What do you know about inaugural addresses? Is there a vision that has captured your heart forever?
This weekend, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps providentially, we have a tale of TWO inaugural addresses. The one covered endlessly on Friday, weighing in at 1,454 words, was centered around the guiding principle of “America First.” President Trump used the word “America” a record 35 times. The one we hear so simply proclaimed in today’s gospel, coming in at 9 whole words is: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
I, for one, am struck by the stark difference. And, yet, what I know about inaugural addresses is this. At their heart, they are an invitation. An invitation to see the world as the one giving the address sees the world. They are an invitation to a vision which will capture our heart’s energy and passion and love and channel it into concrete action. So perhaps the real gospel question of this weekend is this: Is there a vision that has captured your heart forever?
We certainly know that something in what Peter and Andrew heard, what James and John heard, rang SO true that they gave up everything to follow Jesus. Peter and Andrew were in the very act of fishing – casting their nets. James and John were doing the clean-up work after a night’s fishing – mending the nets. And something in what Jesus said, what he invited them to, that kingdom of heaven he proclaimed, captured their heart in a way that changed them forever. And set their feet on the road in very concrete action.
Let me tell you of one of my inaugural moments.
I did volunteer work in Northern Ireland for three summers during the heart of the troubles back in the late 70’s and early 80’s in summer, the heart of the Marching season. Catholics have their bonfires on the eve of the Assumption to balance out the protestant bonfires of July 10th and William of Orange. Volunteers stay inside that night, in the elementary school that housed us, neutral to it all. That year, a number of the volunteers. smoked. So after a few hours of singing and playing guitar, I stepped outside to clear my head from the smoke. I became aware of a man named Jackie O’Neil, walking the grounds to make sure we were safe. So we started chatting, there on the small hill overlooking the soccer pitch, with the road and then the low income housing project just past that, with its bonfire still visible over the top of the 2 story apartments. Suddenly, he stopped mid sentence, cocked head, and said something I won’t repeat here in Church. Then he said: “Achh! its started. They are shooting plastic bullets. Don’t you hear it?” And I did. Bang. Bang bang! Bang, bang, bang! And with this sinking feeling in the bit of my bones, there is this reaction of horror and sadness and frustration welling up within. Because less than a quarter of a mile from where I stood, invisible to me behind the buildings but audible – a RIOT had erupted. And I was frozen there in shock and sadness. Just then, the door where the students are gathered opens, and I can hear them singing. And they are singing: Puff the Magic Dragon. And I am standing literally between two completely different worlds. Then, as if a voice was speaking directly to my heart, I ‘heard’ the words: “Both of these worlds are created by the choices that people make.” In front of me – people from 1 country, 2 religions, and enough pent up frustration not to find a way to unity. Behind me, the volunteers were from 6 countries, 4 religions, an agnostic or two – but finding a way to be together. And the voice asked me so simply: “What world will YOU create with your life?
And I knew that with whatever I had left in my life, I would strive to create the world behind me – a world of community, a world of understanding, a world which did not minimize the differences between us but worked through those for a common good. Because it was infinitely preferable to the one going on right in front of me.
That is the vision that has captured my heart to this day. That is the moment I became a fisher of men and women for the kingdom of heaven.
That being told, let me offer an easy application of the gospel and then a more difficult one.
The Easy one – parents and grandparents. Share the story when you met your spouse, that moment when “You KNEW” s/he was the one; the day you got engaged and the day of your marriage. Pull out the wedding album and take your children and grandkids down that memory – to the moment that put a context on your life like no other. And use that as a way to talk about how you have worked TOGETHER since those moments to bring the kingdom of heaven about in this world through your sacrament.
The difficult one: As you read the continued coverage of our country’s inaugural weekend – what pulls at your heart in a good way to help create with the new administration? Maybe it is jobs. Maybe it is education. Maybe it is… who knows. And what tugs at you in warning in that “America First vision” – what seems out of kilter with the kingdom of heaven Jesus invites us to proclaim? And then simply hold that tension in your prayer these days, to see how and where Jesus might be calling you to get out of the boat and follow him.
For what I know with all my heart is that Jesus has never stopped interrupting people, whether it is on hillsides in Northern Ireland; or right in the middle of their fishing and mending and working – to invite them, as he invited Peter, Andrew, James and John – to become fishers of men and women for the kingdom….