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Fifth Sunday of the Year

With him we shall do great things

A church or temple is itself a silent sermon, proclaiming our belief in God's presence in our midst and our need to worship him. The building, its furnishings and the liturgy we celebrate appeal not only to our minds, but also to our imaginations and emotions. Sometimes these outward physical signs come alive for us. With the eyes of faith we become very aware of what they signify.

That's what Isaiah experienced as he prayed in the temple in Jerusalem. He saw the temple as the throne room of God in his majestic glory, surrounded by his court and praised by the heavenly choir. In contrast with the majesty of God, Isaiah became very aware of his own unworthiness.

The Gospel tells us that Simon, the fisherman, had a similar experience - a glimpse of the awesome majesty of Christ, who had enabled him to take a miraculous draft of fish. Like Isaiah, Simon was very conscious of his unworthines in the presence of the divine. Falling to his knees, he exclaimed, "Depart from me, Lord. I am a sinner."

Such a sense of unworthiness could be paralysing. Or it could be liberating - and that was the case with both Isaiah and Simon. As Isaiah recognised that he was a man of unclean lips, a seraph cleansed them with coals of fire. Far from being intimidated and reduced to silence by God's majesty, Isaiah was empowered to become his prophet. His glimpse of the Lord's presence and power became a source of hope and strength. God was in the midst of his people and would protect them, if only they would turn to him and trust him.

And it was only when Simon recognised his personal inadequacy that Jesus called him to be a fisher of men. Far from departing from Simon the sinner, the Son of God has come among us sinners to raise us above our creaturely limitations, to overcome our sinfulness and enable us to share in God's own life and glory. That's the message of today's second reading.

Far from reducing the prophet and the fisherman to inactivity, these glimpses of God's power and majesty became a source of strength, enabling them to work for the Lord. Once they had learnt to trust not in their own feeble efforts, but in God's power, they were able to do great things for the Lord. That's the message of the 'Magnificat', in which Mary proclaimed that he (the Lord) had looked on her nothingness and done great things to her and through her.

Today's readings are about the vocation of a great prophet and of the leader of the apostles. But Jesus calls each one of us to follow him and to work for him. The task can seem daunting and impossible - if we think only of our limitations. But when God calls us, he owes it to himself and to us to give us the strength to do his will. We are not acting alone.

We are told that the apostles left everything and followed Jesus. They gave up their security and journeyed into a yet unknown future with Jesus. For us, leaving everything means abandoning our self-sufficiency and our trusting in God's power, not our own. With him we can do great things for the Lord. If we waited until we thought we were good enough to do God's work, nothing would ever get done!

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Audio Filebeadvent1-08b.mp3 (4,040 KB)