In the Scripture readings at Mass for the weekend of February 6th and 7th, we get an interesting look at three of the greatest heroes in the entire Bible. The first reading describes the call of Isaiah, arguably the most important prophet in Israel’s history. Hundreds of years before the fact, Isaiah wrote numerous messianic prophesies, all pointing toward the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
In the second reading, from his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul discusses his call to ministry and lists some key points of the Good News. A tireless missionary, Paul spread the message of salvation through faith in Christ throughout the known world.
Finally, the gospel reading describes the call of St. Peter. Jesus explained that Peter would no longer spend his time out on the boat catching fish, but instead would begin winning souls into the Kingdom of God. Jesus declared to Peter, “From now on you will be catching men.”
So, this week we see three great heroes of our Judeo-Christian heritage, each one called by the Lord to do great and wonderful things for the faith. And, of course, each of these three great heroes accepted the call with joy and excitement and confidence. Umm, not exactly.
In each case, when our three heroes received the call by God, they were filled with doubt and fear. The first words out of Isaiah’s mouth were, “Woe is me….I am a man of unclean lips.”
St. Paul didn’t mince words describing his worthiness to be called by God. “I am the least of the apostles,” he wrote, “not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Just like Isaiah, Paul considered himself far too sinful to be a spokesman for the Lord.
St. Peter also made his feelings plainly known. “Depart from me, Lord,” he said to Jesus, “for I am a sinful man.”
These three biblical heroes learned an important lesson: the closer a person gets to the holy and perfect Lord, the more that person becomes aware of his or her sinfulness. When Isaiah, Paul, and Peter found themselves in the presence of God’s bright light, their shortcomings become glaringly obvious. They each felt unworthy to be singled out by the Lord for such important missions. But that’s not surprising. Everyone is a sinner. Those who are close to God know it—and know they need forgiveness—while those who are far from God think they’re just fine.
So, is there a lesson here for those of us who are not biblical heroes, those of us who make up the vast throng of nameless schlubs sitting in the pews each Sunday? Well, certainly there is. If the great Isaiah, Paul, and Peter felt unworthy to do anything special for the Lord, then we sure as heck shouldn’t even THINK of doing anything.
No, wait! That’s not the lesson. The real lesson here is that you don’t have to be perfect to do something special for the Lord. God calls every single believer—biblical hero and nameless schlub alike—to help spread the good news of the Gospel.
Nowadays we Catholics are faced with a severe shortage of ordained priests, a situation that’s going to get much worse before it gets better. Jesus’ words were never more true: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Luke 10:12).
God is calling each and every one of us to pitch in and help. He knows we’re sinful; He knows we’re fearful; He knows we’re unsure of ourselves. That’s all right. So were Isaiah, Paul, and Peter.
And who knows? If we are faithful and answer God’s call, maybe someday future generations will look back and refer to us as heroes. (Although personally I’m more comfortable with being called a “nameless schlub.”)