Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 10, 2019

I am on a mission.  It’s a personal thing, I suppose, and an uphill battle, but I’m not giving up.  I’m on a mission to rid the world of shame. Shame is that painful feeling that strikes the core of who we are when we lose faith in ourselves, when we stop believing we are fundamentally good, when we say to ourselves, “I am a bad person.”  Shame is destructive, a dead end, and it is shuts off the grace of God. So it’s my mission to rid the world of shame.

Keep in mind that shame and guilt are two very different things.  Guilt, generally, is good, even a little Catholic guilt. Guilt is that recognition that we’ve done something wrong, or hurt someone, or did some damage.  Guilt is, for the most part, a healthy thing. It can set us on a path of reconciliation or healing or forgiveness. But failing at something is not the same as being a failure.   

Shame stops us from growing, from transitioning, from becoming a better person.  Shame is a terrible force within us that tells us we are without honor, without dignity, without worth.  Shame, at its core, is saying that God does not love us. So this becomes not only our problem, but God’s, as well, because people who live in shame cannot respond to the call of God.  Imperfect people can, sinners can, but shamed people cannot. Our scriptures today can attest to this truth.

Isaiah listens to God’s call, but he can’t answer.  He is filled with shame. Woe is me, I am doomed!  For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.  But God wants Isaiah, needs Isaiah.  So he sends an angel to place a hot coal on his lips (that should get his attention!) to prove to him that there is nothing that God can’t get past; there is nothing Isaiah has said or done that God can’t or won’t forgive.  Once Isaiah knew that God saw beyond his sin, only then, could Isaiah say, “Here I am; send me.”

And then there is Paul.  Paul was a man who, in his own words, was born abnormally…not worthy to be called an apostle.  Those are the words of shame.  It took some time, but eventually Paul realizes that whatever it was that made him see himself as abnormal, and despite the harm he caused the early church as a persecutor of Christians, eventually Paul can say, by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.  Paul stepped out of his shame, knew the forgiveness of God, and was able to respond to the call of Christ as an apostle of his love.

And of course there is Peter.  He was a self-confessed sinner and apparently not that great of a fisherman, either.  He’s wrapped in his shame; he falls at the knees of Jesus and tells the Lord to go away.  One can only imagine the sins of that impetuous young man that weighed heavy on his conscience.  But Jesus reassures him that his passion and willingness to keep trying is exactly what Jesus needs in his disciples.  Don’t be afraid.  From now on you’ll be catching people.

From the beginning of our faith story God has called women and men to follow him.  We, too, are called. We are called to extend God’s love to those the world finds difficult to love.  We are called to be the voice for the voiceless in the halls of governments. In a world that voices revenge first, God needs us to respond with forgiveness.  When someone suffers from injustice, we must have the courage to proclaim what is right and just. When others are destroying creation faster than it can be recreated, God needs us.  When the bully strikes, God needs us to stand with the bullied.

Make no mistake, God is fully aware of our shortcomings and addictions, our imperfections and disorders, our silly little quirks.  God is aware of our sins. But by the grace of God we are what we are. By the same grace of God we are called.

So while I say that it is my personal quest to rid the world of shame, it’s not really mine; it’s God’s quest.  Because when we believe that God forgives, that God heals, that God loves despite our imperfections and weaknesses -only then we can hear God’s call.  Only then will we be open to the healing, forgiving grace of God. Only then will we stand alongside of Isaiah and Paul and Peter and so many other women and men in our family of faith, and say, “Here I am. Send me.”  

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