Readings:Isaiah 6:1-8Psalms 138:1-5, 7-81 Corinthians 15:1-11Luke 5:1-11Every time we have the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist we are reminded several times, lest we forget, of our own sinfulness. It is not an attempt to beat us up liturgically, but rather it is an attempt to remind us of one of the keys to spiritual life. We begin the Mass with a Penitential Rite (the confiteor, etc.), acknowledging that we are a people of faults, failings, and sins, and that we are in need of God’s forgiveness. Before the most solemn moment of the reception of the Eucharist we momentarily acknowledge our unworthiness to receive the Body of Christ, while also acknowledging that God needs to “speak but the word and my soul shall be healed.” From that first original sin in the Garden of Eden the fate of human kind has not changed.
The liturgy for this fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time presents us with three examples of individuals who were keenly aware of their own sinfulness, yet that awareness of that sinfulness did not keep them from accomplishing the great things that God expected of them.
In our first reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, Isaiah is granted a vision of heaven, and as Isaiah watches the Cherubim and Seraphim sing their praises, and smoke (incense) fill the room, he realizes that he is in trouble, “doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” Only after the experience of God’s forgiveness, symbolized in the burning ember taken from the altar, is Isaiah’s fear turned into the power to do something special, to do “something beautiful for God” (St. Theresa of Calcutta). Like so many of the prophets, Isaiah was not always happy with the prophetic role he was called upon to play, but he was among the greatest of prophets, preaching God’s word in good times and in bad, striving always to bring comfort to God’s people.
St. Paul’s humility shines through in the beautiful second reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. In our passage Paul speaks of the gospel, faithfully handed down through the apostles, even to him. Paul’s awareness of his own failings haunts him throughout his life, and is so clearly obvious when he tells us: “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace to me has not been ineffective.” When one thinks of the Christian communities founded, nourished, and nurtured by Paul, the last comment by Paul is a bit of an understatement.
Lastly, the liturgy presents to us the complex figure of Simon Peter, who we meet for the first time in Luke’s gospel. Peter meets Jesus for the first time also, although his calling Jesus “Master” leaves one to believe that, at the very least, he knew something of this itinerant preacher from Nazareth. Peter doesn’t seem surprised when, at the end of the day, Jesus gets in his boat and asks Peter to put his boat a short distance from the shore; far enough to avoid the crowd; far enough for the crowd to hear Him preach. Peter was very happy to oblige Jesus’ first request, but a little less happy to honor His second request: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets (that had just been cleaned) for a catch.” After all, Peter had heard Jesus’ trade to be that of carpentry, and Peter, a professional fisherman, had “worked hard all night” and caught nothing. Who was this preacher telling Peter how to perform his craft?
Peter was only just beginning to discover who this Jesus was. He was the Master of the seas and all that was in them. So overwhelming was the catch of fish the newly cleaned nets were bursting. The extraordinary number of fish were threatening to sink both boats, even with the help of Peter’s partners and their boat. All were astonished.
Although the catch had nothing to do with Peter’s expert sense of fishing, remember he didn’t really want to go, he is humbled, and at the outset of Luke’s gospel he suggests Jesus stay away from him for he was a “sinful man.” Was Peter’s ability to recognize his sinfulness all that Jesus needed to know about him, and about his usefulness to the mission that was just beginning?
The liturgy today shows us three individuals whose singular awareness of their own sinfulness made them worthy instruments for God’s purpose. Indeed, we could go so far as to suggest that it is essential for all men and women striving to do the will of God to possess a similar awareness. The summit of perfection is not possessing perfection, but rather striving for perfection even while knowing how weighed down we are by sin. It is the “happy fault” sung of at the Easter Vigil that gives God the ability to work with us and to fill up what is lacking in our own nature. Would Isaiah, Paul, or Peter, or the countless number of saints that have gone before us, achieved any success at all without facing their shortcomings? Recognizing our faults leads us to the threshold of humility, and allows us to see how great things can be accomplished through us by God. As we start every liturgy so may we start every day, with a keen awareness of our own faults and failings that leads us to a better understanding of the ever-loving and merciful God who calls us to serve Him with joy and happiness.

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