Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 10, 2019 Cycle C

by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.B., Chaplain,
Saint John Paul II National Shrine,
 Washington, D.C.

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In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today’s readings help us to understand Christian vocation. Let us focus on three key words: encounter, unworthiness and mission.

Today’s first reading tells us about the vocation of the prophet Isaiah. He had a glimpse of God’s glory while he was in the temple and saw angels singing: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” (Is 6:3). At each Mass, we repeat these angelic words in the Sanctus, which prepare us for the miracle of the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the real presence of God, in our temples.  Isaiah had a powerful experience of God’s presence: “At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke” (Is 6:4).

Today’s Gospel tells us that Peter’s calling happened in a completely different way. While Isaiah’s encounter with God in the first reading took place in the temple during worship, Simon Peter’s encounter with Jesus occurs in an open space while he is at work mending his nets, after an unsuccessful night of fishing. Jesus boards Peter’s boat and preaches to the crowd from it. Then he poses an unusual challenge to Peter and his friends: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4). Peter, impressed by this strange rabbi’s preaching, accepts the challenge. Even though it was not the time for fishing, he casts the fishing nets into the water. A miracle occurs: “(…) they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking” (Lk 5:6‒7). In the first reading, Isaiah perceived the presence of God amidst the splendor of the temple. Here, Peter perceived the presence of the divine in the superabundance of the fish caught. Peter recognizes God’s presence in Christ. The miraculous catch of fish reveals Jesus’ mysterious origin. Peter falls at Jesus’ knees in adoration: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus” (Lk 5:8).

 Isaiah, Paul and Peter’s astonishment at their encounters with the living God was followed by an overpowering sense of unworthiness. Isaiah exclaimed: “I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Is 6:5). In the second reading, Saint Paul says: “Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor 15:8). Like Isaiah and Paul, Peter feels unworthy and asks Jesus to leave him alone: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8).

To feel unworthy of divine grace is a sign of true encounter with God,  which leads  to purification of heart. We are decentered and need to re-center our lives in God. Isaiah was aware of the sharp contrast between God’s holiness and his sinfulness. However, the grace of the vision also brings the grace of purification. Contemplation of God purifies our hearts. God’s luminous presence conquers our darkness. It is God himself who purifies our impurity with the fire of his love, symbolized by the burning coal from his altar: “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it, and said, ‘See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged’” (Is 6:6‒7).

Perception of unworthiness and purification of heart are followed by mission. Isaiah tells us his experience: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send?  Who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am,’ I said; ‘send me!’” (Is 6:8). Jesus says to Peter: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him” (Lk 5:11). Mission means to be sent by God to bear witness of our personal conversion.

May the Holy Spirit help us to live our Christian vocation. May renewed personal encounter with Christ purify our hearts and allow us to bear witness to our faith.  Amen.

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