Why God is ‘cool’
Once, a five-year-old kid asked me what “cool” meant. I said “cool” is someone who is always pleasant; someone who is good and calm, not easily upset or disturbed by what’s going on around him even if it is palpak. Then she said, “God is cool!”
From the mouth of babes, “God is cool.” Yes! But let’s get back to this at the end.
One of the most moving moments in my life as a priest came almost a year ago. I concelebrated at a Mass for the groundbreaking of a chapel in the province. The priest who celebrated the Mass said something that was so basic right before communion: “Christ came for our sins”—in the vernacular, of course.
I was overwhelmed by how that simple reminder sent almost all of the close to 40 construction workers and drivers lining up for communion. It was quite a humbling and grace-filled experience as hands calloused and dirty were held out to receive the Body of Christ.
Christ came “not for the righteous, but for sinners.” Our readings for this Sunday are eloquent reminders to us of this most basic “principle and foundation” of the story of our faith—that Christ came, died and rose again for us sinners.
We see this in the two narratives of the call of Isaiah and the call of Peter. There is the call, the refusal of the one called, the reassurance of the one who calls and the acceptance of the one who is called.
Both Isaiah and Peter were called, and both refused. The plea: “Please, no, I am a sinner.” Yet these two are among the biggest stars in the ongoing epic saga called salvation history, the redemption story.
Isaiah cries out: “Woe is me. I am doomed, for I am a man of unclean lips…” Then the dramatic acceptance of the call. The rest is history, so to speak.
Peter’s story is my favorite because it assures us of a God who calls us in a very personal way, a God who meets us where we are. Let us reflect on the story of Peter’s call and his journey to live it out. This is our story, too.
There are some key points I invite you to reflect on. One, the Lord goes to Peter, meets him where he is and, from there, calls him. Two, there is the initial non-recognition of Christ. Three, there is the recognition and the refusal of the call. Four, there is the re-issuance of the call, the commissioning. Five, there is the response to the call and the following of Christ.
In dramatic fashion, Christ goes to Peter and rides his boat as Peter comes in from his daily job of fishing. In Peter’s time, and up until a few centuries ago, one’s job or craft constituted one’s identity. Peter was the fishermen, son of Zebedee the fisherman, as Christ was the son of Joseph the carpenter.
Christ calls us in surroundings, and with signs and symbols familiar to us. Over a year ago, on the Feast of the Epiphany in 2012, I cited this quote from Paulo Coelho in “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept”:
“We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen. Everyday, God gives us the sun—and also one moment in which we have the ability to change everything that makes us unhappy. Everyday, we pretend we do not perceive that moment, that it doesn’t exist…. But if people really pay attention to their everyday lives, they will discover the magic moment.”
Such is the moment of our call. We will hear it in our “everyday lives,” but we must “pay attention” for it may come from the most unexpected source and at the least expected moment.
I have a classmate in college who was the class valedictorian of her high school class. She eventually went abroad where she finished college, and I assume earned an MBA. I heard that for years she was London-based, working in a bank. Then recently I found out she had come home and is now a chef. I know of an advertising executive who retired and is now a full-time painter.
Recently, I heard of a young lady who took BS Biology for her undergraduate degree, with the plan to pursue a medical career. Her father supported her, but after college, her plans changed.
She decided to teach in a public school, much to the disappointment of her father. When the father finally decided to visit her class, the disappointment turned into joy and pride. He saw the smiles on the faces of his daughter’s young students.
These are stories of “missed calls” because we fail to recognize and hear God’s call, because we were trained to listen wrongly. As Parker Palmer puts it, we are “trained away from our true selves.” We are raised to meet expectations of others.
Yet, the call is in us because Christ comes to us. As Theologian Frederick Buechner puts it: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Our deep gladness is in us. It is our deepest desire. It is our deepest passion. But we fail to recognize it, yet this is what leads us to our true calling.
Peter initially failed to recognize his own desire and passion. When he finally recognizes Christ, he still tries to shut him out: “Depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.” Then Christ meets him in his core: “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.”
Throughout the story of Peter, we see his amazing desire and passion. At first he was faltering, palpak. Fr. Frank Reilly, SJ, aptly called Peter impetuous, and such impetuousness, driven by his desire and passion, constantly reinforced his kapalpakan.
Then at the right moment, God transforms this kapalpakan into Peter’s greatest strength. Peter confesses his failures and his flaw, as we saw in today’s Gospel from Luke, but we see it again in the Gospel of John (John 21). After the Risen Christ asks Peter a third time, “Do you love me?”, Peter finally confesses and surrenders totally to God, “Lord, you know everything. You know well that I love you.”
The transformation now reaches its final stages. It leads Peter into becoming the leader of the early church. Then we see in the Acts of the Apostles Peter the leader. He tells the lame man: “Silver or gold, I have none, but what I have I give. In the name of Christ, walk!” Then in his final act of following Christ, he follows him all the way to death on the cross.
This is the pattern of the call of Peter and also our pattern: called, refused, reassured, responded with total offering of self—not the self as perfect, but the self in its imperfection and yet more and more in touch with our deepest authentic desire and passions. When we get in touch with this, we are at peace.
This is the promise of our Christian faith. If we are true to our selves, which is God’s call and mission for us, we will be “cool.” If we are “cool,” our world will be a better place.
If all hungers of the world are met by people’s deep gladness, would it not be a better world?