The following is Bishop Caggiano’s January 21, 2024 Sunday homily
My dear sisters and brothers, as it was true in the time of Jesus, it still remains true even in our own age, among our sisters and brothers of the jewish faith that are orthodox in their practice, that one of the greatest privileges a young man can receive is to be called, that is, chosen by a rabbi to be trained so that one day he himself may become a rabbi.
Usually the boy was perhaps ten years old, a boy that showed promise, intellect and talent. And he would go off months at a time to be with the rabbi, to learn from him, to learn from his example, to be able to be formed so that one day he might be an authority in the law. So with that, in the back of our minds, we can understand why the apostles reacted the way they did, because in their 20s, that call they must have thought was long gone. And now suddenly, this extraordinary rabbi appears and calls them to come to follow Him. The excitement, the enthusiasm, the zeal.
St. Mark tells us that they left their nets. And you know what that meant? They left their family. They left their obligation to care for their family.
They left their parents, especially their fathers, who depended on them to make sure their family had enough food. They left their social status, they left their security, they left everything in the enthusiasm to follow this rabbi who said, come, follow Me. Extraordinary. But what the apostles did not realize is that there are nets and there are nets. There are the things that you can give up in the enthusiasm of the moment.
And then with the sober passage of time, there is the need to learn what one must really give up to follow this extraordinary rabbi, who is far more than any rabbi. And in the journey of their life, they began to realize that they had nets that you could not see, but nets that they found very hard to give up. For example, the fact that the apostles would argue among themselves as to was the greatest among them, for they still sought privilege and status. And the Lord said, that’s a net you gotta get rid of. Or when the crowds began to turn against Jesus and they began to murmur amongst themselves, Jesus said to them, if you’re to follow Me, you have to leave your fear for your own safety behind.
And of course, when the Lord faced the moment of His passion, we know the apostles ran. But the call did not end, for the Lord called them back in His mercy. And once forgiven and receiving the grace of the Holy Spirit, they let go of all the rest of the nets that entangled them, held them, tripped them, including their many sins. And then they walked to the ends of the earth, free to follow the One who called them. Why do I tell you all this, my friends, is because you and I have been chosen by Christ, have we not?
On the day of our baptism, you and I walk in the footsteps of the Lord. You and I, because we are in this church, have given up much for the Lord. And the Lord rewards us, does He not? Whatever we give up, He gives us a hundredfold in his mercy, love, forgiveness and grace for His consolation and power. However, there is not a person in this church, myself included, who still does not at one time or another, cling to our nets.
Something in your life and mine we have not given over. And as we prepare for Lent, which, my friends, is not far away, the beginning of Lent is Valentine’s day of all days. So I’m telling you now, celebrate Valentine’s Day on the 13th, not the 14 February. It is not far away. Perhaps we can use these few weeks to prepare, to ask ourselves the question, what is it that is entangling me from following the Lord, for example?
We live in a world – you have often heard me describe it as self absorbed. It’s all about me. Well, is your opinion or mine? Your thoughts or mine?
Is your stance on things or mine more important than following the Lord? Who may choose otherwise? Do we resist to do things my way rather than His way? How much do we fear when people will oppose us because we walk in the footsteps of this extraordinary Savior? Rabbi, do we say, like the rest of the world, well, that’s enough.
Enough is enough. If you do more than this, you’re like a fanatic. “This is good enough.” Is it? And then, of course, you and I all come here with our sins, some of them known to us, quite frankly, some that may not be known to you or to me.
And yet they don’t just simply hold us back. They trip us. The nets literally prevent us from moving forward, whatever it is. My friends, may I suggest we spend the next few weeks looking ourselves in the mirror and not just celebrating what we have already given up to follow Christ, but what we have not yet. So that in the weeks of Lent, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may learn one finger at a time to let go.
Because only then, with His freedom, can we follow Him wherever he asks us to go.
For my dear friends, the apostles set free with all their nets gone, walked to the ends of the earth. The question for you and I is, are we willing to follow their example?