In spite of our sinfulness, God rescues us Print E-mail
Bishop's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison   
Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

By the time that you read this, we'll likely have jumped right into Lent. It's one of those years in which the gap between the end of Christmas and the start of Lent is a bit abrupt. Nevertheless, in so many ways, the readings of this past Sunday end up being particularly fitting for a pre-Lenten exhortation -- especially in this Year of Mercy!

The very first thing that stands out to me through all the readings is that the Lord calls, despite the worthiness (or unworthiness) of the one being called. It is the same for Isaiah, for St. Paul, and St. Peter. In the First Reading we hear of the call of the Prophet Isaiah (Is 6:1-2a, 3-8). Just last week we heard of Jeremiah being called despite his youth and his sense of readiness.

Isaiah's response to God

This week, we hear of Isaiah, who by all accounts was already a righteous man. Nevertheless, what is Isaiah's response? "Woe is me, I am doomed!" (Is 6:5). The Lord Himself has condescended to appear to Isaiah and what is his immediate response? Lord, I am not worthy! I am too much a sinner, surrounded by sinners!

The Lord’s response is to send His angels, who cleanse Isaiah’s lips by touching them with the burning embers from the altar of the Lord and telling Isaiah, "indeed, you are 'wicked', but the Lord has removed your sinfulness!" Only then does Isaiah feel the strength to say to the Lord, "Here I am, send me!" (Is 6:8).

How we approach Mass

How many times do we get this wrong in our own lives, and even in the way we approach the Holy Mass -- at which the Lord Himself condescends to appear to us? How many times do we enter the Church on Sundays, beginning with the song, "Here I am Lord . . ." (aren't you lucky Lord!).

This is precisely the issue with so much of the music that is used in Church; some of it, at its very best, aids us in forgetting what our first response to God should be: mindfulness and confession of God’s greatness and our utter unworthiness.

Now, I am all for our zealously taking up our mission and our recognition that God IS indeed calling us to something great. He is! Each and every one of us, in a unique and powerful way! And I recognize that being reminded of our calling, especially through music, can be powerful and moving on an emotional level.

However, unless we emulate Jeremiah and Isaiah, and Paul and Peter, and constantly ground ourselves in the reality of our unworthiness, we will very quickly find ourselves unable to do anything of much lasting good. And our Sunday worship of the Almighty is a particular place for us to find that grounding and to worship the Lord.

Paul reminds the people of Corinth in the Second Reading (1 Cor 15:1-11) of his own unworthiness and of the reality that all he himself is really doing is handing on that which he has received. Paul is saying to them basically, I haven't been ineffective in what I've been doing and certainly I've been working my tail off, but it’s not really me who is having an effect, but the grace of God within me! And, he adds, the same goes for you!

And what about Peter? In the Gospel (Lk 5:1-11) we hear how Peter (and James and John) were out toiling at their work, without any success. And we hear how when they ultimately obey Jesus and follow his command, not only does He make their work fruitful, but He calls them to something far greater -- to be "fishers of men."

But, what is Peter's response, when he first realizes who Jesus is? Peter "fell to his knees and said, 'depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man'" (Lk 5:8).

Each of us is called

Look, we are each of us called, not only to be righteous women and men like Isaiah and like Peter and Paul, but also to accomplish great things through the grace of God. But we are called first to be like Isaiah, and Peter, and Paul, and to fall to our knees and to remember, "Lord I am not worthy!"

And where does that happen most profoundly? It happens when we encounter the living God at Mass. It is then that we gather to fall together to our knees, to cry out, "Lord I am not worthy!" It is there that our lips are touched -- not with the embers from the altar, but with God Himself, come down to the altar, so that we might be made righteous and fit to say, "Here I am, send me!"

It is at the Mass where, as with Peter and James and John, we hear the Word of Jesus, so that we might know who He truly is and so that our work might be made far more effective than what we could ever conceive. And it is at the Mass where we can return, each and every week, to give thanks to God that, despite our weakness, He has had mercy and chosen us for greater things. (Miserando et Eligendo)

Focus on greatness of God

With this in our minds, I hope you can see why I am firmly convinced that our prayer at Mass, including and especially the music, needs to be focused on the greatness of God in our lives, and not upon the greatness of us in the world. I know it feels good and it gets us jazzed to stand up and to sing about us and how great we are, but that’s neither the model of a successful disciple, nor the model given to us for worship of the Lord.

And this is not bad news. How many times have I heard, "Father talks about sin, and I don't leave Mass feeling good about myself." Well, in the first place, if you feel bad about Father's mention of sin, or his reminding you that you're a sinner, it could very well be that there's something else dragging you down.

Could it be that it’s not Father's words, but rather your own conscience whispering to you, "He's right!"? For a Christian, the notion of sin or the reminder that, "I am a sinner," should never drag us down, because, for a Christian, that's never the end of the story. "For while we were yet sinners Christ died for us!" (Rm 5:8)

God’s mercy and love

Being reminded that we are sinners should be a reminder of God's unbelievable mercy and love for us! If you are stuck on the negative side of things, worrying about sin even being mentioned, get to Confession and get that off your back! We have a Sacrament in which the Lord Himself speaks through the priest and says, just like the angel to the righteous Isaiah, "your wickedness is removed, your sin purged." Talk about mercy!

It is only then, that we can hear the voice of the Lord calling, "Whom shall I send?" And only then will we have what we need to respond, "Here I am, send me." And that is something that each and every one of us is called to go through again and again.

This is Lent and this is the Year of Mercy, a particular season and a particular year set aside for us to consider that even in spite our sinfulness, the Lord has come to rescue us, to call us, and to make our work great, by His Grace.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Let us pray for one another throughout this Lent, that we might come to recognize our own unworthiness in new and deeper ways, confess to the Lord, and be inspired to allow Him to do ever greater through us! Praised be Jesus Christ!