Monday, January 14, 2008


Monday in the 1st Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Telling the Time


Readings: 1 Samuel 1:1-8; Psalm 116:12-13, 14-17, 18-19; Mark 1:14-20

Celebrating Mass in rural areas has been an interesting experience. For one thing, the scheduled time for Mass tends to be nothing more than a guideline. Everyone knows and understands that the actual time Mass begins depends on at least two factors. First, of course, the priest has to make his appearance. And who can predict if he’ll be on time, since he’s most likely coming from an earlier Mass in another area. Also, once the bell is rung to signal Father’s arrival, people must be given time to drop whatever they’re doing and to make their way to the place of gathering. Some, of course, are already there, ready and waiting. Others come as soon as they hear the bell. Yet others take a little longer to tear themselves away from their chores. And then, of course, there are those who don’t show up at all. So the time at which Mass actually begins depends on the speed of people’s response. But on what then, we may wonder, does their response depend?

The gospel story for today presents us with a somewhat similar question for reflection. Jesus passes by the Sea of Galilee and calls four fishermen. And we’re told that all four immediately left their nets – two even left their father – and followed him. What made them do that? On what did their response depend?

We probably cannot say for sure how it actually happened. But it does seem highly probable that their response had something to do with their ability to tell time. The gospel makes it clear that they were all busy when Jesus showed up. Simon and Andrew were casting their nets into the sea. And James and John were mending their nets. So the Lord’s arrival might so easily have been dismissed as an unwelcome distraction, a time of disturbance. But something led them not only to stop what they were doing, but also to listen and to respond to Jesus with incredible generosity. What made the difference?

Perhaps Hannah’s experience in the first reading offers us some insight into the question. Although hers is a life of privilege – she is the favorite wife of her husband, who dotes on her and gives her a double portion of the sacrificial offering – Hannah remains deeply depressed. All the benefits that she enjoys do not fulfill her. Something essential remains missing. She is barren. And it is out of her experience of being thus unfulfilled that she will be led to beg God for help.

Might this tell us something of the experience of the fishermen of Galilee? And of the people who finally do show up at Mass in the barrios? Could the generosity of their response be born of their own experience of barrenness in the midst of busy-ness? Could their willingness to drop whatever they are doing and to follow Christ be because they are hoping that the Lord will lead them to that which is essential? Could it be because they realize what time it is – that it is, in Jesus own words, the time of fulfillment?

And what about us, we who are entering the period of the Church’s calendar known as Ordinary Time? How keenly aware are we of the time in which we live? How conscious are we that, because of Christ’s coming among us as a human being, every moment of every day is now potentially a sacred time, a time of fulfillment? How ready are we to drop whatever it is we are doing, in order to listen and respond generously to whatever the Lord is telling us to do?

What time is it for us today?

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