3 Sunday A - Reign of God - Come, Follow me.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
St. Agnes and the Victory of Christ’s Peace
I want to begin by telling you about a little girl, most likely 12, possibly 13 years old,  who took on a mighty empire and won.  The little girl was named Agnes.  At least that is the name she is remembered by.  Agnes means lamb.  She was like a little lamb. Agnes was a child of a noble family in ancient Rome, and lived around the year 300 AD.  She was a Christian in the  last decades of Rome’s persecution of the Christians. At that time, more and more members of the empire were becoming Christian including the noble families and even members of the royal household.  The Emperor Diocletian decided to put an end to these Christians once and for all with one of the worst of all the persecutions of Christianity.  Anyone caught being a Christian would lose all their possessions and be given the option of renouncing Christ or being put to death.

Although a little girl, Agnes was not about to give up Jesus Christ. To complicate matters further, Agnes had caught the eye of the son of the Prefect Sempronius. The prefect agreed that when Agnes grew up she would make a fine wife for his son.  So he called Agnes to his court and offered her gifts if she would give up Christ and marry his son.  Agnes refused saying that she was a Christian and would not marry a pagan.  For this, she was condemned to death, but Roman law  said that a virgin could not be killed.  Sempronius thought he  could solve this dilemma by forcing Agnes to work in a place of sin.  She was taken there in a public display of Roman terror and pagan lust.  But somehow, through God, Agnes was protected from the brutes who attempted to attack her.  She continued to refuse to give up Jesus Christ; so the Romans ignored their own laws and killed her. 
       Agnes is a witness and a martyr to Jesus Christ both by sacrificing her life for the Lord and by defending her own virginity.  Her death sickened many throughout Rome and ended up being one of the final blows to the pagan empire.  Others would die after her, but within 20 years of her death, Christianity would first be allowed in the empire, and then become the religion of the empire.  Agnes won.  Diocletian lost.  The twelve year old won.  The burly soldiers lost.  Jesus won.  The devil lost.  St. Agnes is so loved in Rome that there are two major Churches dedicated to her–St. Agnes Outside the Walls over the catacombs where she was buried and St. Agnes in Agony located on the Piazza Navona at the place where she died.  Most visitors to Rome have seen this Church located right across from Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers.  Last Tuesday the universal Church celebrated the Feast of St. Agnes.  Her name is also mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer.  Not bad notoriety for a twelve year old who lived seventeen hundred years ago.
The story of Agnes’ brief life on earth but continual life in heaven reminds us that God delivers us from the forces of sin. The forces of darkness tried to destroy Agnes.  She must have been terrified at the ways that evil plotted to attack her.  But she trusted in God and  God sent her joy.  He sent her His Son. In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah we heard that the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali had suffered the results of their sins.  But God made it all right. He brought light to their darkness.  He gave them joy and rejoicing.  He sent them, He sent us, His Son.
Our hope, our joy, and our peace are all in Jesus Christ.  Our rest is in the Lord.  Other people might attempt to attack our peace.  We might be threatened with exclusion from the community if we don’t join its immorality, as every middle school, high school and college student, and every adult Christian is threatened.  But our peace is grounded in the Lord, not in being part of the crowd.  We ask ourselves, “Is it really important what they say about me, think about me?  No, if I have to choose, I’d rather choose to live with the Lord than have the approval of those whose actions are in fact rejecting Him, even if they claim to be Christians themselves.” We might be challenged with difficult situations in our family as those we love reject us for taking our faith so seriously. Our homes should be places of peace, but sometimes others in our family are in turmoil and spread this turmoil throughout the house.  We can calm the chaos by increasing our prayer life, by intensifying our adherence to the Lord and thus strengthening His Presence in our homes.  We might suffer the challenges of bad health.  We all know that every one of us will die, but in reality it boggles our minds when we realize that our loved ones or we ourselves will die.  Yet, I have had the blessing of witnessing so many people die in peace, united to Christ, simply taking a step from this world to the next. There are many ways that our peace is threatened, but nothing can remove this peace from our lives  No one can take Jesus from us.  In fact for us determined, committed Christians, the more difficult the challenge in life, the stronger our faith can become.  We trust in our Lord to be with us forever.
Anguish has taken wing.  The darkness is dispelled.  And the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  And Jesus preaches to us, and teaches us and tells us the reason for our joy, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

And Peter and Andrew and James and John are called to proclaim the Gospel to us, the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And we are called to proclaim to Good News to those who are still in darkness.  We tell them that no matter what the world throws at us, life is beautiful when it is Christ’s life.  Like little Agnes, we can conquer all that attacks us, we can remain in peace despite what is happening around us or within us.  Like St. Agnes we can, we must give witness to Jesus Christ.  And like little Agnes, we will live in His Peace.

‘My Monastery Is a Minivan’

When asked our religion, most of us would describe ourselves as “Catholic” or “Christian.”  But we would tend to back away from daring to call ourselves “disciple” or “follower.”  That description rightly belongs to the great heroes of our faith: the apostles and holy men and women of the Gospel, the saints and martyrs, the Francises of Assisi, the Mother Teresas, the Thomas Mertons, the Dorothy Days, the Albert Schweitzers.  Our lives are too ordinary, our professions too worldly to dare imagine that we are doing the work of the Gospel Jesus.

But Denise Roy has found that in her life as a wife and mother she has been doing exactly what Jesus did.  She writes in her book My Monastery Is a Minivan: Where the Daily is Divine and the Routine Becomes Prayer: 
“For two decades, I have broken bread, poured grape juice, preached, prayed, told stories, bestowed blessings, taken care of the sick, heard confessions.  I have been a parent.  These have been the sacraments of my daily life and, I suspect, of yours.  These are simple, sacred acts.  These are how we mediate love, as we minister to our own little congregations -- children, spouse, family, and friends.”
At one time in her life, Mrs. Roy, who is also a psychotherapist and spiritual director, wanted to be a contemplative nun, but she has found her family’s minivan to be her “monastery” where she prays and meditates and transports angels from one location to another.
“If we pay attention, any moment or any place or any person might be a bearer of wisdom,” she observes.  “Nothing is off-limits as a potential source of wisdom, as the dwelling place for divinity.”
Jesus’ invitation in the Gospel to fishermen, tax collectors, farmers, laborers and peasants to be his followers is extended to us, as well.  Jesus’ call to discipleship transcends that moment on the shores of the Sea of Galilee; he calls to us here and now, in our own time and place.  Our baptisms were our acceptances of that invitation to take on the work of discipleship in the homes and classrooms and workplaces and “minivans” where we live our lives.  Christ invites us to follow him and to take on his work, the same work Peter and his brother and fellow fishermen leave their nets to take on: to bring others to God through the Gospel of peace, reconciliation and love.
I am a collector of lists. I want to share with you this morning my favorite list of all time. It's a list of answers given by English school children on their religion exams.
Noah's wife was called Joan of the Ark.
A myth is a female moth.
Sometimes it is difficult to hear in church because the agnostics are so terrible.
The Pope lives in a vacuum.
The Fifth Commandment is "Humor your father and mother."

This is my favorite of all: 

Lot's wife was a pillar of salt by day and a ball of fire by night.

The point is: right answers are important, but have you thought about this - so are right questions! So the right question I want to raise with you today is this: How long has it been since you had a powerful moment that changed your life forever?

The New Testament was written originally in common Greek and the Greeks had several different words for our one word love.

Agape = unconditional love
 Eros = erotic... bargaining love (I'll do this for you if you do that for me, which, if you think about it, is not really love at all)
Phileo = philanthropic, brotherly, sisterly, or humanitarian love
Storge = family love.

New Testament Greek also had two words for time - chronos and kairos. Chronos, which give us our word chronology, is tick-tock time. Each second is exactly like the one that preceded and the one that follows it. It is boring time, humdrum time, drudgery time, meaningless time, empty time. Let me paint the picture of chronos time.

Imagine a convict in a prison cell; a lawyer with insomnia, who hears the unrelenting incessant ticking of a clock; an office worker who hates his job and can't wait for 5:00 to come so he can get out of there; a college student in a 3-hour biology lab (right after lunch) all experience chronos time. Chronos time is empty time; it is a void that must be filled. It is time we must "put in" or endure. It's what we are talking about when, of all things, we talk about "killing" time. So, chronos equals tick-tock time, humdrum time, boring time, and routine time. 

Thank God, there is another kind of time. It is called kairos.  Kairos time is full time, vital time, crucial time, decisive time, God’s time.  Kairos moments are those powerful, extra-special moments that are packed with meaning.  While chronos is tick-tock time, kairos is when time stands still. How long has it been since you a moment so powerful that time stood still?

Kairos is when God breaks into the routine and speaks loud and clear and you are touched so powerfully deep in your soul that you can never be the same again.  A cartoonist depicts an idea with a light bulb flashing.  It is a Voila! moment, an “ah ha” experience.  Theologians call it the moment of revelation.

 Kairos is a key word in the New Testament.  When Jesus started his ministry he came into Galilee preaching and saying, “The time is fulfilled.  The Kingdom is at hand.  Repent and believe in the gospel.  And the word for time there in Mark was not chronos, it was kairos.  This was crucial time, decisive time, God’s time.

Jesus’ life was packed with kairos moments: 

Zacchaeus as he saw him in that sycamore tree.  They connected and that was a kairos moment. Blind Bartimaeus nobody else was paying attention to him but Jesus heard
his cries, connected with him, and it was a kairos moment.

The hemorrhaging woman came up behind Jesus, touched his robe, and he connected with her, and it was a kairos moment.

Jesus had so many of those moments. We read one this morning: The kairos is fulfilled. And what did Jesus do right at that kairos moment? He called his disciples. It was a meaningful moment for them. It wasn’t just another tick

of the clock. How long has it been since you had a powerful moment like that, that changed your life forever?  How long has it been since you had a kairos moment in a chronos world?  Kairos moments are all around us if we have the eyes to see them, the ears to hear them, and the hearts to feel them. Now, this morning I want to share with you three kairos moments that I have experienced that changed my life.  I am going to be very personal because kairos moments are very personal. 

I. The Kairos Moment of Encouragement
II. The Kairos Moment of Love
III. The Kairos Moment of Inspiration
The Lifesaver App - 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 

 As children we all had to study for and take "vocabulary tests" - learning a new list of words, their spelling and definitions, every week. As we continued on in school, read more books and studied more subjects, our vocabulary naturally expanded. Then to get into college, we took SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Tests), some of the most important of which are called "Vocab Tests."

Building up our word bank is a never completed project. Best-selling author Bill O'Reilly even has a vocab test every night on his #1 Cable News show, "The O'Reilly Factor." The great thing about a truly "living language", like English, is that it is always changing, adopting, adapting, and adding new words, new concepts, new elements.   

How many words do you use in everyday discussions in 2014 that a few years ago would have had no meaning whatsoever? When did you first learn to speak "coffee," so that you could communicate your beverage choice with the barista. Phrases such as "Venti, black-eye, half-cap, mocha frappuchino" that would have been complete gibberish a couple decades ago now come tripping off the tongue without need for an interpreter.  

In 1998 a new Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie made a big deal of an emerging concept. "You've Got Mail" highlighted the strange new world of "e-mail" created by the expansion of the Internet. In 2006 another snazzy word was reconfigured when "Twitter" was born. By 2012 there were over 34 million "tweets" sent per day. Technospeak is a language that continues to expand exponentially. We used to increase our vocabulary by reading "the classics." Now we can only increase our new and necessary vocabulary for living in the twenty-first century by reading our "emails" "tweets," and "blogs." It seems we will all need to pass weekly vocab tests throughout our lives.  

Yet for all the words we add, we always lose a few to the historical dustbin. There are now thousands of "apps" we can download onto our smartphones and tablets. But try asking anyone under the age of 25 what "app" stands for and you will probably get a blank look. After all, an "app" is . . . an "app."  

But an "app" is really shorthand for "application" - that is, "a use to which something is put." An "app" isn't a "thing." An "app" is an activity. An "app" is not a noun. An "app" is a verb. As we struggle to keep up with a language and lifestyle that is ever changing, we should keep in mind this original definition of "app" - because application makes a world of difference between the "real" and the "hypothetical."

Disciples of Jesus are called to give application to, that is, to actually "apply," our faith to our life and our lifestyles...
 Trying Something New  

After falling twice in the 1988 Olympic speed-skating races Dan Jansen sought out sports psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr, who helped him find a new balance between his sport and his life. He also helped Jansen learn to focus on the mental aspects of skating Peter Mueller became his coach, putting him through workouts that Dan has since described as the "toughest I have ever known." By the time the 1994 Olympics arrived, Jansen had more confidence than ever. He had set a five-hundred-meter world record just two months earlier. The Olympic title in that event seemed to belong to him.

Unfortunately, Jansen fell during the five-hundred-meter race. He was disappointed and shaken. But, Dr. Loeher immediately advised him to start preparing for the one-thousand-meter race. He said, the five-hundred-meter race is gone. Put it behind you." However the thousand-meter race was Jansen's weakest event. But, there was no other chance for him to receive a medal. Jansen won the one-thousand-meter race and did it in record time. Since Jansen had followed the wisdom of his coach, he had put his failure behind him and tried something new.

We can play it safe and remain secure in what we know. Like the fishermen, our lives will remain in the darkness until we are willing to follow and move in a new direction. Jesus called the disciples to something that would not only give purpose and meaning to their lives, he called them to a vocation that would change the world. They followed, and from then on their lives would never be the same.

Keith Wagner, Ice Fishing, Anyone?
 Working for Christ 

Christianity began as a working man's religion. No, that is not the gospel according to Marx; it is the Gospel According to Matthew. Matthew tells us that immediately after Jesus began a public preaching ministry, he took four fishermen as his apprentices. He was walking by the Sea of Galilee and spied Andrew and Peter casting their nets. He called them to follow him, promising to make them fishers of men. In Matthew's Gospel, then, linked tightly together are Jesus' ringing pronouncement, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," and his invitation to the fishermen, "Follow me."

You and I, who believe in Jesus Christ and count ourselves his disciples, are not to follow a trade or profession as though it were the Holy Grail. We are to follow Jesus. Work is to take a secondary role in our lives. If Christ is truly our Master, then work cannot be equally important. We may be engaged in work, but never married to it. And whenever we are pressed or tempted to make work supreme, we are to recall the story of the four fishermen. We are to remember how they left their nets and their boats to go and be with Jesus, to do what he would have them do. 

John C. Purdy, The Call to Adventure
Follow Me... 

"Follow me, and I will make you fishers," said Jesus. Fishing takes practice, preparation, discipline. One must learn how to best throw the net, how to make the mouth of the net come open too. I can throw the actual cast net a long way, but I can't always make the net come open so that it will actually form a circle around the fish. One must learn how to cast the line on a rod. Again, some folks can cast a long way, but their accuracy is awful. There may be fish on the right, but they know only how to cast the line to the left. There may be fish on the left, but they keep casting to the right. Casting, like discipleship, is an acquired habit. It rewards practice.

Fishing is noticing the weather, watching the wind and the clouds. Fishing, like the gospel, dear friends, like the gospel, fishing is always practiced in context. It does no good to sit at one lake and wish I was on some other lake. It does no good to stand at the ocean and wish the weather were different. On that day, in that place, I fish in context according to what the conditions are.

So it is with the proclamation and the living out of the Christian gospel. It does little good wishing that we were somewhere else, in a different time or in a different country perhaps. Our context is this time and this place. Know where the wind blows. Watch the clouds. 

Samuel G. Candler, Follow Me and I Will Make You Go Fishing
A Job vs. A Ministry

Someone has said there is a huge difference between having a job at church and having a ministry at church. 

... If you are doing it because no one else will, it's a job. If you are doing it to serve the Lord, it's a ministry.
... If you're doing it just well enough to get by, it's a job. If you're doing it to the best of your ability, it's a ministry.
... If you'll do it only so long as it doesn't interfere with other
activities, it's a job. If you're committed to staying with it even when it means letting go of other things, it's a ministry.
... It's hard to get excited about a job. It's almost impossible not to get excited about a ministry.

An average church is filled with people doing jobs. A great church is filled with people involved in ministry. 

Mickey Anders, The Beginning of Ministry
The Angle of Grace 

Being a Christian is about taking a particular angle towards life. It is the angle of grace. Each of us-every one of us-perceives reality and the world in a different way; yes, but Jesus teaches us to see the world from the angle of grace. Wouldn't our Christianity be richer if we accepted angles more easily? Wouldn't our Christianity be more beautiful if we bent toward the angle of grace?  

Samuel G. Candler, Follow Me, and I Will Make You Go Fishing
A Problem of Presentation

Jesus came preaching that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." What was there about that kingdom that got these fishermen so excited? And why are we not just as excited? Maybe we don't understand what the kingdom is. Or maybe it just hasn't been presented very well.  

It reminds me of a woman who read somewhere that dogs were healthier if fed a tablespoon of cod liver oil each day. So each day she followed the same routine. She chased her dog until she caught it, wrestled it down, and managed to force the fishy remedy down the dog's throat.  

Until one day when, in the middle of this grueling medical effort, the bottle was kicked over. With a sigh, she loosed her grip on the dog so she could wipe up the mess. To her surprise the dog trotted over to the puddle and begin lapping up what had been spilled. THE DOG LOVED COD LIVER OIL. It was just the owner's method of application the dog objected to.  

Sometimes I think something like that has happened to the good news of the Kingdom of God. It has been so poorly presented to us that we have never been captured by its attractiveness and its power.  

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
Essential Personnel 

Even if we live where it rarely snows, the phrase is a familiar one. When budget talks collapse and the government shuts down, this is the phrase that is trotted out. When the earth suddenly moves under the people of California, often a certain group of people are called out while the rest are told to stay at home. When tornadoes blow through the Southwest and disrupt everything in their course, only certain people should risk the dangers involved. These are maintenance people, road crews, ambulance drivers, fire fighters, electric and gas company workers, truck drivers, and a whole host of service people who are taken for granted when things are running smoothly. We call them "essential personnel." 

Think about that phrase. Think about what it means to be essential personnel. Then, if you want to be humbled, think about what it is like to be non-essential personnel. Consider the fact that the world can go on without some of us. The good news is that in the church we are all, or at least all can be, essential personnel. We are called to be a special group of people and to do some important things. 

William B. Kincaid, III, And Then Came The Angel, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
Turning Toward the Light 

A little boy named Bobby entered his first science fair in second grade. Because his Mom has a green thumb, they decided to experiment with the growth of plants. He took two small green plants and placed one on a sunny windowsill and the other in a cardboard box. After a couple of weeks, Bobby checked on the two plants. The one on the windowsill had grown a couple of inches and had vibrant green leaves. The one in the box had actually grown a bit, but it had lost all of its green color, becoming almost white and its leaves drooping. Thinking that the plant might die, Bobby cut a hole in one side of the box, like this, and set the box, with the plant inside, by the windowsill ... with the hole facing toward the incoming light. Well you know what happened ... but Bobby was so excited by this discovery...
From Father Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1: Light and darkness:
Terry Anderson, a journalist for the Associated Press, was seized and held hostage in Lebanon for seven years; blindfolded almost all of that time, Anderson described his experience in this way, “Deepest darkness, fumblings, uncertainties are frightening. More frightening is the darkness of the mind, when outside light makes no impression and inner lights go dim. . .” [Den of Lions, Crown Publishers, Inc. (New York: 1993).] In November of 1965, a power failure plunged seven northeastern U.S. states and Ontario, Canada, into a darkness which lasted for more than thirteen hours. About thirty million people living in eighty thousand square miles of territory were affected. In 1977, another, less severe, power failure darkened New York City for fifty-two minutes. Losses due to accidents and looting were in excess of one billion dollars. In the Holy Scriptures, light and darkness serve as symbols for good and evil. In today’s first reading and in the Gospel, Jesus is presented as the One sent to remove the darkness of sin from the world. Through Isaiah, God promises that His people will see an end to the darkness of oppression and separation. Today’s Gospel shows us how the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in Jesus. 

2: Remain in politics and exert a Christian influence there:  
Those of you who saw the remarkable film Amazing Grace remember the story of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a British politician who, after his conversion to Christianity, became England’s greatest anti-slavery advocate. It was through his tireless efforts that England eventually outlawed slavery, paving the way for the end of the slave-trade in the Western world. But William Wilberforce almost missed his calling. After his conversion, Wilberforce considered leaving politics for the ministry. He wasn’t sure how a Christian could live out his faith in “the world.” Fortunately, Wilberforce turned to a man named John Newton for guidance. Newton, of course, was the author of the much-loved hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Newton was a former slave trader who had renounced the trade after his conversion. Newton convinced Wilberforce that God had called him to remain in politics to exert a Christian influence there. It was John Newton who gave William Wilberforce the wake-up call that kept him championing the cause of freedom for Britain’s slaves. Four men, fishermen by trade, were toiling at the nets beside the Sea of Galilee when they received a wake-up call from Jesus. And their whole world was turned upside down.

3:  Labor room suspense:
Three men were pacing nervously outside the delivery room at a hospital when the head nurse came out beaming.  To the first she said, "Congratulations, sir, you are the father of twins." "Terrific!" said the man, "I just signed a contract with the Minnesota Twins and this'll be great press." To the second man the nurse said, "Congratulations to you too.  You are the father of healthy triplets!" "Fantastic!" he said.  "I'm the vice-president of 3-M Company. This'll be great P.R.!" At that point the third man turned ashen and ran for the door. "What's wrong, sir?  Where are you going?" called the nurse. As he jumped into his car, the man shouted, "I'm dashing to my office to resign.  I'm the president of 7-UP!"  (Msgr. Dennis Clarke). John the Baptist and Jesus surprised the self-righteous Jews by their call to repentance. Today’s Gospel, from the fourth chapter of Matthew, offers us Christians an equally surprising and shocking announcement by Jesus: “Repent; the kingdom of God is near.”