By Sister Karen Cavanaugh, C.S.J.
“Here I am, Lord … Is it I Lord? I have heard You calling in the night … I will go … if You lead me…”
Dan Schutte put these words to song. Don’t many of us love them as we sing them in Church? At times, I close my eyes as I sing. I imagine God speaking to me personally. A Sister-friend of mine taught me how to pray these words in American Sign Language. Movement gave new and powerful meaning.
Today, as the responsorial, we hear: “I will sing your praises, Lord,” and we ask that the words of our mouths be heard. When I sing, “Here I Am, Lord,” I move my hands and heart in prayer, but I still hesitate. My “Here I am” is rarely – or not always – total. My “I will go, Lord” response doesn’t include “now” and my trust that I’m not alone wavers according to the day.
This week’s Scriptures invite us with our ancestors – Isaiah, Simon Peter, Paul, James and John – to “launch out into the deep waters” of our hearts and spirits. These men came to know God’s merciful and transforming call and commission in their lives. May we pray, as we ready ourselves for Lent, that we might be strengthened and graced to respond to God’s call in our lives.
God’s Immense Embrace
Isaiah’s world was one where kingdoms vied for power and control. They did so through violence, oppression and crushing control over the weaker members of society. Isaiah’s prophetic ministry and call came in the midst of turmoil. He was doing a fine and respectable prophetic work in his own city of Jerusalem when God appeared and called him beyond his comfort zone. He – a sinful man of “unclean lips” – was to expand his boundaries and “launch out into the deep waters.” He was to speak for God. Imperfect, sinful Isaiah had “seen the Lord of Hosts” and was to now declare vehemently Who God is and Whose world this is.
It’s a message that proclaims the immensity of God’s embrace for all creation and further announces that the oppression of any weaker member was not only an affront to God, but also a grave sin of injustice. No wonder he cried out, “Woe is me, I am doomed!”
Fast forward 800-plus years to a less dramatic, but most important moment in God’s revelation. We are there with Simon Peter and the sons of Zebedee along the shore of the Lake of Gennesaret as sunset begins. James and John are cleaning and mending their nets for the next day’s labor. Simon Peter receives a request from Jesus to let his boat be used as a “classroom.” From Simon’s “workplace” Jesus would teach and preach to the crowds.
Can you imagine Simon’s tired face and weary look as he pushes away from the shore? Can you picture the even greater questioning look and then spoken “reality check” in Simon’s eyes and lips as Jesus says, “Launch out into the deep waters and lower your nets”?
We know his exhausted defense, we are witness to his astonishment and call for help and we hear his confession of great unworthiness. He has experienced the miraculous catch, he repents and we hear Jesus’ call to follow. Today’s liturgy is the refreshment we need to hear, to repent, to trust and to answer again. Jesus calls in the daily-ness of lives and labors and at times, when darkness is upon us.
Paul’s writing to the Corinthians prepares us to hear the Gospel anew as we remember Jesus’ fidelity and promise to His first disciples and to us: “Do not be afraid.”
Paul reminds us to “stand firm and hold on to the word” through which we are being saved. He presents himself to us as yet another whose life was far from faithful and was seriously violent. Humbly and honestly, he confesses, “I am the least of the apostles, not even fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
Transformed by Mercy
Paul attests to the saving, amazing grace of God’s compassionate mercy in his life – a transforming power and its challenging call. He acknowledges and says that it is by “the grace of God with me” that I preach and “hand on to you the message.”
It seems so right that the Church “hands on” these “call stories” three days before Ash Wednesday and Lent. The “call stories” are traditionally told to validate the disciple’s, the prophet’s and the Church’s mission, not only, but especially when the message is challenging and necessary, albeit unpopular. They’re often a three-part process and response: acknowledging sin and repenting, the missioning or sending and the acceptance of the call.
This Lent is embraced by a Holy Year of Mercy, which calls us to see our comfort zones, our weakness and sin, the traps and nets that entangle our lives and spirits – and to see those times of amazing grace in our journey.
Sadly, the world today bears much resemblance to the world of our ancestors. Our call is to do everything we can to change that.
Gratefully, we know that God, Who assumed our nature, became like us, knows our fears and desires, our gifts and limitations, has sent Jesus – Incarnate Mercy. God calls us in our night and days. Will we go? Will we be led this Lent? Let us pray.
Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 6: 1-2a, 3-8
Psalm 138: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8
1 Corinthians 15: 3-8, 11
Luke 5: 1-11
Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J., a trained spiritual director and retreat facilitator, is a pastoral associate/family minister at St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish, Jamaica.