I have a confession to make: I do not own a smart phone. I have a flip phone! The one thing I miss about having a smart phone is Snapchat and Instagram. Does anybody here have a Snapchat or an Instagram account? So do you all know those face-filters on these apps? You can change what you look like. Some of them are silly – you can see what you look like as an old person, or as a dog.
But some of these filters change us, with beautiful eyes, skinny cheekbones, or long hair. They can sometimes cause us to doubt our own worth and beauty. This reveals a bigger problem that we as young people face in our society: sometimes, even subliminally, we are given the message that if we don’t look a certain way, act a certain way, if we don’t wear the right clothes or hang with the popular people, we are somehow less than. We begin to doubt our own goodness.
We think that there is no way we can be loved by others for who we are, there is no way we can be accepted as we are, let alone with our weaknesses, our doubts, our insecurities, our failings, and our sins that we carry.
And sometimes, we even believe that God cannot possibly love us because we feel so disjointed at times. We sometimes think that our lives are insignificant and unimportant to God. We doubt our goodness. We might doubt God’s love.
My friends, our faith tells us that nothing can be further from the truth! God loves us as we are!
Today, our Scripture readings remind us of this eternal love and mercy of our God. Despite the ways we hide our weaknesses and sins and doubt our own goodness, this divine love is always seeking us out.
We hear from our first reading, the Book of Wisdom, that God is the “love of souls,” that God has “mercy on all,” that the Lord “spares and preserves” us so that we can experience conversion of heart and transform our lives.
This does not sound like an absent and distant God, but One who knows us as we really are and still loves us and seeks what’s best for us. These are the inspired words of a God who wants to be an intimate relationship with each one of us.
Yet, despite these beautiful and powerful words, we still can feel unworthy. If this is the case, then we are like Zacchaeus.
As we hear in our Gospel, Zacchaeus was rich, powerful, and feared. By the standards of the world, Zacchaeus was successful. Yet, we sense that he was dissatisfied. Zacchaeus was short, not just in stature. He fell short in living an honorable life: he abused his fellow Jews and allied himself with the Romans. Yet, ever so slowly, Zacchaeus seeks out a new way. He wants to encounter Jesus, but at a distance. Feeling unworthy, Zacchaeus climbs a tree in order to see Jesus.
Only when Zacchaeus is seen with the eyes of Jesus – with the eyes of mercy – he can begin to experience himself as loved by God. Zacchaeus is invited to leave the tree and those feelings of unworthiness, to close the gap between him and Jesus.
“Today,” Jesus says, “I must stay at your house!” It is in this moment that Zacchaeus’ life begins to change. He experiences transformation. He responds to this invitation of love and mercy from Jesus with repentance and with generosity.
In concrete ways, Zacchaeus shows that he is committed to following Jesus in a radical way. Zacchaeus promises to repay anything he owes, and to give half his wealth to the poor. Jesus reassures Zacchaeus of his bold decision to follow Jesus in this new and radical way: “Today, salvation has come to this house!”
My friends, today, we as the Church celebrate our annual Leave a Mark Mass during National Vocation Awareness Week.
Today, we recognize that all of us are invited – just like Zacchaeus – to experience the merciful gaze of Jesus. Today, you and I are being reaffirmed in our goodness. Today, Jesus wants to come into our homes and into our hearts. Today, we recognize that Jesus calls each one of us to respond to this encounter with love.
This is vocation: to respond, in love, to the invitation of God’s love and mercy in our lives. Vocation is the realization that God loves us and calls us, despite our weakness and sins and feelings of unworthiness.
God is calling each one of us to respond with our very lives. So how might we be able to respond to the Lord today?
Today, as we experience the love and mercy of Jesus, let us continue to dive deeper into this relationship with Jesus Christ. Let us pray daily, growing in that relationship with him. Let us read the Scriptures. Let us pray in the morning or evening. Let’s journal. Whatever we do, let us see ourselves the way Jesus sees us.
Today, let us look to the example of those men and women who have gone before us. In a special way, we look to the example of those young saints. Some faced huge obstacles to practice their faith while others had to wrestle with their own doubts about their goodness. Yet all turned to the love they found in Jesus.
Today, let us be emboldened to go back to our parishes and our schools and universities. Let us take on leadership roles and participate in various ministries. Let us challenge our pastors, our youth ministers and our teachers to really hear our voices. Let them know our fears and our struggles, our hopes and our dreams.
Today, let us support one another as we each walk this journey. Let us affirm each other as we seek to respond to the Lord Jesus’ invitation to love.
In a special, today, let’s hold up the importance of all vocations: married couples, parents, religious sisters and brothers, committed single people, lay ministers, and priests. All of us have a role to play as we invite others to experience Jesus’ call of love, as we walk with others as their hearts encounter Jesus and are transformed.
I do want to say a personal word about my own call to love, my vocation as a priest of Jesus Christ for the Church of Scranton. While I had many doubts about myself and while I was quite aware of my own shortcomings and sins, Jesus still invites me to experience myself as loved, as forgiven, and as called to mission.
Sometimes, I still climb that tree and distance myself from Christ. I put up the filter and the barrier. But Jesus still comes and calls me, gently, to respond, yet again, to his invitation of love.
As I celebrate the sacraments and preach the Gospel, as I teach others about our faith and walk with people in the best moments of life and the most painful, I realize that God is using me to bring this sense of peace and meaning to others. I experience and receive my life as blessed.
Young men out there who feel the tug, continue to maintain an open heart. Listen. Allow yourselves to come close to the Lord Jesus. Climb down from the tree and let him invite himself into your hearts.
My friends, let us be bold. Today is our day. Now is our time. Let us make bold choices. Let us respond, in love, to Jesus. For Jesus is the One who makes us worthy. Let us follow Jesus, the One who says we are loved.
Father Ryan Glenn
Assistant Pastor, Saint John Neumann Parish, Scranton
Assistant Vocation Director
Ordained: June 2018