5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Is 6:1-2a, 3-8; Lk 5:1-11) “Sinners in the Midst of Holiness” PDF Version
Homily for the 5th Sunday of OT, Year C (2019): Is 6:1-2a, 3-8; Lk 5:1-11
Prior to being ordained a priest, it was required that I make a week long retreat to spiritually prepare for the day I would be ordained as a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek. My 10 seminary classmates and I chose to go on this retreat together at Trinity Retreat House just north of New York City. As we had a 10 hour car ride to get there from Toronto, we took up the invitation to make a stop for dinner at Villa Guadalupe retreat house in Connecticut.
This retreat house is run by the Sisters of Life, of whom the Seminarians in Toronto had got to know quite well as they temporarily lived in a small convent that is located at St. Augustine’s Seminary where we lived and studied. The Sisters of Life are a truly remarkable, rapidly growing and very young religious order.
Founded by the late Cardinal O’Connor of New York, the Sisters of Life mission and vocation is to promote a culture of life by supporting those who need and tempted to succumb to the lies of the culture of death that pervades our world. In particular, the Sisters charitable outreach is focused on women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies and are being pressured to end their child’s life through abortion.
The Sisters welcome these expectant mothers and their unborn babies into their homes, helping them to prepare for the future, teaching them the life skills they will need to support their child or to assist them in finding an adopted home for their baby. They welcome these women without judgment or prejudice, embracing them as fellow sisters in Christ who are in need and require the necessary love and affirmation to keep their child and allow them to be yet one more blessing in our world.
I had come to love and admire the life and mission of the Sisters of Life and the opportunity to visit their retreat home to share Easter Sunday dinner with them was a tremendous gift and blessing!
What I did not except was just how overwhelmed I would be by the joy that radiated from the Sisters who had all gathered together for a feast in honour of Our Lord’s Resurrection to new life. They sang, prayed, asked us about our families and vocations and even erupted into shouts of Easter praise when it was announced that as a special treat the Sisters would be watching the latest Chronicles of Narnia movie, since they watch very few movies on a regular basis.
As my classmates and I got back into our cars and made the remaining drive to Trinity Retreat House, most of us were silent and had a hard time articulating what we had just witnessed. For myself, I had a sense of feeling like a great sinner in the midst of these holy women. I knew through their words and actions that they loved Jesus far more than I did and served Him with greater charity than I had, and yet I was so inspired and loved by the holiness that I had just witnessed alive and present in the hearts of these Sisters who are especially consecrated to their Beloved, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Very often, when one stands before the holiness of God, be it through some great manifestation of the Lord’s glory, or in the midst of some grandiose cathedral, or in the heart of a living saint who is aflame with the fire of God’s love, one can feel themselves unworthy to be in these presences because one realizes they are a sinner.
The prophet Isaiah had this experience as he stood in the Temple and saw a vision of the Throne Room of God, where fiery Sephardic angels surrounded the Lord of Hosts, consumed in spiritual fire as a sign of the love they had for being so near to God. Isaiah rightly said that as a sinner of unclean lips, being numbered among a people of unclean lips, he was unworthy to be shown the holiness of God and His High Heaven.
Likewise, St Peter rightly declared himself to be a sinful man that Jesus should quickly depart from. St Peter now stood in the holiness that radiates from the Divinity of Jesus Christ. He had seen Jesus as a great teacher, miracle worker, exorcist and prophet of God’s word, but now He beheld God in the flesh, master over the material elements of this world and the One who allowed the holiness of God to shine forth for not only His disciples to see and believe, but to even reach and out touch the holiness of God’s being, experiencing with their own senses that God was near.
So too we should not be ashamed if when we stand before the holiness of God, that we rightly feel repulsion for our own sinfulness and our unworthiness to be before this person, place or experience that you know is marked by God’s holiness. Yet God does not wish for this sense of being unworthy to turn into shame and fear that we can never abide in His holiness. Shame and fear, along with guilt, are the three nails that Satan wishes to drive through our hearts to make us discouraged and forsake striving to become saints.
To both Isaiah and St. Peter, God revealed to them that yes they were sinful men but He would not reject them, but instead purify their hearts, show them His mercy, invite them to know His forgiveness and then sent them forth to be about the work He had in store for them!
Isaiah underwent a mystical experience of having his lips cleansed by a burning hot coal and from that day forth he would boldly serve as God’s prophet until he would die a martyr’s death for speaking the Word of the Lord.
Jesus reached out to St. Peter and agreed that yes, Peter, you are a sinner, but I still have work for you, and even though you will betray me, I forgive you because I love you, and in my love I will establish you as the Rock on which I will build my Church, a rock that not even the gates of hell can prevail against and a rock in whom your successors will act in my name and person to strengthen their brethren and lead the Holy Catholic Church as the servant of the servants of God.
Both men, rightly called sinners, rightly filled with holy fear when the stood in the holiness of God, were given the affirmation that though sinners they still needed to go forth and labour in the Lord’s vineyard because God was with them, because God had chosen them, because God had shown them His mercy and forgiveness and would allow them to abide in that holiness which brings joy and strength to those who humbly walk in God’s ways.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we too are sinners, but that should not make us feel as if we cannot stand before the holiness of God and believe that He has so much in store for each of us. We might feel like God should depart from us because we are sinners but God works best with those who can admit that this is true. So let us not despair, but instead ask for God’s holiness to be showered down upon us, to strengthen us, humble us and inspire us to go forth as fishers of men and heralds of God’s word.