Life and Mission

02-10-2019Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian F. Manning

Our language—in particular certain words—contains contradictory meanings. Context helps us to understand what the word really means. “Terrific” comes from the word that means “terror”, but terrific does not mean that at all. It means exciting, wonderful, that which draws us all in, but still leaves us nervous or wary of some unknown. We often describe an experience as terrific. We are drawn all the way in, but there is still that edge of fear. This weekend’s scripture has to do with transcendence, which is “terrific” in the dual meaning of drawing us in and also making us nervous and afraid.

The magnificent Temple located in Jerusalem was nothing compared to Isaiah’s vision of God, who appears in the brightness of angels. As we hear in the first reading, this experience left Isaiah radically changed. In this vision, the great prophet perceived that he was called to come nearer, even though he felt unworthy to draw near. He was also shocked to be addressed by God’s angels. But he was, and he was also called closer to the one who is totally other, God. In the end, Isaiah finally responded back in a clear voice, “Here I am, send me!” What drama this all makes for us listeners.

In the Gospel this weekend, the call of Jesus to Peter is far less spectacular, but certainly just as important. This gospel story is very detailed and thus we realize that this story is very important in the long narrative about Jesus. Indeed, in many ways, this is a first step in the mission of Jesus, this gathering of his first followers. The scene that is related is quite poignant and powerful: It is morning and the fishermen are washing their nets. The long night of toil is now over. It was a difficult and hard night, and sadly they had caught no fish. Jesus finds the shore crowded with people and needs Peter’s boat to get him slightly offshore. When he finishes speaking, he asks Peter to cast his net. We learn that Peter knew about fishing, but Jesus knew more about his mission and purpose. The great catch that occurred brought everything into focus for Peter. At this point, however, Peter saw anew. He fell to his knees, suddenly aware of who Jesus truly was. Note that who Peter was and what he lacked did not matter. Who Jesus was and what he asked mattered absolutely. Along with his fishing partners, James and John, Peter left his boats and his fishing and followed Jesus.

In our second reading we hear from one last apostle, who was as surprised as anyone could be about his calling, our beloved Saint Paul. Hear how he describes his mission and not his life story. This passage is our oldest surviving faith statement. Paul sets out the hard-won and fiercely proclaimed central belief that formed the heart of the Church and claimed the hearts of its members.

These powerful narratives of the beginnings of a new life for Isaiah, for Peter and his shipmates, and also for Paul, all witness to an undeniable sense of the deep mystery of God. Hear in all these stories, and indeed many more, the presence of God’s abiding grace, which makes our life and mission possible.

Father Brian