Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jan. 22
Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Matthew 4:12-23 or 4:12-17
In my work as the Catholic campus minister at a large state school, I spend a lot of time commiserating with college students about their futures. Some come to the university with a definite plan. They know their major, the list and order of classes needed for their degree and what internships will best put them on track to reach their goals. But alas, such college students are the exception, not the rule.
According to National Center for Education Statistics, about 80 percent of students in the U.S. end up changing their major at least once and, on average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career. Yet even among students who are certain about their choice of major, many often do not know what kind of career they want to pursue after college.
These major-changing nomads of the halls of higher education are very much like the people described in today’s Scriptures: a people walking in darkness, longing for the light, any light!
While dark and directionless times are hard and often longer than four years of college, there is nothing like the look on a student’s face when he or she finally has some peace regarding the direction for his or her life. It’s as though this big, life-defining decision they have been waiting for, seemingly forever, has finally come and made a home within them.
I imagine it is this exact experience, taken to a transcendent level, that the first Disciples felt when Jesus asked them to follow him. They had been waiting, not just for their whole lives, but with the entire nation of Israel, they had been waiting for centuries. They had wandered in spiritual darkness all this time and finally the “light” had come.
When the darkness is so deep and has lasted for so long, the light is especially bright. It is this circumstance that fueled the scene in Matthew’s Gospel: “(Jesus) called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.”
Whether we are seeking direction in this life or directions to the next life, we all experience times of darkness, but as the psalmist says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?”
QUESTIONS: When was a time of darkness that you have come through? What is something you have left behind to follow Jesus?
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jan. 29
Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Once a week, I help out at an after-school center in my community. The long-standing program, which provides supervision and enrichment activities for disadvantaged children, is a place of pride for the community because it fills an important need for many struggling families and has become a valuable resource in improving the prospects for their children.
Local news periodically shows smiling kids from the center participating in special events such as planting a community garden or taking swimming lessons at the YMCA.
But behind the feel-good images is a highly challenging environment in which staff members try to mentor some 200 children, most of whom have academic, social or psychological difficulties.
Constant behavior problems make it hard to accomplish much on any given day, so it’s not uncommon for frustrated staffers or volunteers to give up after only a brief time. But a core group stays. They endure the frustration, work through obstacles and celebrate incremental successes. They stay because they are true believers in the center’s mission.
Similarly, staying power is a challenge to the Christian faithful. Conflicts, wars, materialism, selfishness and an overarching secular culture threaten our ability to follow the ways of Christ. How can we hold fast to our beliefs against overwhelming opposition?
Zephaniah’s prophecy in today’s Scriptures provides the assurance we seek that Jesus’ mission will continue despite forces in this world that constantly conspire to bring it down. Speaking God’s word, the prophet says, “I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord … they shall do no wrong and speak no lies.”
God promises that a core of true believers always will carry on, committed and living the life to which he calls us.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus describes that life in the beatitudes, reiterating that the faithful will be rewarded by God’s faithfulness.
It’s our only hope in this world, but it’s a great hope, and we can witness its truth in people such as the committed leaders at the after-school center. When I observe this small group patiently enduring because of their compassion and selflessness, I have to believe that they actually are a part of that remnant maintaining God’s goodness here and now.
QUESTIONS: Where do you see committed people around you struggling against obstacles to living the Gospel? Which of the Beatitudes poses the greatest challenge to you?