Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
"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)
I was discussing with a great friend just what we thought was essential in our vocation as priests and what we thought was perhaps the most important aspect of training, my answer was simply to say that as priests we had to try to be the very best we could be and his answer for training was to make good people even better for the sake of others. Both responses came from a deeply reflective conversation between two theologians, so what was said was the fruit of much reflection, simple words and yet looking at our exchange I can think of no other reply I would want to give.
I'm nearing my own 40th anniversary of ordination and so in a very real way am looking back, taking stock and seeing just what the years serving others for the Lord have taught me, I will of course be writing more on this, but today I felt, and from the heart, that in the end whatever we do as servants of `Jesus can only be the very best we can offer, imperfect and sinful though we may be. I often feel like Simon Peter, who as Luke tells us encountered Jesus in fear and trembling:
"When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."(Lk 5:8). I know that type of moment, when in my own eyes I have seen myself encounter the Lord in a situation of helplessness and inadequacy.
These are times in our lives when all the dogma, law, theology and piety we have in the Church mean nothing, because then we face ourselves in front of the Lord, alone and perhaps feeling very vulnerable. I don't need to give you examples, we all know exactly when we reach the point when all the supports we have held dear are suddenly taken away from us. This is why I have often been very suspicious of people who claim absolute certainties', who know just what God wants or says or thinks. I'm afraid I don't, and I suspect they don't either! Isaiah tell us that this was how he felt when faced with a vision of the Lord, we too know that 'woe is me' moment, that sudden realisation of our smallness before God's majesty, in fact what we are experiencing is a form of metanoia, conversion, the shifting of our hearts opening before the gaze of God.
Are we left feeling worthless, full of fear, our faith desolate? No, not at all, because our faith is an exploration into Love-and as the poet George Herbert wrote, 'Love bade me welcome'. Isaiah saw the Seraphim touch him with the fire of God and was moved to respond by asking the Lord to renew his commitment and love by sending him out to do God's work, Jesus calmed Peter by saying to him those words of loving care he so often said, 'Do not be afraid!" So it is with us, our faith life is not static, it is not built on encyclopaedic knowledge of liturgy or law or rules and regulations but on the living encounter with the Lord, who wants us to be the very best we can be, no more, no less!
Thomas Merton OCSO
From No Man is an Island
"God has left sin in the world in order that there may be forgiveness: not only the secret forgiveness by which He Himself cleanses our souls, but the manifest forgiveness by which we have mercy on one another and so give expression to the fact that He is living, by His mercy, in our own hearts."
Love by George Herbert
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.
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