Father Donald Senior, CP

Feb. 6: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

The beauty of the word

Is 6:1-2, 3-8; Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8, 1 Cor 15:1-11; Lk 5:1-11

Some years ago, the fine novelist and spiritual writer Kathleen Norris wrote a book titled “The Cloister Walk,” prompted by her long-standing friendship with the Benedictine community of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. One of her chapters reflects on the meaning of a vocation or call, broadly conceived as what God is asking of us. 

She noted that a vocation is different from a choice. Our culture prizes making our own choices, but a call can come from outside ourselves and pull us in a direction we had not anticipated.

“Call stories” play a significant role in the Bible and we have three strong examples in the readings for this Sunday. The first is from the opening chapters of Isaiah and has all the drama of a modern fantasy film.   

The prophet tells of an ecstatic experience he had while in the Temple of Jerusalem, an extraordinary vision of God, seated upon a “high and lofty throne” with the train of God’s robe “filling the temple.” Angels cry out in adoration, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” The doors of the temple shake, and smoke fills the area.

This awe-inspiring encounter makes Isaiah aware of his own weakness: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, among a people of unclean lips.” 

One of the angels comes, holding a burning ember taken from the temple altar and touches it to the lips of the prophet: “See … your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”

After this dazzling experience, the divine call comes: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” And Isaiah responds, “Here I am, send me!”

It would be hard to top the kind of dramatic call Isaiah received, but the example of Paul of Tarsus is a close second. 

The Acts of the Apostles narrates the story of Paul’s life-changing encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. What we have in today’s second reading from First Corinthians is Paul’s own reflection on his experience many years later. 

In a famous passage, Paul testifies to the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection and then lists a series of resurrection appearances to various early witnesses. At the end of the list, he speaks of his own experience, “Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God.”

One can sense Paul’s deep regret, but, at the same time, the wonder that, despite his misplaced zeal and violence, Christ called him to be an apostle, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace in me has not been ineffective.”

These readings prepare the way for one of the most beautiful call stories in the Scriptures — Luke’s account of the call of Peter on the Sea of Galilee. 

The crowds press in on Jesus preaching along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. To avoid being crushed, Jesus gets into what happens to be Simon’s boat and continues teaching offshore.

When finished, Jesus asks Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” It is an invitation that will echo down the centuries for those searching for a deeper meaning in life.

Simon confesses that he and his companions have tried all night and caught nothing, “but at your command I will lower the nets.” 

We know the end of the story — the catch is so great that the nets almost tear. Peter, overwhelmed, echoes the sense of unworthiness of Isaiah and Paul, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” 

But Jesus extends to Peter, too, the compelling call, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they get to shore, the story concludes, “they left everything and followed him.”

These biblical call stories are directed to us. What is God asking of us now, in our everyday lives? What is the call for us, deep within our hearts, despite our frailty and failures? How might we respond?



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