Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church/Our Lady of the Rosary
When it comes to doing His will, God pays careful attention to our faithfulness, our strength, our perseverance. He smiles on our hope, our humility, and our willingness to sacrifice for others in love. These He nurtures toward excellence and rewards with perfecting graces. When we fall short of being faithful, strong, hopeful, or humble, He hears our petitions for assistance and help will arrive. However, when we try to excuse our failures, or justify our unwillingness to serve, or claim some sort of debilitating brokenness, we get the booming chirping of celestial crickets. Nothing. Or, if we are being particularly stubborn, we get the kind of help that Isaiah, Paul, and Simon Peter get. We get all of our excuses handled by divine intervention, and our mission as apostles grows in proportion to the intervention required to fix us. Our Lord says to his Church, “Put out into the deep!” Do we obey and plead for his help? Or do we wail excuses? Are we fearful and plead helplessness? Or are we faithful? Jesus says to Simon Peter, and to us, “Do not be afraid.” Leave everything and follow him.
Our readings this morning/evening bear witness to three biblical legends: Isaiah, Paul, and Simon Peter. All three find themselves confronted by the glory of the Lord; all three hear His call to service; and all three serve up pitiful excuses for their initial failure to receive God's commission. Isaiah, upon seeing the glory of God, wails and whines in fear of death b/c no sinful man may see God and live. Paul reminds the Corinthians that he was “born abnormally” as an apostle and is not fit to be an apostle b/c he persecuted the Church. And Simon Peter fails to believe that Jesus will be able to help him with the catch. When he pulls up his full-to-bursting nets, he falls at Christ's feet, wailing, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Each of these men starts out as a pitiful sinner—a coward, an enemy of the Church, and a weary unbeliever. However, having wailed their excuses, God takes all that they are and graces them with all that they need to become a prophet, a preacher, and an apostle. The Lord wills that they “put out into the deep” of this world and fish for souls. He fixes their brokenness and multiplies the gravity of their mission in proportion to the blessings they require. Each one is astonished by the Lord's generosity. And in gratitude receives his godly commission.
Christ says to his Church, “Put out into the deep!” Do we obey and ask for his help? Or do we wail excuses? We could, like Isaiah, spend copious amounts of time and energy nursing our sins, crying over our failures, and raising these up to God as excuses for our inability to go out into the world as apostles for the Good News. How can we bear witness to God's mercy when we ourselves are so dirty with sin? Or, we could, like Paul, see ourselves as “abnormally born,” that is, brought into the family of God from another church or another faith, and then claim that our unusual entrance into Christ's body disqualifies us from being proper preachers of the Gospel. I wasn't raised in the Church, what can I do for the faith? Or, we could, like Simon Peter, live as weary unbelievers, ever doubtful of Christ's power, and then ashamed of our unbelief when he shows us what he can do. I denied Christ too many times, I'm unworthy of serving him as an apostle! We could refuse, deny, demur, disbelieve, and beat ourselves up. But Christ says, “Do not be afraid! Leave everything and follow me.” Leave doubt, leave self, leave sin, leave the past. Leave it all and follow me.
Isaiah leaves his history of sin behind when the seraphim purges his mouth with the ember from God's altar. Paul leaves his history of vengeful persecution of the Church behind when Christ appears to him on the Damascus Road. Simon Peter leaves his long and stubborn history of faithlessness and betrayal behind when he is consumed in the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Isaiah hears the Lord ask, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Purged of his sin, Isaiah shouts like a schoolboy, “Here I am, send me!” Paul sheds the scales from his eyes and receives his commission to bring the Good News to the Gentiles, confessing, “. . .by the grace of God I am what I am.” And Simon Peter, upon seeing the haul in his nets, confesses his unbelief, and receives from Christ himself an encouraged heart that will grow large enough to receive the love of the Holy Spirit. Each abandoned his history of disobedience; each leaves behind every obstacle, every trial, every excuse; and each follows the Lord in His will to become prophetic and preaching legends for God's people. They put out into the deep, and brought to the Lord a great haul of souls.
Time and physical distance are no measures for Christ. His words to Peter on the boat are spoken directly to us, each one of us: “Put out into the deep. . .do not be afraid.” As this world grows older and its spiritual and moral foundations become more and more fragile, our hold on things true, good, and beautiful seems to grow more and more precarious. We don't need to recite the litany of sins our culture of death revels in. It's the same list Isaiah, Paul, and Peter knew so well. It's the same list that ancient Israel and Judah knew. It's the same list the serpent wrote in the Garden and the same list men have been carrying around for millennia. That list tells us how to degrade and destroy the dignity of the human person, the image and likeness of God that each one us shares in, the imago Dei that makes us perfectable in Christ. It is the mission of the Enemy to tempt us into racial suicide, to kill ourselves as the human race by separating ourselves—one soul at a time—from our inheritance in the Kingdom. The Deep that we are commanded to evangelize is at once both the individual human heart and the whole human community. And lurking in that Deepness is both Eden's serpent and Christ's cross, both the voice of rebellion against God and the instrument of sacrifice for God. Christ says, “Do not be afraid.”
Whether we find the serpent or the cross or both dwelling in the Deep, we must not be afraid. The serpent was defeated the moment he chose to rebel. Sin and death were crushed from eternity before the first human walked upright. So, we can meet the serpent without fear. We can also meet the cross without fear b/c it is through the cross that the serpent is defeated. When we put out into the Deep of the human heart and the human community, there is nothing there for us to fear. Our job is a simple one: fish. Cast nets with service, humility, mercy, and joy. Bait our hooks with all the gifts we have been given to use for the greater glory of God. Leave behind bitterness, resentment, jealousy, and wrath. Follow Christ in strength, persistence, faithfulness, gladness, and sacrifice. Leave behind worry, doubt, fear, and hostility. Follow Christ in thanksgiving, rejoicing, praise, and courage. Now is not the time for cowardice. Now is not the time for waffling or compromise. We have our orders: put out into the deep! Risk, challenge, venture out. Hold fast to Peter's boat and cast your net wide and deep. Isaiah, Paul, and Peter made their excuses before God. He smiled and made them into prophets and preachers. So, go ahead: make your excuses. And watch God do His marvelous work through you.______________
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