The Christian call to holiness

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 6:1-2A,3-8

In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above. They cried one to the other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it, and said, “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

I am reminding you, brothers and sisters, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, Christ appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me. Therefore, whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Luke 5:1-11

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.

In my previous reflection (2016) of today’s Gospel Reading, I reflected on the missionary mandate of the Church and our own missionary work as Christians. Today, I would like to give some thoughts on Christian “vocation”.

Mark and Matthew have a similar account of Jesus’ call of His first disciples. Jesus sees certain fishermen (Simon, Andrew, James and John) while walking by the seashore. He calls them and they follow Him. Luke’s account is more dramatic. Jesus inexplicably enters into Peter’s boat and works a miracle. Overwhelmed by Jesus’ power, Peter makes a confession and then together with James and John, they leave everything and follow Him. In John’s Gospel, the story is completely different. Jesus is passing by and John the Baptist points Him out to two of his disciples, “Behold the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:36). They follow Him; He asks them and invites them to “Come and see” (Jn 1:39).

The calling of the first disciples offers us a collage of how Christian vocation comes about. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus initiates the call, powerful and direct ─ “Come after me, I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1:17, Mt 4:19). In Luke, Peter and others are drawn by Jesus’ power and come to Him on their own accord. In John’s Gospel, the call happens indirectly and comes from a third party. Though “vocation” is now often overlapped with the word career or profession, it literally means a “call” ─ vocatio in Latin. And the earliest reference of the word is not just an ordinary call but a call from God ─ a divine call to serve the Church or humanity by living out a particular life and commit to it with all the time and energy. The call may come by different ways like that of the first disciples. While holy orders, marriage and consecrated life are specific vocations to individuals, as Christians, the foremost call from God is the universal call to holiness, that is, everyone who is baptized is called to live a life of holiness. “The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one” (LG 41). Thus, “all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state” (LG 42).

This call to holiness is first of all, a conversion experience. It invites us to turn towards God by aligning our will to His will; by following and imitating the life of Jesus, “. . . the prime and fundamental vocation that the Father assigns to each of [us] in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit: the vocation to holiness, that is, the perfection of charity” (CL 16). In today’s Readings, both Isaiah and Peter are aware of God’s presence. His power and holiness have made them realize their own sinfulness and unworthiness. Yet they are called to serve the Lord and both respond in faith to follow God’s assigned path. Therefore, the call to holiness is not just “a simple moral exhortation” but “an essential and inseparable element of [a] new life” (CL 16, 17).

Secondly, the call to holiness is a preparation for a higher calling ─ the call to communion with God. “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God and God never ceases to draw man to Himself” (CCC 27); “The root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God” (GS 19). It is a preparatory step that draws us to a deeper union with God. Since “Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (CCC 2392), this preparation helps us to nurture and foster a growing desire to love God. It enables us to see in our “daily activities as an occasion to join [ourselves] to God, fulfill His will, serve other people and lead them to communion with God in Christ” (CL 17).

St Pope John Paul II, in his homily at Central Park, October 7 1995 said, “Love makes us seek what is good; love makes us better persons. It is love that prompts men and women to marry and form a family, to have children. It is love that prompts others to embrace the consecrated life or become priests”. Hence, every vocation is a commitment to love because each vocation is a response to God’s call to love. So whether in our profession, family or church, we should strive to make use of our God-given gifts for the sake of the greater common good and to build up the Kingdom of God here on earth.

LG Lumen gentium
CL Christifideles laici
GS Gaudium et spes

Posted: February 10, 2019

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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