Have you ever gone on a road trip?  I mean the kind of trip that takes you far from home, where you’ll be in a car for hours on end with the same three or four people.  The kind of trip where you have a destination in mind, but where the journey is often more fun and exciting than the destination?

I can remember going on a trip like that when I was in college.  It was spring break, and three of my buddies from church jumped into my ’94 Ford Explorer with our sights set on the ski slopes of Durango, Colorado.  We packed our bags, loaded up on snacks, strapped our skis to the roof, and away we went.  We had never been there before, and we didn’t have smartphones to guide us.  Just a paper map and a sense of adventure.

The trip was one of discovery.  The four of us were little more than acquaintances with a shared interest before the trip, but by the end of the trip we had grown in knowledge of each other and even of ourselves.  There were moments of joy and laughter and of moments of tension.  There were moments of trust and moments of disappointment.  But in the end, the joy of the journey kept our spirits soaring the whole week thru.

As Deacon Denver mentioned last week, we have begun a new season, the season of Ordinary Time, or Time throughout the Year, as it is called in Latin.  And in this season when we wear green vestments, we enter into a time of a different character.  For, while in Christmas we celebrated the coming of Jesus in the flesh, and at Easter we will celebrate his Passion, Death and Resurrection, the time that we call ordinary has a different feel to it, and I say it’s far from ordinary.  It’s the feeling of going on a road trip.

As you may know, the readings we hear at Sunday Mass are on a three-year cycle, and this year we are in cycle B.  That means that this year, we have a quasi-continuous read-thru of the gospel of Mark.  It’s important to keep this in mind, to place each Sunday in the context of the whole year.  Here we are in chapter 1 of Mark’s gospel, and it is like the beginning of a road trip.  Jesus is beginning his public ministry, and he is calling on certain people to go with him on the road.

Mark’s entire gospel has the sort of feel of a road trip. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus makes one great journey to Jerusalem. On the road with him, Jesus’ disciples hear wisdom from him and see him in his true glory. It is a journey of discovery.  The disciples gradually move from a sort of curiosity about Jesus to a certain turning point, when they finally realize that he is the Son of God.  Then, they continue on the road, no longer as mere spectators, but as intentional disciples, convinced of who Jesus is, and what he requires of them if they are to be his disciples.

Frequently, Mark references this road.  And whenever he does so, there is a decision that must be made—will the disciples continue to stay on the road, and follow him, or will they leave the road, and go back to their former ways of life?  This road trip of discipleship seems to fall apart in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus is arrested, and “[the Apostles] all left him and fled.”[1]  But, at the cross, we read that there were many women present who had followed him from Galilee.  Finally, when the risen Jesus appeared to the Apostles once again, they once again set out on the road, proclaiming the gospel to every creature.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  This week we are just at the beginning of the road trip.  Now, If the gospel reading from this week sounds familiar, there’s a good reason for that.  Just last week we heard the very same story from chapter 1 of John’s gospel, the call of the first disciples.  Just like my college road trip to Durango, the whole journey starts out with a call, an invitation.  One might even call it…a vocation.

A vocation is a call.  And Jesus calls us each personally to be his disciples, to follow him on the road to eternal life.  That road is a journey of discovery, in which we discover, little by little, this God who has revealed himself to us.  We discover that this God is love, and that he has created all things out of love.  We, ourselves, are created by love and we are created for love.  And, since we come from love and are destined for love, we can discern that our primary vocation, or first call, is to love.  That call comes from Jesus, and is exemplified by him, who gave up his own life to love his bride, the Church.

All Christians are called to live out our lives doing acts of love.  And it is from this primary vocation that we discover our own particular vocation.  It’s like peeling back the layers of an onion.  Just like the layers of an onion, there are many “layers” of love.  Just think of the relationships we have to the people in our lives.  Some people are acquaintances, some are close friends, and some we love more intimately, and we desire to give our own lives away to serve that beloved person.

We would do well here to remember what exactly we mean by love.  Love, by definition, is to do the good for another person, regardless of the cost to yourself.  It is more than an emotion/feeling.  It is lived out in action.  As St. John Paul II wrote in his Theology of the Body, True love has these four characteristics:

  • Free
  • Full/ total
  • Faithful
  • Fruitful

If we seek to love authentically, we must love freely, fully, faithfully, and fruitfully.  When we do, we are drawn into service of Jesus Christ and of our neighbors.

Yet, each of us must discern how we are being called to serve Christ and our neighbor.  In this how we discover our particular vocation.  Some of us will be called to love one woman or one man, and this call leads us into the vocation of Holy Matrimony.  Some women will be called to love Jesus alone, in a spiritual marriage to Jesus, and this call is realized in taking religious vows and entering a religious community.  Some men will be called to love the Church of Jesus Christ, and to carry out the offices of teaching, governing and sanctifying the Church in the ministerial priesthood.  All of these vocations flow from and lead to that primary vocation, the call to love.

When I entered the seminary, I was in a new place, with new people all around me.  We all came from different places and backgrounds, but we all had one thing in common—our love for Jesus Christ.  Naturally, we got to know each other, and we learned about each other’s talents, skills, and experiences.  One was a coach, another a law student, another a pilot, another a rancher.  One could play the organ, another could play football.  One was younger, one older, one from a rich family, one from a poor family.  Yet, all of us were called by Christ.

I also found it intriguing how several of us, in fact, nearly all of us, had some sense of hesitation in answering our vocations.  Mostly it had to do with something we had to give up.  Whether it was giving up marriage or wealth or comfort, there was something we each had to leave behind.

It is just like the Apostles in the gospel we just heard.  They left their nets, their boats, even their families in order to follow Christ.  But for all they left behind, Jesus did not ask them to give up who they were at their core.  Their occupations changed, but they were able to put their talents, skills, and experiences at the service of the gospel.  Their personalities, quirks, and habits were all part of how they lived out their vocations.  And that’s what I discovered in my own vocation to the priesthood.  God does not destroy who we are—he makes us more of who we are.

Young men, I urge you to consider and pray about whether Jesus is calling you to the priesthood.  The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few.

Young ladies, I urge you to consider and pray about whether Jesus is calling you to be spiritually married to him on this earth, as a sign of the kingdom to come.

Parents, I implore you to encourage your children to consider a religious vocation, and not to discourage them if they discover that Jesus is calling them there.  Be an example of a Catholic couple united in Holy Matrimony.  Pray with your children.

And all Christians, pray daily and listen to the call of Jesus.  How is he calling you to follow him?  How is he calling you to love?  May we all answer the call of Jesus and walk with him on the greatest road trip of all time.

[1] Mark 14:50