A kind parishioner asked me to put the homily from today's (7th February) Mass on our blog. I am delighted to do that. In these times in which we live, we need to be encouraged by one another in the faith for together we go to God:
Homily: 5th Sunday in ordinary Time, Yr, C: Saggart/ Rathcoole
What does a carpenter know about fishing – perhaps that is what they are wondering - at least that’s how I imagine it. Simon, later known as ‘Peter’ (the Rock), and his brother Andrew just like the Zebedee brothers, John and James, are fishermen by trade. They know the work. They know when and where to fish in order to be successful. Jesus hardly knows anything about a fisherman’s life. He has grown up inland at Nazareth. He has a quite different trade. What does a carpenter know about the work of a fisherman? But here is the amazing thing. Jesus, having climbed into the boat, urges them to put out into the deep and drop their nets. Against all their professional experience, they give it a try and make an inconceivably great catch of fish. Peter’s reaction is quite profound: in spite of the jubilation of such a great catch – Peter doesn’t start jumping around in great excitement but rather falls at the knees of Jesus saying ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ And even more profound is Jesus’ reply which takes the entire episode to a new level: ‘Do not be afraid Simon; from now on it is men you will catch.’ The encounter with Jesus is like the successful conclusion to a crunch talks process on Christian vocation because ‘bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.’ So indeed Jesus knows about fishing but his focus clearly is on the animals of the deep, but in fact on the children of God, you and I.
So why did Peter react as he did to the good news of so successful a catch of fish – humbled to the point of recalling his weak and corrupt disposition? Well today, in fact three great instances of being chosen are placed before us, as examples of invisible callings – for each believer is one who has been called to an assignment. Isaiah comes before the lofty throne of God and is immediately sent reeling: ‘What a wretched state I am in! I am lost, for I am a man with unclean lips.’ But there is no more room for thoughts of worthiness or unworthiness, rather God needs someone and so ‘Here I am, send me.’ St. Paul seems no less humbled: ‘I am the least of the apostles; in fact, since I persecuted the Church of God, I hardly deserve the name apostle.’
The truth of the Word of God today is that mission always begins with an experience of utter distance, of absolute unworthiness. I am not saying that I am in the same league at the prophet Isaiah or St. Paul but the call from God always begins with those terrible feelings of inadequacy and hesitation. I remember when I first thought I was being called to the Priesthood. I thought ‘No it couldn’t be me. There are so many fine men about who are much more talented and gifted than I am.’ The self-doubt, the consciousness of my own inadequacies was suffocating. But the persistence of Jesus was overwhelming and by many signs which I couldn’t help but notice, I knew I had to give it a go.
Jesus needs people in every new generation to step forward and become messengers of Truth, of Hope and of Love. And, my God, the need for such brave people is so real today that all I can think of are the World War One military posters of King George V who, with hand extended proclaimed that ‘Your country needs you.’ In the time in which we live, so fragile and fearful, what I believe needs to be said loudly and clearly today is ‘God needs you! Jesus Christ needs you! The Church in Ireland needs you!’ For all who believe in the goodness of God, it is time to cast off our self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness. The Father looks at each of us with a love beyond words and when he calls, we should answer without fear or favour. The signs of the times are that Christian faith in Ireland is going through an amazing period of death and rebirth. I believe that God needs us all, those called to be priests, religious, parents, parish pastoral workers, faithful Catholics all, living the best lives we can: God needs witnesses who believe in the power of love to be ready with our lamps lighting.
The readings today say that the time for doubting God or ourselves is over. Ireland needs the message of hope and the presence of self-less love. It requires very little ability to find fault. That is why there are so many critics in Ireland. God however is asking for witnesses today. Irish society is virtually overrun by professional critics who make a profit criticizing the daily lives of other people but the power of the kingdom of God speaks a very different language – it lives by the courage of people every day in our country who are humbling trying to learn the art of loving.
The call of Christ is being made to very one in this Church today. I believe it is important that each one of you today is encouraged by me in your faith-life. It is worth saying that the very decision to come to Christ today and celebrate him in our midst is your answer to the call of God which is made today. Where else God will call you I do not know. But if you find yourself echoing Isaiah saying ‘What a wretched state I am in! I am lost’ or you are in the same boat as Peter who is overcome by emotion crying out ‘Leave me Lord; I am a sinful man,’ then you can be watching out for God is much closer to you that you may realise. All I would ask you, is to look around at the desolation which can happen within a society that tries to deny the love of God, and when God calls you to be a daily living witness to him in the Church, at work, in the home and on the streets, ‘don’t ask for a light burden – ask for a strong back.’ The paradox of faith is that, even though an authentic experience of God makes us aware of our nothingness, it is also the very moment when God makes it known that he needs us.