who have chosen poorly in life, we are still given the opportunity to respond to God’s call and to participate in God’s plan for creation.  Why?  Because through God’s mercy and in God’s plan, we are always given a second chance and an opportunity to grow and to change. 

For some of us, such a generous distribution of mercy and forgiveness on the part of God may appear to be in conflict with the reality of discipleship that Jesus extends to each of us who answer the call to follow him.  …  Yes, Jesus challenges us to engage the truth of the Gospel message. 

But the mystery and miracle of God’s saving plan is that Jesus calls us – as we are – to be used by him in the work of building the Kingdom.  He also calls us to both recognize and trust God’s power and presence in our lives when we are unable to move forward on our own. 

Do you doubt this reality?  Then look at the scriptures today.  Look at those whom God has called for his own purpose and plan throughout salvation history:  Eli, the broken high priest of Israel; Andrew, the uneducated fisherman; and Simon Peter, the impetuous disciple who denied Jesus three time.  …  And then take a look at ourselves!  We are all a part of God’s great plan!

The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen, in his classic work The Wounded Healer, shared these sage words, “Making one’s own wounds a source of healing does not call for a sharing of superficial personal pains,” but rather, “for a constant willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition which we all share.” 

Brothers and sisters, we are all cut from the same cloth, born into the same human condition and in need of the same healing and saving grace of God.  Authentic discipleship never demands that we first reach some level of perfection in the eyes of God.  We never will!  Rather, it calls us to a depth of honesty and the humility to acknowledge our need for the power of God to carry us through life.  Such a posture, far from being an obstacle to discipleship, sets the stage for God to work his wonders in and through our fragile and broken lives. 

So, my brothers and sisters, as we consider Jesus’ call to discipleship that is so evident in today’s proclamation of the Word of God, may we reflect less upon how perfectly we can embrace this divine invitation.  Instead, may we first trust in the mercy and wisdom of God, allowing God to work in and through our lives to build his Kingdom of love and peace.  And encouraged by the struggling high priest, Eli, may our prayer each day reflect the prayer of the prophet Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”