Monday, February 8, 2010

Homily for the 5th Sunday
of Ordinary Time
Feb. 7, 2010
Isaiah 6: 1-8
Luke 5: 1-11
Christian Brothers, Iona College
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“Here I am! Send me!” (Is 6: 8).

Last week Jeremiah’s call, which he tried to dodge (Jer 1:4-5,17-19); this week the call of Isaiah, eagerly accepted, and the call of the 1st disciples, accepted in awe.

Jeremiah was hesitant on account of his youth, frightened of the opposition that prophets almost inevitably meet. Isaiah and Simon Peter tremble before the awesome holiness of God; but they respond to invitations to enter that holiness in some fashion, if we may say that, to become associated with it; further, to be its messengers, to bring it to others.

Isaiah’s 1st reaction on encountering the thrice-holy God—the biblical way of saying the all-holy God, the incomparably holy God—is, “Woe is me; I am doomed!” (6:5). No sinner can approach God, much less look on him, and live. Recall the scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the Nazis are vaporized when they open the ark, and only Indiana Jones and his girl are saved because they look away.

But Isaiah isn’t vaporized. Instead, he’s cleansed: “Your wickedness is removed; your sin is purged” (6:7). God’s holiness doesn’t push his people away but makes them clean. Furthermore, God wants his cleansing power, his salvation, to be known and appreciated. So he wants a messenger to go and announce it—this same sinner whom he has cleansed: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” (6:8). Isaiah seems to be the only human present. The call is meant for him.

Something like that goes on with Simon, too. Seeing the power of God at work in Jesus—no doubt he’s already sensed it in Jesus’ preaching, for he addresses Jesus as Master and carries out his instructions (5:5)—but seeing that divine power perform a work unexplainable by all of Simon’s professional experience on the lake, Simon knows he’s unworthy to be near this awe-full power, this presence that inspires awe, fear and trembling. He falls prostrate before Jesus (5:8) and urges him to leave: Simon’s unworthy of Jesus’ presence; Simon’s sins will pollute Jesus. Part of the idea of holiness, of sacredness, is separation, being set apart from what is common, ordinary, tainted and unclean from everyday use if not by moral uncleanness. So Jesus should keep clear of Simon and his sort. In this, Simon seems to speak also for his crew and his partners: “for astonishment at the catch of fish…seized all those with him” (5:9).

Jesus’ reply to Simon is somewhat different from the reply Isaiah received. 1st, Simon’s urged not to be afraid. In Jesus Christ, God’s holiness isn’t to be feared. In Jesus God wants to come close to sinners. 2d, there’s no question about whom Jesus will send on mission. Instead, Simon’s told what his mission will be: “From now on you’ll catch men instead of fish” (5:10). Furthermore, the Greek word translated as “catch,” ζωγρών (zogrón), denotes “one who captures alive.” (It has the same root as zoology.) Simon will catch people for life, to keep them alive; he will be an instrument of God’s salvation.

The similarity between Isaiah and Simon is the readiness to accept the mission. Isaiah acclaimed, “Here I am! Send me!” Simon—and his partners—“left everything and followed” Jesus (5:11).

As an aside of sorts, note that all the dialog in the story has been between Jesus and Simon, and Jesus’ words, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you’ll catch men,” are addressed to Simon alone, in the singular. But in some sense Simon has been speaking also for his partners and perhaps some of his crew, and they take their lead from him. He’s already their leader and spokesman, as he will be for the Twelve and for the Christian community.

"Here I am! Send me!” has been the response of other Christian disciples, other missionaries. It was the famous reply of the young priest Francis de Sales when the bishop of Geneva called for a volunteer to go one a dangerous and not very promising mission into the Chablais region and try to convert the Calvinist population back to Catholicism. Francis had already dealt with terrible fear—fear of damnation—as a student in Paris, and had come to know God’s love and wish that everyone be saved—the antithesis of Calvinism. And over a 4-year period he was almost 100% successful in bringing that message of love to the Chablais and winning the people back.

In the last week I’ve been working with an essay submitted by an even younger missionary, a college student who has gone 2 or 3 times from Southern California to the Salesian youth centers in Tijuana. He was impelled to that, he writes, by a profound experience of God—not with seraphim and Holy Holy’s and flaming embers—but by reflection and conversation. “Our talk made me reflect on everything about my life,” this young man writes of a long conversation with a friend. “As I reflected, I realized God’s true greatness. I thanked Him for everything. I told Him I was ready to surrender my life, everything, over to him that morning. Shortly after this experience on my porch, a good friend invited me to go to Tijuana for a short missionary trip.” And off he went, and again on a longer stint, and he’s also recruited fellow students.

People who’ve met the Lord God, people who’ve experienced the Holy, people who’ve come to know that God loves them want to share all that, to “catch” others in that love, in salvation. Isn’t that why we became religious? Didn’t we answer the call “Whom shall I send?” In our rite of religious profession—I don’t know about yours—and in the rite of ordination, the candidate’s name is called, and he responds, “I am ready and willing”—“Here I am!” He (or she) accepts the invitation to follow Jesus and carry out his mission. May God keep us in love with him and keep us eager to answer, “Here I am! Send me!” and let us preach his word, spread his message, however we may at this point in our lives. May we really be his instruments of salvation for many souls.

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