Sunday Sermon for February 10, 2013, the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings: Is 6:1-2a, 3-8; 1Cor 15:1-11; Lk 5:1-11

In the second reading today St. Paul reminds the people of Corinth of he Gospel he preached and which they received. Then he points out, from everything he preached, what was of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins. The resurrection follows from this and then the various post resurrection appearances to the various Apostles. The truth has not changed over these past 2000 years.

Why is the fact of Jesus dying for our sins of the greatest importance? Without the forgiveness of our sins, we would have no means of being able to get to Heaven. In the first readings today we hear the Seraphim crying out to one another “Holy, Holy Holy, is the Lord of Hosts.” The Seraphim are the highest order of angels; their name means “fiery ones.” These angels who are so pure and so filled with love are the very ones speaking about the holiness of God.

Isaiah recognizes very quickly that he is in trouble because he is a sinner in the presence of pure holiness. He confesses that he is a man of unclean lips, but an angel purifies him by touching his lips with and ember from the fire on the altar. Following from this the angel declares that the wickedness of Isaiah is removed and his sin is purged. This makes Isaiah able to be in the Lord’s presence, but it also enables him to do the Lord’s work.

We see something similar in the Gospel where Peter falls before the Lord and says “Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man.” Jesus tells him not to be afraid because hereafter he will be catching men. The apparent point is that Peter is forgiven of his sinfulness and, like Isaiah, he is now able to do the work of the Lord. Notice, however, in both cases, that the confession of the sin is required before the forgiveness is granted. It is also necessary for us to know our weakness and our dependency on God before we can do His work. If not, we take it as our own work rather than God’s work or, even if we acknowledge it as being God’s work, we try to do it ourselves rather than relying on God and allowing Him to do what is needed.

Beyond this, and perhaps even more important, is that without the recognition of our sinfulness we might somehow think ourselves as being worthy by our own merit of being chosen by God. Knowing our sinfulness helps us to keep the perspective that we are not worthy to be in the presence of God or to do anything in His Name.

Once we know our sins and acknowledge them, we must still realize that there is nothing we can do about them. We committed the sins, but we cannot remove them from our own souls. Jesus is the only means of the forgiveness of sins, and the means He chose to bring about this forgiveness is to shed His Blood on the Cross for us.

Just as the blood of the Passover lamb was sprinkled on the doorposts and the lintels of the Jewish homes in Egypt so that the Angel of Death would pass by those homes, so now, made clean in the Blood of the Lamb, death has no power over us. Instead, with our sins forgiven and our souls restored to the State of Grace, we have access to eternal life.

None of this is our own doing, none of it was earned or deserved; it is a pure gift of love. We are sinners who do not deserve to be in the presence of the Most Holy God. All of us have heard this many times and we know it in our heads; the experiences of Peter and Isaiah brought it from their heads to their hearts. They were convicted in the depths of their being and knew that they could not, of themselves, stand in the presence of God. They received the mercy of God and they were transformed by His love. Once they knew this love, they were willing to give all for the Lord.

The same is true for us. We have probably all met someone who is in love with the Lord and zealous in serving Him. These people have allowed the truth of their sinfulness and unworthiness to sink into their hearts. Rather than despairing, they have also allowed the love and mercy of God to fill their hearts. Their gratitude overflows in the ways we can all see. We, too, can overflow with love for Jesus, but only when we allow the truths of our faith to get from the head to the heart, and that of greatest importance: that Jesus died for our sins.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit