| By Bishop Steven J. Raica

‘Here I am Lord’

Bishop marks the second Sunday of Ordinary Time

On Jan. 15, Bishop Raica celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul, marking the second Sunday in Ordinary Time. The complete text of his homily follows herein.

My sisters and brothers, having completed our Advent Christmas liturgical cycle, for the next few weeks, we embark on our journey together in Ordinary Time. It is a time of discipleship and a call to holiness, a time of opening our hearts and minds to the encounter we have with the Lord.  Let’s take a brief look at what the Church presents to us for our consideration today and see if something emerges for us.

In our first reading, the great prophet Isaiah reminds us about what the Lord said: “You are My servant through whom I show My glory.” It was in the very beginning that one is destined to become a child of God. With our cooperation, we are told: “I will make you a light to the nations, that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Is 49:3, 5-6) Belonging to the Lord as His servants, as His disciples, we become a light in the midst of darkness!

Our responsorial psalm carries forth the theme of one who waited for the Lord with a sense of readiness and willingness and dependence: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do Your will.” The psalmist recognized that it wasn’t through sacrificial offerings that God was pleased, but that God wants us. God wants you - me! God calls out to us! Do you hear Him? In all our freedom, we can respond, yes! “Here I am.” Tell me what You want me to do for You! Or, we can drown out the voice. We can ignore the voice, cover our ears and minds, or run away from it.

The second reading speaks about Paul’s call to become a witness for Christ and an intrepid Apostle to the nations by being set apart. After a clumsy beginning, persecuting Christians, he now calls upon the name of the Lord, Who is “our help and our salvation.” Christ is revealed to Paul in a dramatic way, and he cannot ignore the reality that metaphorically knocks him off his horse. What a gift this is for Paul! He knew it because his past life was something so very different. He doesn’t look back but moves forward in ministry! His mission is marked by urgency and adventure to announce the saving message of Christ to the world, at least the then known world.

The Gospel then ties the whole thing together with this intervention of John the Baptist reminding us that he is not the Messiah everyone was waiting for. Someone would be coming after him who would not merely baptize with water, like he did, but with the Holy Spirit. He gives us a first-hand account that Jesus, the Lamb of God, has indeed arrived. He is the Messiah; the anointed One we have all been waiting for. Beginning the process of conversion always begins with “look,” and he gives it to us foursquare.

So, reflecting on these readings, there are several themes which emerge. The One we have waited for is pointed out by John the Baptist. This is Christ! This is the Lord! This is the Messiah! I am not Him, but there He is: “Look! See for yourselves!” It is the first part of sharing good news, telling someone to “look,” “open your eyes,” “unplug your ears” – see and hear what your heart has been waiting for.

We who are here today, baptized Catholic Christians, are the recipients of a wonderful vocation: When God calls, we ask ourselves, “What will I do?” Perhaps, we should have the antiphon from the responsorial psalm on the tip of our tongue every day like a memorable tweet: “Here I am, Lord: I come to do Your will.” What do You want me to do for You today? How can I be Your servant, Lord? I’ll never be 100% ready, but I’m as ready as I can be for now! After all, I was a thought in the mind of God, and then I entered the world. I want to know why I’m here: what’s my purpose and mission in life? Lord, what is Your will for me today? As a fellow Christian, I remain truly blessed by the amazing things the Lord has done in my life. I hardly think I deserve it all. All I can say is, “Thank you, Lord!” I pray that my life may touch someone as I am your witness to the nations, to the people of the Diocese of Birmingham, to my local faith community, and to those with whom I study, work, or collaborate. What I say and do has to reflect the mission I’ve been given, leveraging all the gifts the Lord has bestowed upon me.

So, “Here I am, Lord!” I am yours. Can I affirm that I belong to Christ? Can I attest that I have encountered Christ and that I am His servant? Do I hear God’s call in my life to follow Him?  I’m not speaking merely as a religious person by vocation, but as a fellow Christian!

This Sunday lays the foundation for the call. We will hear throughout Ordinary Time and in the special seasons of Lent and Easter coming up, the different and varied ways the Lord calls individuals and how they responded. Each was unique; each was personal. So is yours! So is mine! I have to say, as I reread these Gospel passages that most people encountered Christ unexpectedly, at unlikely moments, articulating their need or merely having their hearts open to what the Lord wants of them. Like St. Paul in the 2nd reading today, he was “called to be an Apostle,” he says. He was seeking to persecute and eradicate the early Christian community when he met Christ “on the way.” His life changed dramatically and almost instantaneously. Sometimes it happens like that! Other times, it is a slow process – a process that takes time as we slowly give over more and more of our lives to the Lord and say, “Here you are Lord!” You can have this part of my life, but not this yet!? In time, we will have nothing left to give but ourselves. Everything outside of ourselves – all His created world, for which we are all stewards, already belongs to God. But, my heart, my mind, my body - He gives us freedom to be ready at the right time to give everything back to Him for His glory, to be used as His instrument, to be His, and to belong totally and completely to Him. In reading the lives the saints, they ended up by giving God everything, and this relationship became everything. Jesus became my Lord, my God, my All!

Like Mary, His mother, may we be ready and willing to respond positively to God’s call to be His servant to bring light to the world!

So, today and throughout this week, pray for the grace to hear God’s call. And be ready with your answer, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do Your will!” May God bless you all!