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The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 11, 2021

Watch this homily! (Begins at 34:10)

   God often calls unlikely people to do his work. The prophet Amos whom we heard from in today’s first reading is a good case in point. Amos was an unlikely prophet if ever there was one. He was a shepherd and, when he wasn’t tending his flock, he did some moonlighting by tending sycamore trees (an odd job, to be sure, but sycamore trees, if properly cared for, produced a kind of fig that poor people ate for nourishment). So, sheep and sycamores were Amos’ world – until the day God came up with a whole new line of work for him, much more demanding than herding sheep or tending trees. God called him to be a prophet, and being a prophet – speaking on behalf of God - was the last thing Amos ever wanted. He knew it only would get him into trouble, and he was right. Prophesying was no picnic.

       That’s because the word God gave him to speak was controversial and confrontational. It involved denouncing the sins of the King of Israel, Jeroboam, who, in his decadence, was egregiously unfaithful to God’s Covenant. And it also involved exposing and railing against the sins of the wealthy people of Israel who were oppressing the poor of the land for their own gain. Who would want a job like that? Certainly not Amos, that’s for sure!

     In today’s reading we heard him being unceremoniously dismissed, banished, sent on his way from the King’s sanctuary at Bethel. 

     In the gospel we came face-to-face with yet another prophetic call – the call Jesus gave to the Twelve when he called them together and sent them out two-by-two to preach and heal, and to stand down the power of evil. The call of the Twelve, not unlike the call of Amos, was a daunting one. They were to journey far and wide but they were to take nothing for the journey - nothing but a walking stick and a pair of sandals – “no food, no sack, no money in their belts.” In other words, they were to rely solely on God’s Providence - not on their own resources or possessions. God was to be their security, not satchels loaded with food and provisions, and not money in their belts. But it didn’t stop there. They were not even to have the security of a house to live in or a place to lay their head.

     Now I ask you: Would you sign up for that?  Well, speaking for myself, I kind of like things to be predictable. And dependable. And reasonably comfortable! I certainly believe in God’s Providence but I also incline to the philosophy of ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ In my better moments I want to “let go and let God,” but too often I want God to let me be in charge.

     Maybe some of you can relate to that. If so, it’s good for us to get faced – confronted – with readings like today’s. If the readings shake us up a bit and get us thinking, if they make us vaguely uncomfortable – or even quite uncomfortable – with where we are in life or what we’re doing or not doing, that’s probably good.

     My friends, each of us at our baptism was given a call – a call not unlike the one Amos received; not unlike the one the Twelve received. We were called to be prophets and disciples. And that call comes before anything else we do in life – whether we’re engineers or nurses, school teachers or mechanics, lawyers, students, or techies, janitors or doctors, homemakers or accountants. Before any of that comes our call to witness to our faith. Sometimes we do it by what we say; more often we do it by what we do and how we do what we do.  But no matter what it is we do in life, our baptismal call comes first. And sometimes that call will get us into trouble – as it did the prophet Amos – and sometimes it will even mean letting go of just about everything, as it did for the Twelve.

     One of my heroes who lived out his baptismal call with great fidelity was Saint John Henry Newman, the great 19th century theologian and writer whose canonization I got to attend a couple of years ago. Cardinal Newman witnessed to his faith with every breath he drew and time and again he suffered the trials that every prophet suffers. Here are some memorable words of his:

     “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission.  I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next…. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. God has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do God’s work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place…if I do but keep the Commandments. Therefore, I will trust God. Whatever, wherever I am. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. God does nothing in vain.”

     It is true, my friends. God does nothing in vain – beginning with the call he gave us at our baptism. Sober thoughts for a mid-summer Sunday, but salutary thoughts, too.  As we move to the altar to celebrate the Eucharist may we gain new strength to embrace our call.

Father Michael G. Ryan





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