Last Sunday the Church reminded us of our privileged call to be God’s prophets and messengers. On this fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, she reminds us that though we are utterly unworthy to be God’s messengers, Christ cleanses us from our sins and gives us the strength to say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” He is the one that makes us worthy missionaries. These feelings and expressions of unworthiness were marks of humility on Isaiah who said, “I am a man of unclean lips,” on Paul who admitted: “I am the least of the apostles,” and on Peter who pleaded: “Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”
They acknowledged their unworthiness, weaknesses and vulnerabilities before God. They acknowledged the fact that they were not worthy to bear the sacred message of God. Their feelings and humility were indirect means of drawing God’s attention to the fact that they needed his grace and blessing in order to succeed. Of course, God knew all these before choosing them. It did not matter to him whether they were weak or strong. God is simply the one who sanctifies and makes us worthy for his work.
Today’s Scripture Readings challenge us to discern God’s call to each one of us to become his disciple with a mission. We are asked to recognize God’s holy presence and acknowledge our unworthiness – due to our sinfulness – to become humble instruments in his hands, as the Prophet Isaiah did in the first Reading; as St. Paul did in the second Reading, and as St. Peter did in today’s Gospel.
In today’s first Reading, God permitted Isaiah to experience his magnificence in a vision in the Temple of Jerusalem. Experiencing the glory of God, Isaiah at once confessed his unworthiness, calling out, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” In the presence of God’s holiness, Isaiah became painfully aware of his own sinful human nature. However, when cleansed by God, he was ready for his ministry: “Here I am. Send me!” God gave him the courage to speak his word, interpret his will, and call his people and their leaders to repent and return to God’s way. Today’s scene from Isaiah is recalled in every Mass. Before reading the Gospel, the priest silently asks God to cleanse his lips that he might worthily proclaim His Word.
Today’s second Reading describes the call of another great apostle, Paul, who judges himself to be unworthy of the name or the call, as he was a former persecutor of the Christians and as he was the last apostle selected by the Risen Lord.
The story of the miraculous catch of fish described in today’s Gospel is similar to the post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus recounted in John 21:4-14. In both accounts, the apostles at first fail to recognize who Jesus IS, then receive a revelation of his true identity. This prompts a full confession of faith from Simon Peter to which Jesus responds by commissioning him as the representative of the disciples. In this sense, both narratives are epiphanies in which Jesus reveals himself to the world as the Messiah – for Jesus does what only God can do. The point of this story lies, not in the miraculous catch, but in the confession of Peter and his commissioning by Jesus. It was the miraculous catch of fish at Jesus’ command, described in today’s Gospel, which enabled Peter to find God in Jesus and prompted him to surrender his life fully to Jesus’ service as a full-time disciple. The Second Vatican Council teaches that we are all called to Christ’s ministry by virtue of our Baptism into Jesus Christ.
The Church advises us that we need to pray that our encounters with the holiness of God may lead us to recognize our sinfulness. The Good News of today’s Gospel is that our sinfulness – our pride and self-centeredness – does not repel God. Our God is a God who gives sinners a new start and it is important that we acknowledge our sinfulness. Our response must be modelled on that of the tax collector in the parable: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” (Lk 18:13). The recognition of our inadequacy and sinning is necessary for us if we are to be willing and able to receive transformation through God’s grace. Isaiah, Paul, and Peter teach us that even the greatest person among us stands in need of conversion. God, who calls us and commissions us for his service, wants us to realize his presence everywhere and in everyone, to repent of our sins, and to remain in readiness to speak and act for him in our life-circumstances as he shall direct.
We need to teach and practise expressions of reverence for the Lord. Today’s world desperately needs a “revival of reverence.” We need both to recognize God as God and to express that reverence for God through appropriate bodily gestures.
For example, when we come into the Church, we enter the presence of Jesus dwelling in the Tabernacle. We need absolute SILENCE and only talk when it is absolutely necessary. We need to remember that this is his house, a part of Heaven, and we need to express that remembrance by making a deep bow toward Jesus present in the Tabernacle, or, if we are able to kneel, by genuflecting on the right knee before we enter the pew. We should offer him the same reverent recognition when we leave the Church and Jesus’ Sacramental Presence. We might also remember to give a slight bow of the head whenever we hear or say the name of Jesus. The new regulation of bowing one’s head before receiving Communion is another beautiful act of reverence. True reverence for God naturally leads us to the reverent, respectful love of neighbour.
So the heart of our mission as Christians, is really to find Jesus hidden in our neighbours, and to accept his challenge to us – to love him, to have compassion on him, to practise justice toward him, to be kind to him there. Then it becomes easier for us to forgive injury as Jesus did, and to be reconciled to those with whom we have difficulties. Thus, our mission, as Jesus’ disciples, is to seek, to find, and to respond to him in all people and events.
Finally, each of us has a unique mission in the Church. God has a different call for each of us. Because each of us is unique, each of us has a mission which no one else can fulfill. God will use us all and, particularly what is unique in us, to bring this mission to fulfillment. Our response must be like that of Isaiah, “Here I am, Lord…send me.” – “I’ll do it. I’ll play my part. I’ll speak to that neighbor, that co-worker, that friend, that relative. I’ll talk to my daughter about the way she is rearing her children. I’ll keep my mouth shut and refuse to gossip or criticize my colleagues or my bosses. I’ll pray every day. I’ll learn to listen patiently to those in need. With your help, I’ll do it.” God bless us all.
Fr. Jude CSSp