The story of the call of Isaiah that we hear today is one of the most familiar stories of the Hebrew Scriptures. Perhaps this is because the words that he hears in the vision are words that have become part of every celebration of the Eucharist: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!" Isaiah immediately recognizes that he is in the presence of some reality higher and loftier than any human or earthly power. His reaction is instinctual: “Woe is me, I am doomed!” His reaction is the same reaction Moses had before the Burning Bush, the same as Ezekiel when he heard God’s voice in the storm, and the same as Jeremiah when God’s voice proclaimed that he had been chosen before he came to be in his mother’s womb. They all recognized their own insignificance when they came into God’s presence.
Today’s Gospel reading tells us another story of an encounter with a reality greater than ever encountered before. Peter, a professional fisherman, had labored through the night unsuccessfully. He knew that the best time to go fishing was before sunrise when the world is at its stillest. Yet when Jesus tells him to cast his nets, they are suddenly filled with so many fish that their weight almost pulls the boat under. Peter instinctually falls to his knees and asks Jesus to depart. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." He immediately recognizes that he is in the presence of a transcendent power.
I wonder whether such a reaction would happen today. In what philosophers call our post-modern world, we have, for all intents and purposes, lost a sense of the transcendent. In our 21st century world the human will, rather than a transcendent Creator and Savior, is worshiped as the ultimate reality. A standard of truth and goodness outside of ourselves has been lost for most. Many do not look to a reality other than themselves before which our wills must bow. We make the truth. We concoct what is good. And “nobody has any right to tell me what to do.” The human will has no duty, no responsibility, and no obedience to any authority other than itself. This viewpoint is proliferated throughout our culture by our media and by those in power. We are in charge of our lives.
The seeds of this kind of thinking are already present as early as the 1st century. St. Paul has received word from his faithful followers that the Christian community is growing impatient in waiting for the return that Jesus had promised. St. Paul reminds the Christian community of Corinth that they must hold fast to the Gospel that he preached to them. Put very simply, the Gospel is this: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; he was buried; was raised on the third day and appeared to Peter, the Twelve, and to all the apostles. Finally he appeared to Paul. This is the truth to which we hold firm. The mystery of Christ’s incarnation, passion, death and resurrection are the greatest reality known to human history. All else pales by comparison. The pursuit of power and wealth may be the preoccupation of the post-modern world, but for those who claim Jesus as our Savior, the death and resurrection of Jesus are our priority.
Actually, we Catholic Christians try to have the kind of experience about which we read in the Scriptures today. At every celebration of the Eucharist, the presider shows us a wafer of bread and proclaims that it is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sins of the world. We all respond, “Lord I am not worthy,” similar to how Isaiah and Peter responded when faced with the power of the transcendent God. Do we mean what we say? Do we realize what we receive as we approach the altar? It is a fair question.
When Isaiah and Peter proclaim their unworthiness, God commissions them to set aside their occupations – Isaiah the priest of the Temple and Peter the fisherman of Gennesaret. They are sent to others and given the sole task of bringing others to their Lord. Isaiah is sent as a prophet to Judah, and Peter is sent to be a fisher of men and women. Their lives are changed by what they have seen and heard. The same task is given to us. As we ply our given trade, do we remember that we have been commissioned to preach the Gospel through the example of our lives? Does our weekly or even daily meeting with our Lord and Savior Jesus change the way we live, or does the “Holy, holy, holy,” that we proclaim as the first response in our Eucharistic prayer die out once we go our separate ways?
Today, we are reminded that like Isaiah and Peter, we too are called.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator