Mass of the Fifth Sunday of the Year
7 February 2016
St. Joseph’s Church, Monaghan, 11.30am
My dear friends,
Isaiah, Paul and Peter are at the centre of today’s readings. All three men did great things for God. Yet each of them had an inferiority complex. They had a low opinion of themselves. They had low self-esteem, to use the modern jargon. They did not put themselves forward, but were called by God. They accepted that call reluctantly, convinced that they were unworthy of it.
Isaiah said, “I am a man of unclean lips.” Paul said, “Of all the apostles I am the least. I don’t even deserve the name apostle.” And Peter declared, “Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man.” This was not false humility on their part, it was the plain truth.
Each starts by acknowledging his unworthiness and inadequacy. From a spiritual point of view, such a start is ideal. People who put themselves forward are more likely to do harm than good. Such people rely on their own resources, often overestimate these and may be just seeking their own glory. Pride and self-sufficiency are often but sand, and the spiritual house built on them likely to fall.
When, on the other hand, we meet someone who is fearful, reluctant, hesitant, we often find that person much more believable and much more human. This element of reluctance is of the essence of the matter, for the saint or martyr who seeks his fate with eagerness rarely rings true.
There is a great paradox here. Paul said, “When I am weak, that is when I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10). The meaning is that when he recognises his own weakness and turns to God, God’s power becomes available to him. When we acknowledge our weakness, God can strengthen us. When we acknowledge our emptiness God can fill us. When we acknowledge our poverty, God can enrich us. Then we become available to do his work and he accomplishes in us things we would otherwise find impossible.
Humility is the starting point. It’s not that we are rotten or evil. It’s more that we are weak, selfish and cowardly. Without the grace of God we are unable to save ourselves, much less anyone else.
However, people can use their sins and weaknesses as a cop-out. Isaiah asked God to choose someone else, someone with a clean mouth. Peter asked Christ to leave him alone because he was a sinner. When we do this we may be giving in to our weakness. We may be using it as a ploy to escape from the challenge of goodness.
According to Peter, Jesus the Holy one, should distance himself from sinners. But Jesus refused to do so. It was for sinners that he came. Thereby he changed people’s understanding of God. God was not a God who shunned sinners, but a God who wants them to be saved, and who gives them a new start.
Isaiah Paul and Peter eventually accepted God’s invitation and all three did a splendid job. This is the paradox – strength arising out of weakness. When we answer God’s call, he empowers us so that we can do things we never thought possible.
We should ask the Lord to give us the humility to acknowledge our weakness and the strength to rise above them. Then we will have the joy of discovering that it is when we are weak that we are strong, because the Lord’s power becomes available to us.
Let your light shine (reflection)
(From the inaugural speech of Nelson Mandela)
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,
But that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant,
Gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
+Liam S. MacDaid
7 February 2016