Pope Francis, in his recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, on the joy of the Gospel, has invited us to become a missionary Church. Each and every parish has been called to share the Gospel with its neighbours.
The Holy Father’s enthusiasm has been infectious, but I suspect it has left many with a deep sense of inadequacy. We wonder: “How could I, with my many failings, take any meaningful part in spreading the Gospel?”
The readings at this Sunday’s Mass reassure us that this sense of inadequacy, far from being the exception, is probably the norm. We are not alone in such feelings.
We hear the account of the prophet Isaiah called into the presence of God. His first reaction was a sense of overwhelming unworthiness: “What a wretched state
I am in! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live amongst a people of unclean lips.”
Isaiah’s alarm is echoed in our own hesitancy to believe that we can become effective witnesses to the Gospel.
As the account unfolds the prophet’s unworthiness was swept aside. The Lord himself touched the lips of the prophet, equipping him for the mission that lay ahead. Then, and only then, could the prophet say: “Here I am, Lord, send me.” The simple wisdom of this narrative invites us to believe that we do not prepare ourselves to serve the Lord; it is the Lord himself who prepares us to bring his joy to the world.
St Luke’s account of the calling of the first Apostles on the shores of Galilee emphasises the same thing. Our feeling that past performance makes us poor candidates for the Lord’s work was echoed in Peter’s dismay at the Lord’s request that they should pay out their nets for a catch: “Master, we have laboured hard all night and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.”
Peter was on the brink of resigning himself to his own failure. Trust alone opened his life to the unimagined possibilities of what his Lord might achieve through a trusting faith.
St Paul, not naturally inclined to modesty, came to confess his own unworthiness: “I am the least of the Apostles, since I persecuted the Church. I hardly deserve the name of Apostle, but, by God’s grace, that is what I am.”
When unworthiness leads us to trust in the Lord, everything is possible.
This article first appeared in the February 5 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To download the entire issue for free with our new app, go here