Orienting ourselves to God

By  Fr. Scott Lewis, S.J.
  • January 26, 2007
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Feb. 4 (Isaiah 6:1-2, 3-8; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthian 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11)

The readings from Isaiah and Luke illustrate the ambiguous attitude many people have towards the sacred and the holy. On the one hand, we claim that we yearn for God's presence, and we complain that God seems so distant. But on the other hand, we are petrified at the thought of an encounter with the divine or holy.

Such an encounter strips us naked — it robs us of the illusions we have about ourselves and the little (and not so little) lies we tell ourselves day after day. We see, feel and sense ourselves as we really are, and it can be unpleasant, something like arriving grossly underdressed at a very formal dinner.

Isaiah's vision or mystical experience — for that is what it is, not a literal journey — overwhelmed and almost destroyed him. Finding himself in the celestial court, he is shattered by the realization that he has seen God, and as everyone knows, no one can see God and live. But the seraph touches Isaiah's lips with the burning coal and he is symbolically cleansed.

The very next words from God consist of a question: Who can I send to do my work and to represent me? Only now is Isaiah able to eagerly volunteer: Here I am; send me!

Our own wounded and fearful ego is our greatest obstacle to knowing and experiencing God. We keep our distance from God, desperately wanting God to see us only at our best. Unfortunately, that does not happen very often, and we find ourselves stuck with a "distant" and "silent" God. Encountering and serving God means now, just as we are, for God will provide rest.

Are we saved by believing the correct doctrines? Do creeds and concepts save? Certainly not — one can be doctrinally impeccable but for all practical purposes an atheist. Merely believing that Christ rose from the dead is of little use unless one lives as if Christ rose from the dead.

Factions in the Corinthian community have been living as if the resurrection of Christ from the dead had nothing to do with them personally. Paul goes to great pains in the rest of the chapter to make the connection between Christ's resurrection and our own. This "in-between time" before the second coming of the Lord is important. It is a time when the rest of the world is brought into harmony with God. And it is a time in which we must bring ourselves into harmony with the Lord.

The detailed evidence of Christ's resurrection that Paul offers is not so much to prove that it took place, but its significance. The entire event was for us — to take away our sins — to raise us to new life, and all as a sign of God's love. The choices that we make today and the way we live and treat others have eternal significance.

The disciples are discouraged and ready to give up. They have been unsuccessful in their fishing efforts, even after lengthy and repeated efforts. It may have been with some irritation and amusement that they consented to try one more time. After all, what can this holy man know about fishing? But to their shock, the nets pull in a tremendous catch of fish. Their own efforts failed. It was only when they did the same old thing, but this time God's way and in God's time that they were successful.

Peter's fervent wish at that moment is that Jesus go away and leave him alone. He feels the gap or chasm between himself and Jesus. And what is his mission? Jesus calls him to the greatest task that one can receive: to bring souls back to God. And becoming a fisher of people is instrumental in restoring the world to God.

Things are often not as difficult or impossible as they seem when we place ourselves in the hands of a higher power. This applies to the personal details of everyday life as well as to our efforts to build a just and peaceful world.

In the face of so much resistance and negativity, there is a great temptation to cynicism and discouragement. But orienting ourselves towards God rather than fear or self-interest can encourage us to cast our nets one more time. Who knows what will happen this time?

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