Father Donald Senior, CP

Jan. 15: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 4, 2023

What is our call?

Is 49:3, 5-6; Ps 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10; 1 Cor 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34

Editors’ note: It is with great sadness that we mourn the Nov. 8, 2022 ,death of Passionist Father Donald Senior, whose Scripture column we were honored to publish over the past six years. As we look for a new Scripture columnist, we will continue reprinting Father Don’s past columns, with the permission of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ.

With the Christmas season now completed, the liturgical year begins the period of “ordinary time.” Traditionally this new “ordinary” season starts with the account of Jesus’ baptism and that is the case this Sunday, with the selection from John’s Gospel.

The figure of Jesus looms so large in John’s Gospel that out of deference, it seems, the evangelist does not describe the actual moment of Jesus’ baptism but the testimony that John the Baptist gives about Jesus at this inaugural moment of his public ministry.

As in the other Gospels, the moment of Jesus’ baptism is a time when the Spirit of God settles on him and he is declared as God’s beloved Son. From this moment on, the Spirit-filled Jesus will begin his mission of bringing God’s reconciling and healing love to the world.

There are many ways we can try to understand the meaning of Jesus’ baptism — and our own. In the mystery of Jesus’ fully human consciousness, it appears from each of the Gospel accounts that the preaching of John the Baptist was the trigger for Jesus to leave his home in Nazareth and begin his own God-given mission.

What was it about John’s message that may have struck Jesus? Not only the Gospel writers, but also the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, note that John proclaimed a powerful message, calling a troubled people in a turbulent time to renew their lives and deepen their faith. He coupled this message with a powerful symbolic action, calling people to come to the edge of the desert where Israel had been born and to plunge into the Jordan River that the people Israel crossed long ago to enter their promised land and begin a new life. This message of transformation and a new beginning must have touched Jesus, and his own preaching and healing ministry would intensify John’s prophetic call.

The notion of a “call” or “vocation” is a powerful motif in the Bible and in Catholic tradition. In the past, some have thought of “vocation” as applying only to those called to priesthood or religious life. But the Second Vatican Council reminded us that through baptism every Christian is called by God to a new and purposeful life.

Paul the Apostle certainly thought this way. In the opening lines of his Letter to the Corinthians, Paul identifies himself as one “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul speaks directly about his unanticipated and dramatic “call” to a new life as a follower of Jesus.

In his account, Paul, in fact, alludes to the beautiful reading from Isaiah in today’s first reading where God “calls” the prophet to a wider horizon than even his beloved Israel. “It is too little,” God tells Isaiah, for him to restore Israel, “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

God’s horizon embraced the whole world and it was that vast field that gave Paul of Tarsus his life’s purpose and mission as the “apostle to the Gentiles.” It is noteworthy that Paul discovered his true “call” or “vocation” only later in his life through his encounter with the risen Christ and with the help of other followers of Jesus such as Ananias who reached out to Paul in Damascus and Barnabas who would mentor Paul for his mission work.

This beginning of “ordinary time” and the account of Jesus’ baptism and Paul’s own vocation prompts a question for us, too. What is our “call”? What is our God-given vocation? What is God asking of me at this point in my life? How can I lead a deeper, more purposeful life as a follower of Jesus?

The Psalm response today echoes other words of Isaiah the prophet: “Here am I, Lord, I come to do your will.” We all need to think deeply and pray intensely that we will recognize God’s call to us and respond generously.

This column was reprinted from the Jan. 15, 2017, issue.


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