We exist for the conversion of the world - Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

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As the new year settles in and we set our goals for the year, the Church offers us the commencement of the public ministry of the Lord in our Sunday readings. In the Gospel today we are told that following the arrest of John the Baptist Jesus returned to Galilee and moved from his home town in Nazareth and based himself at Capernaum, by the Sea of Galilee.

What is interesting to note is that it seems that the Lord spent some time after his baptism and his forty day retreat in the desert among John’s disciples. It was only when John was arrested that Jesus decided to return to Galilee.

Now comes the time for Jesus to formally undertake his own ministry and we can note two aspects of how the Lord goes about his ministry: he has a basic message to proclaim; and he calls disciples to follow him.

Let us consider these two elements.

The content of the Lord’s opening message is significant: Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand. It builds on the message of John the Baptist. John had been declaring that the Messiah was about to come and the people needed to be spiritually ready to respond to him when he came. The path of response was a repentance which acknowledged that there was a need to orient one’s life more completely towards God.

This is what Jesus himself declares: that in order to be drawn into the work of God one must repent of one’s waywardness of life and focus more on God. This will always be a basic message for us. Conversion of heart and mind towards God is an ongoing task. We are in need daily of giving our hearts and lives to the Lord. We can never forsake this task.

Once, I had the opportunity to visit the monastery in central Calabria, southern Italy, the place where St Bruno established the Carthusian order. This order is a very strict contemplate expression of the Rule of St Benedict. There I was privileged to go into the monastery. Usually no one is allowed, but because I was a bishop I was invited in. I was shown around by a young monk. As I was leaving he said to me, “pray for my conversion”. This seemed so odd for someone who was a monk living a very austere expression of the Christian life. However, this young monk understood that conversion is a daily task. We can never presume that we are truly converted to the Lord and to the Gospel. We are not. His prayer can also be our daily prayer, as we pray for our daily conversion.

The second element to the beginnings of the mission of the Lord was the calling of particular individuals. Now this is interesting. His preaching would attract disciples who would follow him, and he would have a large number of disciples who responded to his preaching. But some he would personally call.

Thus there would be those who were attracted to him, and those he singled out to follow him.

It is important to note that the first disciples he called he had previously met. St John tells us that at the time of his baptism in the Jordan Jesus met some of the disciples of John the Baptist who had come from Galilee – the other end of the country. Perhaps the fact that they all came from the same area established a bond between them. Jesus had met Andrew who had introduced his brother Simon (Peter) to the Lord. Indeed, it was John the Baptist who had pointed Jesus out to them, saying “there is the Lamb of God”. So John himself was directing his disciples toward Jesus of Nazareth.

Clearly, Jesus came to know these men from Galilee and they had come to know him.

So once back in Galilee Jesus sought out these men who had already responded to the preaching of John the Baptist. In other words, they had sought to re-orient their lives towards God. They were already responding to the call to conversion. Their hearts were open. They were willing to seek a path with God.

Jesus added a further dimension to their lives, not only were they to live a reformed life, but they would become “fishers of men”. Later, he would formally endorse them as his apostles. They were to not only follow him, but become active agents of his work. They were to become the foundation for his Church.

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, his Apostolic Exhortation on evangelisation, used the term “missionary disciples” to describe this role. He said that all Catholics are to be missionary disciples.

“I dream of a 'missionary option', that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (EG 27).

This is a bold vision, but one that is critical to the Church in our time. We as Catholics cannot but see ourselves as being missionary. This must become the focus for the Church in our time, in Tasmania.

It is my call to each member of the Church. You are to be missionary. We together need to be outward looking and not focused, as the Pope says, simply on self-preservation. The Church, the parish, does not exist for us but rather we as members of the Church exist for the conversion of the world around us.

We are to be missionary disciples.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, 22 January 2017