Sermon at the Sung Eucharist on the Third Sunday of Epiphany 2020
Individuals have felt themselves beckoned, called, led in a new direction.
The Reverend Ralph Godsall Priest Vicar
Sunday, 26th January 2020 at 11.00 AM
When I was an undergraduate at Cambridge in the late nineteen sixties two people significantly helped me to see more clearly the direction my life after university might take. Both were baptised members of the Church, but they could not have been more different in the way each of them had responded to the calling they believed they had received directly from Jesus Christ. One of them was Fr Camilo Torres, a Colombian priest working among the poor in Latin America. The other was Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Camilo Torres was the son of a successful doctor. He became first a priest, and then a professor of sociology at the Jesuit University in Bogota. Always sympathetic to the plight of the poor, he gradually became more and more depressed about the possibility of bettering their lot through legal means. In the end he left his job at the university and joined a guerrilla band in the Andes mountains. Shortly afterwards he was killed in a skirmish with government forces, but not before he had said such startling things as ‘The Catholic who is not a revolutionary is living in mortal sin.’ Here was a Christian who believed that love for God and the poor had to be expressed through political activism, or it was not love, and who for his conviction was prepared to lay down his life as the member of a guerrilla band.
Mother Teresa, on the other hand, was not primarily concerned with political activism but with individuals. She took the dying and the leprous off the streets of Calcutta and tried through sympathetic human concern to make their last hours and days a little brighter. She knew it was only a drop of kindness compared with the great ocean of misery, but she believed that to show something of the love of God to a few wretched individuals who counted for nothing in the eyes of the world was desperately worth doing.
Two people with very different ideologies - the one concerned with radical change, the other with the care of individuals. But they had this in common. They both felt called by God to their particular work.
For Camilo Torres this came, as it did for me, when he was at university. He went one day to a scene of great natural beauty. This is how he later described what happened to him:
‘The immensity of that place, the silence, the tropical explosion of life, of sun impressed me very much. I began to be disturbed. I wanted to be alone. I realised that life as I understood it, as I was living it, lacked meaning. I thought I could be more useful socially. I was then faced with the great problem; where and how could I be more useful? I analysed the professions one by one. Medicine, law, engineering, chemistry? None of these. What about the seminary? I told myself that the immensity of that place had helped me find God. It was the solution. It seemed to me a total solution. The most logical. I returned to Bogota determined to enter the monastery of the Dominicans.’
And that, despite strong family opposition, he did.
As we might expect, Mother Teresa described her call without the slightest trace of adornment. She was already a nun, very happy teaching and in charge of a school, and then what she describes as her second call came.
‘In 1946 I was going to Darjeeling to make my retreat. It was in that train I heard the call to give up all and follow him into the slums, to serve him amongst the poorest of the poor. I knew it was his will, and that I had to follow him.’
Neither Camilo Torres nor Mother Teresa had ticker-tape across their mind or voices in their heads. They simply had a conviction, which they could neither deny nor resist, that their lives had to change and move in a new direction.
Another who heard God’s call was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. One of the very few things we know about Andrew is that he was with Peter by the Sea of Galilee and Jesus asked him to follow him – which, we hear, he did without delay. Whether Andrew had met Jesus before this or not, we cannot say. All we know is that at some crucial point Andrew, together with Peter, James and John, recognised that in and through Jesus Christ God was speaking to each of them, calling them to leave their fishing nets and instead to ‘fish for people’.
This morning, in the season of Epiphany, we are reminded that individuals have felt themselves beckoned, called, led in a new direction. Sometimes, as with Mother Teresa, it has been when a person has been very happy and settled. Sometimes the word of God has broken through to an individual through the beauty of the natural world and the scandal of human poverty as with Fr Camilo Torres. Sometimes it has come to individuals when they have been alone. Sometimes it has come through the words and encouragement of another.
But in whatever way, we thank God at this eucharist for all who have heard his call and have responded with daring and self-sacrificial living. And we pray that God will help us to see more clearly the direction our lives – and the life of this church - should take in the future.