21 Januari 2008

Called to Be Saints

Isaiah 49:3, 5-6 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 John 1:29-34
Henry III of Bavaria was a God-fearing king but the demands of being a ruler did not leave him much time for spiritual exercises. One day he got so fed up with being a king that he went to Prior Richard at the local monastery and asked to be admitted as a monk for the rest of his life. “Your Majesty,” said Prior Richard, “do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king.” “I understand,” said Henry. “The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.” “Then I will tell you what to do,” said Prior Richard. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.” King Henry returned to his throne, ruled his people with the fear of God, and became a saintly king. In today’s second reading, Paul reminds us that we are “called to be saints” (1 Corinthians1:2). Like King Henry we sometimes believe that we need to run away from the demands of family and profession and escape to a monastery, a convent or the desert, where it will be easy to become a saint. But, as we learn from the wise counsel of Prior Richard, God expects us to be saints in the concrete situations of our personal, family and business or professional lives.

Our second reading today is just the opening section of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. It consists of three verses: verse 1 in which Paul introduces himself and Sosthenes as the writers of the letter, verse 2 in which he speaks of the Corinthians as those to whom the letter is addressed, and verse 3 in which he gives them his opening greeting. Why does the church offer us this reading for our spiritual nourishment today as we begin the long period of Sundays in Ordinary Time? It is because of the deep spiritual message contained in verse 2. We shall look at this verse more closely.

Paul … To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:2)

There are two interesting points in this verse. (1) Paul does not address the word of God to the Corinthians alone but also to “all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That includes us gathered here today to call on the Lord’s name. The word of God we shall be reading all this year will be addressed to various local churches – Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and so on. It helps to know that, though we live in different times and cultures, the same word is also, in some way, addressed to us. (2) Paul refers to those to whom the word is addresses as men and women “called to be saints.” Again that includes us. We may not feel like we are saints yet, but that is the purpose for which God has called us. We are all called to holiness.

A saint or someone who has been sanctified literally means someone who has been set apart. That God has called us to be saints means that God means for us to be special people in the world, not people who simply follow the crowd wherever the current wind blows.

For some of us the call of God may require a change of state in life. God may require of us what Jesus required of his disciples, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). The life of such a disciple is a life-long quest for perfection according to the mind of Jesus.

For most of us, however, God calls us to be His faithful children in the midst of the trials and challenges of normal life in society. The call of God is that we be in the world but not of the world. We participate fully in society, in politics, in business, including show business, in education, in health-care delivery, and in dispensing justice through making and implementing just laws.

It is possible to be a saint even in the entertainment industry. Mel Gibson has shown that one can make a blockbuster movie without compromising one’s Christian principles. His “Passion of the Christ” was at the same time engaging and uplifting, captivating and inspiring. That is a good example of how one can participate fully in business and professional life without hiding one’s light under a bushel. God has called us to be saints. Let us ask God today to teach us how to live saintly lives in our families and in whatever occupation in which we find ourselves.

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