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The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 22, 2023

Watch this homily! (Begins at 35:55)

     The calling of the first disciples is a story we know well, so well that we may have tuned it out when we heard it. But what if we try to hear the story as if for the first time? We might be surprised at what we hear. God’s Word has that kind of power.

     But I admit that there doesn’t seem to be much room for surprise here. The story is quite straightforward. It’s a story about four fishermen who answer a call, and who, in doing so, leave everything behind. But a closer look reveals that, in those few verses from Matthew’s gospel, it is five people, not four, who leave everything behind. Peter and Andrew leave their nets to follow Jesus, and James and John leave their boats and their father to follow Jesus. But did you catch the fifth person to leave everything behind? You had to be listening carefully. So, just in case you missed it, listen again. The passage began with these words: “Jesus left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea.”

     “Jesus left Nazareth.” Jesus is the other one – the first one, really – in that brief gospel passage to leave everything behind. Jesus left Nazareth, and for him, leaving Nazareth was not just a physical move - a move of a few miles from Nazareth, which is up in the hills, to Capernaum which is down on the lake shore. No, for Jesus, leaving Nazareth meant leaving home and family. It meant leaving behind all that was safe and comfortable. It meant breaking out of the cocoon, if you will: flying free, moving into the great unknown, setting out on the mission for which he had come.

     So, that’s the first thing. Jesus left Nazareth. If we understand the meaning of that, we will better understand why Jesus was able to call others to leave their homes. Jesus first left behind all that was comfortable, safe and secure for him before he ever presumed to ask Peter and Andrew, James and John to leave behind all that was comfortable, safe and secure for them. They did what he did. Jesus left Nazareth behind, they left behind their boats, their nets, their homes, their families, their way of life.

     I find it reassuring that Jesus didn’t demand anything of his followers that he didn’t first demand of himself. He still doesn’t. And that can be a comforting thought at this time in our archdiocese when we are engaging in some very important long-range planning that is going to take us to some new places and seriously affect the lives of our parish communities. The initiative is called Partners in the Gospel and the planning is in response to some harsh and unavoidable realities: fewer engaged parishioners in many of our parishes, fewer priests to serve as pastors, fewer seminarians preparing for ordination, insufficient numbers of lay leaders capable of leading parishes, dwindling financial resources, and deferred maintenance on many aging buildings. These realities have made it clear to the leadership of the archdiocese that doing things the way we always have will no longer work - that most of our parishes will no longer be able to go on by themselves but will, instead, need to become part of families of parishes - two, three, or four parishes being served by one pastor and an assisting priest.

     None of this is going to happen overnight, but the planning is underway and all our parishes will be affected.

     Will we be affected? Well, we are the Cathedral and will always enjoy a certain special status for that reason, but we can’t exempt ourselves or isolate ourselves from the larger picture. Just how we will be affected is not at all clear at this point, but this much is clear: as the Cathedral, we will always play a leadership role in the archdiocese and we will always need to model what an alive and vibrant parish looks like.

     And it also needs to be said that the hope for this whole planning effort is that we will discover new ways to come closer to Jesus, walking with each other on the journey of faith, living the joy of the Gospel in ways that will speak to people and attract them. What could be more important than that!

     And I know: change of whatever sort can be scary. I don’t find it easy. None of us do. But change, if handled well, will breathe new life into our mission as church.

     It’s been that way down through the ages. Think of some of the great saints who responded to Christ’s call. They had to change, to leave their comfort zones, to embrace the unknown. I think of St. Francis of Assisi who, while praying before a crucifix in a rundown church heard Christ telling him to leave his comfortable lifestyle behind and rebuild the church. I think of St. Teresa of Avila in the sixteenth century who left her comfort zone and put her personal comfort on the line in order to bring about change and reform to the Carmelite monasteries of Spain. Nothing was ever the same as a result. I think of Pope St. John XXIII who in the middle of the last century could easily have sat back and let the Church keep on the course it had long been on but who, instead, listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit, called for a new Church Council, and opened the way for massive change: a New Pentecost.

      Those stories could easily be multiplied. Our Church’s history is rich with stories of people who went out on a limb, took the path less traveled, and brought about a new and grace-filled moment in the life of the Church. It is just such a moment that our Church – and our archdiocese – finds itself in now, my friends, and we get to be part of it, get to listen to how God’s Spirit is speaking at this moment in our history, challenging and inspiring us not to just keep doing things the way we have always done them. This is a new moment and a moment of rare opportunity. We can walk away from it or we can embrace it. I do believe that God is calling us to embrace it.

      Each one of us will have an opportunity to reflect and provide feedback on this effort in the coming months. That means we will all have a say in the future of our local church. And if we do this right, our parishes – all our parishes – will be far more alive than they are now: vibrant communities of faith, prayer, and service, filled with the Spirit, on fire for the mission. All because we were willing, as Jesus was when he left Nazareth, to leave behind the cocoon and the comfortable knowing that God will be with us each step of the way. And indeed God will!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303