5TH SUNDAY 2013
Advertising is a well-defined science of “catching people”. It is designed to hook consumers and take their money, their time and their energy.
In today’s readings, Isaiah, Peter and Paul demonstrate the moral character necessary to become true “fishers of people.” Each of these individuals are brought to their knees by an encounter with the Divine. Isaiah, Peter and Paul fish for people because God has first caught them. Divine light reveals their unworthiness, and they respond appropriately. “Woe is me,” exclaims Isaiah. “I am a man of unclean lips.” The vision of God’s holiness, the tremendous mystery, leads Isaiah to confess his sense of utter unworthiness.
In today’s second reading, Paul says that he is “the least of the apostles” and “unfit.” Peter tells Jesus to leave him, “for I am a sinful man.” Simon knows that he is present before the power of God himself. Simon is overcome by his own smallness and unworthiness. "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man."
So we have a problem. Isn’t the experience of God supposed to lead us to peace, forgiveness, and joy, these instead of shame?
Rather, in the light of love and goodness, they recognize their true place in reality. The New Yorker magazine ran a wonderful cartoon of a psychiatrist and his patient. The caption has him saying to her, "Madam, please do not get angry. I'm only trying to save you money. You should feel guilty." The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen said that instead of becoming penitents many of us become patients. Guilt is only paralyzing when it is divorced from love.
Each of these men had been forced to compare himself directly with the presence of God. When they met the holiness of God head-on, they were able to see their own lack of integrity and shortcomings. Experience of God let them understand that they are far, far less than God. This is not bad, it is good. God can make us holy, our own efforts cannot. So, in each Mass we echo the Roman centurion when he says, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
It seems that humility, acknowledging ones unworthiness is key. Before each and every Communion we proclaim our unworthiness, and yet, moments later, we stand ready to receive. Strangely enough, true humility, the awareness of our weakness, prepares us to be God’s ambassadors. The moment we recognize our inadequacy, our sin, our smallness before the greatness of the transcendent God, we are capable of truly being called. When God is heard to say, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah responds, “Here I am. Send me.” He is empowered, not paralyzed.
Isaiah’s call comes to him as a sheer miracle of grace. Note the contrast between his initial reluctance in reaction to the vision and the confidence with which he finally accepts the call.
In this Gospel story Peter begins by allowing Jesus to take command of his boat. He moves to allowing Jesus to take command of his heart, openly confessing the truth about himself; "I am a sinful man". Finally, he allows Jesus to take command of his whole life; "left everything and followed him".
Like Peter, we are to allow Jesus to take command of us—our possessions, our hearts, our lives.
Once Isaiah has announced his unworthiness, his unclean lips are cleansed; his guilt and sin are blotted out. Once Peter is on his knees, he is ready to fish for people. St. Paulsays it best: “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
We might argue whether we as a Church trying to “Catch people”, need to advertise with glossy TV Ads, but we do need to try to “catch others”.
During this period of Lent the Diocese is distributing “Confession Kit” cards encouraging all especially those who have been away from the worshipping Church to receive the Sacrament. Fr. Al and I will be available Wed. evening 7-9 pm. “Confession isn’t as scary as you think”, is the message. If you download the Kit and see the examination of conscience regarding sin, do you accept the list of sins? That might be a good topic for one of our Lenten discussion series.
I hope that when anyone comes to Fr. Al or I, we create an environment when you are able to do the two things necessary for change of heart. We confess like Isaiah, Paul and Peter: I am unworthy; I am unclean. We experience that God accepts us as we are and we shout “Here am I! Send me.”
It is safe to be vulnerable because we are in loving hands.It is safe to surrender because we fall into light, not darkness. It is safe to be weak because the strength we need is found when we give up on our own power. It is safe to give ourselves over without fear because, as faith teaches, in the end, all will be well.
Having a relationship with the Divine is not reserved for prophets and saints. God wishes to connect with each of us. Our stories may not be as dramatic as the biblical ones recounted today, but each of us has a unique salvation history. Are we attentive to the way God moves in our lives? Do we recognize how we though sinful people with unclean lips have been brought to stand in the presence of God?
“They followed” him; discipleship does not mean merely walking behind someone. Following Jesus means listening to his word and emulating his commitment to God and to his mission. Followers of Jesus become extensions of him in the world.
As Teresa of Avila put it: “Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion to the world.”
Jesus tells Peter to “Launch out into the deep.” It is a great phrase and one that could be the motto of any Christian. Boats are not meant to stay in harbors, they are designed and built to cross the seas. And just as those who fish must go where the fish are, so should disciples be willing to leave secure but sometimes isolated institutions in order to bring the message of salvation to others where they live, work or recreate.