Isaiah 6:1–2a,3–8; 1 Cor. 15:1–11; Luke 5:1–11
I’m going to tell you a little about a lesser known side of me, unless you’ve read my blog. I have practiced martial arts of various kinds since I was in my mid-20s, even before that actually, but much more seriously starting when I was about 24. I got into it primarily for the mental discipline and fitness aspects, but also for practical self defense. I can remember the first time I had a serious sparring match. I was naturally really nervous, as you might expect. But I realized that I was in the hands of people who understood what they were about, and I was in a controlled environment. So I stepped out in trust, and when my first match was over, I felt the exhilaration of the experience and of winning my first match. I encountered that many times after, and I’ve experienced it in many other ways—as a musician, as a consultant, and even as a newly ordained deacon preaching for my first time.
There are some experiences you cannot have unless you set aside all trepidation and step out in faith: sparring, sky diving, mountain climbing. And if we don’t step out in faith, we often regret the lost opportunity.
Of course this goes for opportunities for worldly experiences, those that give us opportunity for travel, excitement, and advancement; but it’s no different in the spiritual world. We get invitations to step out in faith all… the… time, but we don’t see them as such. We don’t experience fear so much as doubt. We think, “I’d like to go on that Cursillo retreat, but I’ve seen some of those guys come back really overzealous.” Or “I’d like to try a mission trip, but I don’t know if I could deal with those people’s hardship.”
It’s easy for us to talk ourselves out of hard choices, and believe me, I am very good at taking the easy path myself! But we always regret not facing up to the challenges that we know will change us.
The first reading from Isaiah follows several chapters in which Isaiah finds himself hearing God’s plan for the people of Israel. Then he finds himself in the very presence of God! The traditional understanding of scripture said that one could not see the face of God and live, yet here he was seeing God in His heavenly court! Listen to his own words: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For 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!” He understands the danger he faces.
Then one of the seraphim swoops down with a burning coal, touches it to Isaiah’s lips, and declares him pure. The word seraphim shares the same root as the Hebrew word for burning and for a serpent whose bite causes burning infection. But this burning purifies Isaiah. The trial Isaiah undergoes purifies him so that he can speak God’s word. Once he is purified, he hears God ‘s question: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah says, “No way! No one will believe me!”
Okay, that’s not what Isaiah says. He is at first fearful, but once he is cleansed, he says, “Here I am! Send me!” He embraces the call and takes the words of God to the Hebrews. That doesn’t mean all goes well. Isaiah faces persecution, but he does what he is called to do.
And of course, St. Paul exemplifies the willing prophet and evangelist. He even notes that he has worked harder than the other Apostles, by God’s grace. I want to point out something that is true of all real prophets and evangelists. Paul notes that he communicated only what he was given. He writes, “I delivered to you of first importance what I also received.” You see, he hands on what he has been given. He doesn’t deliver a different gospel but only what Sacred Tradition has given to him. Tradition, which is given a bad reputation from some corners of the Christian world, means “things handed over”—that is, all that is handed on from the early Church by word of mouth or in writing. That is what differentiates a false prophet from a true one and a charlatan from a true disciple. We have been given the true gospel, protected by the Holy Spirit through the authority of the Church, through Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. Anyone who preaches something else, as Paul is saying here, is not teaching the Gospel! And no one can accuse Paul of being anything less than a fervent and joyful prophet.
In our Gospel reading, Simon Peter has just hauled in a miraculous haul at the most unlikely time of day. He recognizes something uncanny about this itinerant preacher, and he responds in much the same way as Isaiah does. He recognizes his sinfulness and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Notice that all three of our subjects recognize their unworthiness. They all know that they are sinners. But Jesus encourages him, saying, “Do not be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for men.” Jesus knows that none of us are worthy of our own merits. He doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.
One of the reasons many of us don’t step out and share our faith is because we don’t feel qualified. We are just like Peter and Isaiah. We doubt our worthiness. We say, “Well, I’m no saint. No one wants to hear from a sinful schlep like me.” Join the club! I’m a sinful schlep, too! John says to us in his first letter, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And you see that very scenario played out in in our readings today. We aren’t worthy, but Jesus will make us worthy if we let him. He will give us the grace we need to be cleansed, and He has given us sacraments to make that happen—baptism, reconciliation, and the Eucharist. Once we have the first, we need to seek out the other two to have the grace to do His work.
And we need to understand that the very first place we need to share our faith is with our family. It’s our calling to help our spouses get to heaven. It’s our calling to educate our children in the faith. This is what the Church refers to as the domestic Church. Our children learn the faith by seeing how we live it at home. We need to evangelize the world, but the world starts in our kitchen, in our family room, at our dinner table. If you need to exercise your faith to give you the courage to share it, start with your children, start with your spouse, start with your siblings. True love shows itself in our striving for the ultimate good of those we love, and nothing outweighs the love of Our God.