IS HOLY LIFE STILL POSSIBLE IN OUR TIME?
HOMILY FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C. Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138; 1Corinthians 15:1-11 and Luke 5:1-11.
Some of us have probably forgotten that we are Christians and are called to a life of holiness. We feel so comfortable normalizing the abnormal and making sin a cultural thing or a way of life. We recognize our imperfections but remind ourselves of the call to perfection. This is evident in today’s liturgy as God cleanses the unclean lips of Isaiah and Christ calls His first disciples for a new mission to be fishers of men.
Just as we heard the call to prophetic mission of Jeremiah last Sunday, the first reading of today presents to us the call of Isaiah in chapter 6. Isaiah 1-5, speaks of the wickedness and rebellious children of Judah. Isaiah speaks of them as a people loaded with iniquity, a seed of evildoers who have despised the Holy One of Israel. The first five chapters of Isaiah were practically about Judah’s sin and God’s judgment on them with a critical and condemnatory tone.
In the first reading (chapter 6), Isaiah suddenly recognizes his own unholiness in the presence of the heavenly King sitting on his throne after the death of the great earthly king Uzziah. He recognizes his sinful nature as man and said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Earlier, God told Moses, “You cannot see my face; for man may not see me and live” (Ex. 33:20; 19:21). However, there were occasions where people were allowed to see God and live (Gen. 16:13; Ex. 24:10). Today’s first reading is one of those occasions.
Isaiah had earlier spoken of the sins and judgments that awaited Judah. Now, in the presence of the Holy of Holies, he is overwhelmed by his own guilt and recognizes his unholiness. He sees that he is also guilty and deserves judgment as he said, “I am a man of unclean lips…” It was not just the lips but the whole being. “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34; 15:18). Unclean lips expresses unclean heart. The words from the unclean lips we can hear, the actions we can see but for the heart, we cannot hear or see what is conceived in it except God who sees Isaiah’s iniquities that others could not see. One of the Seraphim touches Isaiah’s mouth with a live coal, burning away the uncleanness of his lips and heart. Symbolically, the live coal burns every other thing we are attached to and leaves us with God alone. It is at this point that we can totally submit to God like Isaiah and say, “Here am I! Send me” (Is. 6:8) without knowing where or the nature of the mission.
In today’s gospel, Christ calls the first disciples after the great catch of fish, which is peculiar to Luke’s gospel. Although John includes a similar story but only after the resurrection (Jn 21:1-23). This account of Luke has a focus on Simon Peter, mentioning James and John only briefly in verse 10 and Andrew not at all. The response of Peter to the miraculous catch of fish fits nicely with Isaiah’s response in the first reading. While Isaiah said, “I am a man of unclean lips,” Peter in turn said to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Both Isaiah and Peter feel the magnitude of their unworthiness in the presence of the Holy of holies. While a Seraph cleanses the lips of Isaiah with a burning coal, Christ has a cleansing word for Peter: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (5:4). These words constitute a test for Peter. The words also present Peter an opportunity to see the kinds of wonders Christ is capable of doing in our lives. Being an experienced fisherman, will Peter obey Christ?
They were through with fishing for that night, they had toiled all night and took nothing! They were tired and ready to go home. Letting down the nets would necessitate more work for them and additional clean up. Peter voices his doubt but nevertheless addresses Christ as ‘Master’ over him saying, “But at your word I will let down the nets.” At peter’s obedience, there was a great catch, a miracle of abundance, which made them seek for the help of their partners in the other boat. At this point Peter recognized the Holy of holies and expressed his unholiness before Jesus Christ. In response, Christ said, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). Just as the live coal burns every other thing and leaves Isaiah alone with God, Peter and the other disciples left everything behind and followed Christ.
As Isaiah and Peter expressed their unworthiness before God, Paul in the second reading also does the same thing when he said, “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit 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 towards me was not in vain” (1Cor. 15:9). Despite our unworthiness, Paul invites us to submit ourselves to God and let Him use us as He wills, just the same way He called and used Paul in the expansion of his ministry. As the ministry of Christ was growing, he had to call the disciples to help Him in His mission. While the disciples had a great catch, they had to call on their partners in the other boat to help them. What then is your call? Or we no longer have work to do for God? God is calling us today in different ways to help in spreading his Kingdom at our different capacities. He calls us in various ways through the services we render to Him and the society. Most importantly, He calls us to the life of holiness.
With the rise of cybercrime and extravagant living, God calls us as parents and those in authority to checkmate and help our children and wards. He calls for a realization that fornication is not a norm, no matter how common it has become. Virginity is not a sign of weakness but of purity. Our sexual organs are not for exposition to gain likes and followers on social media, neither is sexual intercourse the way to prove the depth of love. Masturbation, lesbianism and homosexuality are never an option. These evils are not our culture; holiness is our culture, and holiness is still possible when little efforts count. It is a decision of the will; no one can force it on you. When we live with people swimming in sin, we often take them as a standard for measuring our holiness, but when we take contemporary men and women of virtue striving for holiness to measure up with ourselves, we will realize we are still in the introductory part of holiness. However, we must never give up striving. May the Lord help us to aspire for holiness and be holy in mind and body. Amen
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ