This Sunday’s readings have a common theme running through them: the experience of a sinful person being called by God to do a particular task: Isaiah the prophet, Paul, “the least of the apostles,” and Simon Peter the fisherman. Each feels unworthy but comes to recognize that what is impossible for them is made possible by the power of God. Pope Benedict XVI, in this week’s Spiritual Reflection, puts this theme succinctly when he states, “The human person is not the author of his own vocation but responds to the divine call.”
In the first reading, Isaiah sees the Lord in other-worldly majesty and splendor. He hears the heavenly seraphim proclaiming the Lord’s holiness, and the effect of their powerful cries is that “the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.” Isaiah too is shaken. In the presence of such holiness, he recognizes his utter unworthiness. “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” His reaction is the normal response of a sinner who finds himself in the presence of God – not that God is against us, but it is obvious to us that our own sins render us unworthy to be with him. Something has to change! The solution is revealed in the symbolic gesture of the seraph touching the prophet’s mouth with an ember. This is an experience of the mercy of God. It is God who removes our wickedness and purges our sins. It is God who prepares us for the call and gives us the grace to respond. He sets us free. The result is that we can, though we are unworthy, still accept the vocation to go forth in service of the Lord. We are free to respond with joy, “Here I am, send me!”
St. Paul never forgot his own sinfulness. He reminds us of it in the second reading, where he declares himself unworthy to be called an Apostle, “because I persecuted the Church of God.” Why does his sin not lead him to despair? Because he recalls at the same time how merciful God is: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.” Paul knows by experience what Pope Benedict also tells us, “Human weakness should not be afraid if God calls.” We are to rely not on ourselves, for we are sinners, but we can and should rely on his grace and mercy.
Today we also ponder St. Peter’s experience of being a sinner who is nonetheless personally chosen and called by God. Simon Peter is in his typical daily routine. Some days he and his companions caught some fish; on other days, like today, they caught nothing. Jesus enters into their lives. He gets into Simon’s boat. After some time teaching, he asks Simon to do something unusual: “Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch.” Even though they have already done their best and have no hope of catching anything that day, Jesus is confident of Simon’s success – if he will simply respond to the call. Simon does respond. In humble obedience to Jesus’ command, he lowers his nets again. The result is a catch so great that it almost sinks the boats!
There are many lessons here for us. One is that without God we cannot accomplish anything, no matter how hard we try or how long we work. Another lesson is the power of obedient faith. Even though we cannot see what is in the “deep water,” we can trust that a great catch is there when God sends us. If we obey his word, we will be able to accomplish his work.
Each one of us is called by God and sent forth to serve him. He is both the origin of our mission and the secret of its success. As Pope Benedict reminds us, “Do not let failures and difficulties lead to discouragement: it is our task to cast our nets in faith – the Lord will do the rest.” Today is a new opportunity for us to “put out into deep water and lower our nets for a catch.” Let us respond with faith! Like Isaiah, like Paul, like Peter, and especially like the Virgin Mary, let us take a leap of faith in our merciful and powerful God. “Here I am, Lord, send me!”
When do I feel unworthy of my call? How can I open my heart to the mercy of God? In what ways am I called to “put out into the deep water”?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.