3rd Sun [B] 1997

Fr. Charles Irvin

Jonah 3:1-5,10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

I need to repent and confess to you. Far too often I have stood here lamenting the state of things in our world. I’ve preached about how awful things are, the divorce rate, abuse of others, violence, sensuality and materialism… and on, and on, and on. Well, it doesn’t take a genius to see that the world is in bad shape. Therefore, why should I stand here and add to the levels of despair that so many of us already feel?

The real need is to have a vision, to see the way to making our world a better place, and do something about our world… rather than simply standing here whining and complaining.

Jesus lived in a troubled world, a world in a whole lot worse shape than the one we are living in. Justice was a joke; tyrants lorded it over everyone; Roman legions oppressed people while Romans themselves lived out the great lie by living in great denial, much as we do too.

Into all of this God sent Jesus Christ to help us have a vision, to give us the faith, the hope, the love and the courage to make our world become everything God dreamed it could be when He created it in the first place. Jesus resolved to do that one life at a time. The mission of Christ was to first of all make us responsible, and responsible for our selves first.

My first responsibility is to make something good and decent out of me. Life is God’s gift to me. What I do with it is my gift to God.

Let me be straight with you about this: Christ makes it perfectly clear that we are responsible to unselfishly care for others. Do you remember the story of Cain and Able? Cain asked: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” YES, is God’s resounding answer to that question; Christ is God’s clear response to that question. All of Christ’s teachings revolve around that point.

But Christ begins by telling us that we are to love our neighbor as we love our selves. Therein lies the key to God’s plan to change over our world. It all begins with a decent self-respect. It begins by each one of us loving our selves enough to make something good out of our selves. “Get a grip!,” God tells us. “Take charge of your self first, THEN you can know how to take care of someone else.”

How can I expect a better world unless I first expect a better me? Society is the sum total of its individual parts. If we live in a corrupt social order perhaps we can begin the clean-up campaign by first ridding the corruption that comprises the junkyards within our own souls. How can I deal with the moral failures of others unless and until I deal with the moral failures within my own self? How can I know how to help others become better persons until I first learn how to make my self a better person?

To be sure there’s a whole lot of economic injustice, a whole lot of structural poverty, a whole lot of systemic injustice that oppresses the underprivileged, that marginalizes the weak, and that renders significant human lives insignificant. To be sure the legal system is badly skewed, and the courts infested with scheming and manipulating lawyers who are bent only on scoring wins to notch on their six-shooters rather than giving any thought at all to notions of Justice. To be sure the practice of medicine has turned into corporate management procedures rather than personal, tender loving care for the hurting. But is not all of that simply the sum total of the attitudes and spiritual bankruptcy of the individuals who comprise these social systems?

Too many people are busy blaming society and the ills of society’s social structures for causing personal and individual sin. But does unlawful behavior find its causalities in the social order, or is it more true to blame the corruption of the social order on the moral failures of the individuals who comprise it? Does society cause personal sin, or does personal sin corrupt society?             

It is my belief that society has no problems that cannot ultimately be traced back to the individuals who constitute society. And I believe that because that’s the way Jesus saw it; that’s the way and the truth and the life that He challenges us to live in order to change the world around us.

When I start seeing the problems that exist in others I begin to see my self. I keep running into my self when I run into the sins, faults and failures that I see in others. We live in profound connectedness and in radical complicity. The theological analysis of this situation begins with the doctrine of Original Sin, that statement of reality that puts us radically at the root and source of our world’s miseries.

Jesus cries out to us and tells us that a better world is within our reach; it’s in our grasp. “The reign of God is at hand,” He tells us. A better world begins when we begin to change our own personal lives. “Reform your lives,” He tells us, “and believe in the Good News.”

Taking life by the yard is hard. But life taken by the inch is a cinch. Taking life as it is one day at a time, and expecting perfect happiness in the next life only after being reasonably happy in this life, is the only way to deal with reality.

And so if we want to change the world, are we willing first of all to change our own selves? How can I have the energy to change the huge systems surrounding us unless I at least have the energy to change my self?

The call of Jesus to twelve individuals, the call we just heard in today’s Gospel account, is not a call issued simply to twelve Jewish men 2,000 years ago. It’s an insistent call, an urgent call, a demanding call that comes down through 2,000 years in this Church of ours to you, to you here and now, today, who have been called by God to receive the Bread of Life from this alter and then to leave this church building on a mission, to leave here as those who are sent, sent with the twelve Apostles to change the world by first changing our own lives.

For the simple truth is that when you do in fact change your life, you will have begun to change the whole world.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”