6th Sunday Ordinary Time
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: Feb. 12, 2023
If someone was becoming Catholic and was wondering what they needed to do, how would you answer? One basic response could be this, “Be Holy.” Become a Saint. Being Catholic is a call to be holy.
The problem is that many of us think that being holy is for the great saints. Being holy is for some important person, it is for somebody else. A simple person like me is not holy. Often because we have a false idea of what it means to be holy. If we want to understood what it is to be holy, we need to look to Jesus.
What does Jesus mean by holiness? Actually, people often misunderstood Jesus, it seems they did not think he was clear enough. For some he was ambiguous. In our gospel today Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets.” It seems that some thought that Jesus was not following the law and the prophets. That he was not faithful to the truth of their religious tradition.
The religious elites, the rich, the powerful leaders and even his own disciples often misunderstood Jesus and felt that he was not faithful to God’s truth. It was the poor, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the so-called public sinners who seemed to understand what Jesus was saying and doing.
Why did some not understand Jesus. Think about how Jesus acted. He forgave the woman caught in adultery and refused to condemn her. He allowed the woman who was a public sinner to wash his feet, scandalizing the pharisee who saw it. He healed people on the Sabbath day, upsetting those who said he was breaking the Sabbath law. He forgave the sins of the paralyzed man, which was an act of God.
Jesus revealed the face of God as the face of mercy. He was only harsh with those who were being harsh with others. He was not abolishing the law and prophets but bringing out the fullness and depth of the wisdom of God. The wisdom of God did not exist to condemn, to separate, to reject. The goal of God is communion, connection, unity and harmony in all creation and among all people.
For Jesus, holiness was to live in the depth and wisdom of God. It is not about piety, coming to church, saying long prayers. In the depths of God is unity and harmony. This is why Jesus takes sin very seriously.
In fact, he uses extreme language and images. “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out,” “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” Sin is so serious because it leads to division, it breaks relationships, it leads to disunity. Sin destroys harmony and leads to disorder rather than harmony. Sin leads away from the vision of God for the universe.
It is why Jesus says, before you come to worship God, “if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,” go first and “be reconciled with your brother or sister.”
So, Be Holy. Be a Saint. Be an instrument of unity. True holiness is not about condemning or rejecting others whom you consider evil or wrong. True holiness always leads to communion among people, it leads to harmony in relationships.
If you want to be holy, then look at your relationships and strive for harmony and peace. Be reconciled with others. Be faithful to your commitments. Each Catholic is called to be Holy, to be a Saint. Real holiness enters the depth of the wisdom of God, it leads to communion, harmony and faithful love.
Here I Am, Send Me
5th Sunday Ordinary Time
Fr. Mark Gatto
Have you ever had a powerful experience of God? We just heard two accounts of mystical experiences of being in the presence of the Holy.
The Prophet Isaiah in the Temple in Jerusalem. He describes an experience of the holiness of God. He hears the Seraphs calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts,” Today when we celebrate the Eucharist we make this same acclamation in the Sanctus, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts,” as we prepare to be in the presence of the Holy God in Holy Communion.
Isaiah is overwhelmed before the sense of the transcendent, holy God. He feels so unworthy in the presence of the Holy One. But, the Seraph touches his mouth with a fiery coal taken from the altar and he is told that his guilt has departed and his sin is blotted out. With this experience of encountering the Holy God, the Prophet Isaiah hears the call sending him out to be an instrument of God. Isaiah responds with a prayer that each of us could use every day, “Here am I, send me.”
The second mystical experience of being in the presence of God takes place in the Gospel. Peter experiences the Holiness of God, not in the Temple, but in the presence of Jesus. Like Isaiah,
Peter’s first reaction is a sense of being unworthy. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Jesus answers him, “Do not be afraid.” Then Peter is given a mission, he is sent out. He leaves everything and follows Jesus and is told that from now on he will be catching people.
There are two things we can learn about our own personal encounter with the Holy God. First, do not give in to the sense of guilt, the sense of being a sinful person, that makes you think that you could not be welcome in the presence of God. The Lord will speak in your heart, Do not be afraid, your sin is blotted out.
Secondly, we need to listen to where God is sending us. Where are you and I being sent to be an instrument of God. Perhaps within your own family. Is there need to bring healing, to bring peace, to bring forgiveness, to bring hope, right within our own home, within your family?
Perhaps where you work or where you study? Is there someone who is hurting, someone who is discouraged, someone who is alone? You may be the one person being sent by God to bring hope and healing and peace.
Take a moment of silence right now, close your eyes. Imagine yourself in the presence of the Holy God. Imagine yourself in the presence of Jesus. At this moment, where would you be sent to be an instrument of God? Where may you be sent to bring the presence of the holy God to others, through your kindness, your forgiveness, your goodness?
When Peter and the Apostles come ashore, they had been fishing all night. They had caught nothing. They would have been discouraged, they would have been without hope. Jesus sends them out saying, “Put out into the deep.” Jesus gives them hope, they do go out again and make an incredible catch.
The church today has many reasons to be discouraged, to be lacking in hope. The constant negative news about residential schools and abuse cases. The past two years of Covid restrictions which has led to isolation for many and a struggle for us to be together. Many of our parishioners that I have not seen for much of these two years. We need to hear Jesus sending us out, “Put out into the deep.”
What gives you hope in these times? I sense that many of our priests are also struggling in these days. What is my greatest source of hope and encouragement? Where do I as a parish priest experience the presence of the holy God in my life? One definite place is Sunday morning in this parish. When I am greeting you the people of our parish. Saying hello, speaking with you, and then praying together in the Eucharist. By the end of Sunday Masses, no matter how I was feeling before Sunday, I always feel a sense of hope, a sense of encouragement. I sense the presence of the Holy God, the presence of Jesus, through you. Also, through many parishioners not able to come out now when I speak with them by phone.
Holy, Holy, Holy, we are to open our hearts to encounter the holy God like Isaiah and like Peter. Do not give in to fear or guilt that keeps you away from God. Then be ready to be sent out to be an instrument of God. Make your prayer the prayer of Isaiah, “Here am I, send me.”