Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): How often do our own ideas, our doubts, our negative attitudes cause us to miss the miracle of Christ in our midst? Mindful of all this, Christ commands: “Put out into the deep.” If we live life as this risk, then our nets become full with the signs of God's love and care for us. Even our sins cannot impede such abundance because they move us to beg all the more for a fidelity that we could not have apart from Jesus. The Gospel that is being preached to us saves us from what would otherwise save us. Our sin is purged; our wickedness is removed. Do not be afraid.
(This weekend's Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim.
And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar.
And he touched my mouth, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven."
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: This brief initial period of Ordinary Time (due to the early Easter on March 31) ends with a trio of striking passages. First among them is Isaiah's dramatic account of his prophetic call, which also provides the liturgical Christian churches with the source of the first half of the Sanctus, the first major sung portion of the Liturgy of the Eucharist (“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory”).
The time reference given by Isaiah itself is worth noting. King Uzziah of Judah had reigned for 52 years, although he spent his last years in isolation because God had struck him down with leprosy for offering incense in the Temple without authorization (2 Chronicles 26:16-23). Nonetheless, he presided over an extended period of prosperity, as did his contemporary in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, King Jeroboam II. But for both kingdoms – whose love and regard for God and the Mosaic covenant had grown cold to varying degrees – the good times were ending. Disaster, delivered by the increasingly powerful Assyrian Empire, was around the corner.
Isaiah apparently had some position in the Judean court, as the 2 Chronicles passage cited above credits him with having written a history of Uzziah's reign (one now lost to us). But God had greater things in mind for him. What a vision he received: God's own angels ministering to the great “I AM” in the earthly copy of His sanctuary in heaven! Isaiah was greatly humbled; how could he, a sinful human being, possibly survive such a close encounter with God? It was then that one of the angels purified Isaiah's lips with a burning holy coal. When the Almighty called out, seeking a messenger, Isaiah was ready and eager to respond.
The son of Amoz would fulfill his calling through the reign of three more kings of Judah: reasonably faithful Jotham, evil Ahaz and ever-devoted Hezekiah. He (and his later disciples, according to the “Deutero-Isaiah” theory tracing the latter part of his book to the Babylonian exile) steadfastly proclaimed God's word. He left behind many important Messianic prophecies, including the virgin birth, the advent of John the Baptist and the Suffering Servant. He watched Judah's separated Israelite brothers and sisters suffer punishment and exile for two centuries of unfaithfulness. He was Hezekiah's faithful spiritual director, delivering God's message of personal deliverance from terminal illness and of national deliverance from the Assyrian army besieging Jerusalem. But when Hezekiah dallied with alliance with Babylon, it fell to Isaiah to tell him that his would-be friends one day would destroy Judah.
In good times and in bad, Isaiah earned his reputation as one of the greatest of God's prophets.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians.
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Because the date of Easter varies, it cannot be said that this Year C Epistle reading is specifically intended as a preview of Holy Week and Easter. And yet Paul's recap of the proof of Jesus' death and resurrection seems especially suited as just such a preview on the eve of Ash Wednesday.
The Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah were vital to Paul's case, of course. But the frequency of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances and the number of contemporary witnesses were perhaps even more critical. Many of Paul's fellow Jews denied that the carpenter's son from Nazareth was their long-awaited Savior, even the Son of God. And the Greco-Roman world, just like our own world, scoffed at the notion that anyone could rise from the dead. How would doubting infant Christians in Corinth have reacted to Paul's assertion that more than 500 people had seen the risen Christ at once? We sadly are not blessed with a description of this encounter in the Gospels, but Paul lays it on the line for them and us: There are many people you can ask about the Resurrection. They saw the risen Lord in the flesh. If you won't believe me, believe them!
Finally, we read an example of what one might call the humble awe with which Paul carried out his own ministry. He did not see Christ between the Resurrection and Ascension as those other hundreds did. He had been just as unbelieving as his fellow Pharisees. Read again his words: “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” He speaks similar words even more painfully in other letters. He well understood Isaiah's feeling of unworthiness and especially the feelings behind St. Peter told Jesus in the Gospel reading to follow: I am a sinful man! I deserve to be struck down for what I did! And yet Jesus not only forgave him as He forgives us all: He charged Paul with bringing the Good News to the Gentiles!
If God could purify Isaiah, rehabilitate Paul and lift up such an imperfect instrument as Peter (as we shall soon see), what will He do for you and me? Listen to Him during this Lent. Is He calling you to walk with Him more closely and do for others what He has done for you?
Gospel: Luke 5:1-11
A reading from the holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, O Lord.
While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets." And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men." And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: The Gospels offer different perspectives on the calling of the first disciples. Matthew and Mark simply note that Jesus called the two pairs of fisherman brothers – Peter and Andrew (though the latter is not mentioned by Luke) and James and John – without describing this scene in detail. John, however, gives us to understand that Jesus had had contact with this vital foursome before He began publicly preaching and conducting miracles, especially the changing of water into wine at Cana. If Luke wrote about Jesus' ministry chronologically, then, it would seem that the Galilean fishermen knew and were well-disposed toward Jesus but had not yet fully committed themselves to him – until this story.
Would Peter have offered his boat to just any itinerant Jewish preacher? Perhaps, but Luke's words about how Christ used the boat as a floating pulpit intimates familiarity. So does Peter's response to Jesus' direction to put out into the deep water. Again, would Peter and his partners have consented to more work on top of a hard, fruitless night just because some rabbi says so? Again, perhaps. Peter clearly thought that Jesus must be daft. And yet he trusted Him enough to take a chance. He had seen the water changed into wine. Perhaps there's something to what He says?
The story tells the rest – in such a vivid fashion that when the risen Christ performs an encore for the same men after the Resurrection (see John 21), the disciples perceived His presence from the flood of fish that ended up in their boats. Now Peter begins to understand (if only just) that this is no ordinary man making his boats sink from all the fish. But Jesus refuses Peter's request to leave. He instead points to the fish: This is what you shall do with humanity. The fishermen are convinced enough to leave everything behind. And after they and He had passed through all that was meant to come, Jesus would be true to His word. These men would catch other men and women to the ends of the earth.
Let us ponder the miracles that God performs with unworthy human, earthen vessels as we approach the altar for the imposition of ashes this coming Wednesday. We are such vessels ourselves. But Jesus calls us as He called Isaiah, Paul and Peter. Go and catch others for me. Here we are. Send us!
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be