Have you ever sat down to watch Television in the evening, and you flick around the Channels, and nothing really catches your attention; then for good measure you try it again, and suddenly you land on a channel that is showing a fantastic Documentary, and you know this is the one to watch? Well, it happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I had looked up the Television Guide for the week, and had completely missed seeing this Documentary advertised on the Works of Michelangelo! One of the many absolute inspiring works of art which makes my heart jump a beat or two is the Pieta. Now let’s refresh our memories about this famous work of art.
The Pietà (1498–1499) by Michelangelo is a marble sculpture in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the first of a number of works of the same theme by the artist. The statue was commissioned by the French cardinal Jouhnd-Billairesz, who was a representative in Rome. The statue was made from a single block of marble, and it was for a Cardinal’s funeral monument, but was moved to its current location, the first chapel on the right as one enters the Basilica, in the 18th century. This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus in the arms of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. In the Cardinal’s memoirs it is recorded that he marveled at the finished work of art! Michelangelo responded by saying that he chipped away at the block to unveil what he could see within. Let’s stay with that last point for a little while…..what he could see within the block of marble.
Now as we look at the call of the Prophet Isaiah, and the call of the Apostles, the Lord God sees within us, what can be! Let’s have a closer look at the Call of Isaiah in the first reading for today, and then carefully see the stages within that call, where finally Isaiah can say…’Here I am, send me’.
The context for this Vocational change in Isaiah’s life is very, very important. It is a moment, captured within the ‘faith-life’ of Isaiah; it is a deliberate gazing into the void, and within that stillness and conscious focusing, it is as if floating, unbounded but totally consumed in body, mind and spirit, that this religious experience takes place. Isaiah sees himself within a place of Holiness, par excellence, where he is experiencing in 3D and surround sound an invitation to ‘change’ in order to become, what the Lord God saw in him. Isaiah, gradually undergoes a transformation within his spiritual self. Now let’s go through the stages of awareness of self, before the Lord God, and then on to the mission. If you are at home as you read this, you might like to make a cup of Coffee or some strong Irish Breakfast tea to sustain you for the rest of the read……
This picturesque Theophany, which comes from the Greek, theophania, meaning an appearance of God/Adonai which reveals some of the divinity, power and glory of The One, who has always been, and will continue to be…..the loving architect, and cause of all that was, all that is, and all that will be…..who issues forth the breath of life, to all that lives and breathes. The Temple…Holy of Holies, this Sacred Space is the Templum, and for Isaiah, it becomes the tempus…the time to gaze within this atmosphere of profound impact. So, that we don’t get lost in what I am trying to say, the Templum is the PLACE! The tempus is the TIME/MOMENT…hence within this Spiritual experience, the two become ONE! A sense of timelessness takes over, and from that, Isaiah’s response to the Lord God’s invitation is firstly a sense of CONTRITION! Then follows his RESPONSE. It is within this heightened experience, that Isaiah realizes his poverty of spirit, and that of the people whom he represents. It is seeing with the eyes of faith, his and their ‘missing the mark’ (wretchedness/sin) both personally and corporately. He experiences a sense of ‘lostness’ momentarily, which develops into a realization and exclamation of his contrite heart. The similar contrite heart which sings and lives is Psalm 50/51 The Miserere: Isaiah becomes the embodiment of this Psalm…here are a few verses…
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Saviour,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
Now this Psalm, and its motifs, had already become part of Isaiah’s bone marrow……he would have prayed this kind of prayer many, many times, and actualised it in and through the Covenant Renewal Ceremonies, and Atonement Liturgies. This is not about reciting the prayer regularly, it is about praying the prayer habitually and with focus. I had a pet Galah (Pink and Grey Australian Parrot) and it recited lots of things…for example…it often said, “I love you Kev, does the Bishop know? That’s the big question!” I could teach the Parrot to recite Psalm 50/51, but it could never pray it. Praying the sense of this Psalm has to be done often…it is like applying Polish to a timber floor that hungers for it…..one application is never enough! The prayer needs to be digested and become part of us….this comes about by letting the prayer, pray in us…..notice the subtlety?
With Isaiah, the inner disposition was already present, and hence within this Dream, the Parable of his conversion and calling, is teased out, and put into action by his holistic response…..”Here, I am, send me!”
As we cross over the bridge to the Gospel, we see a similar embodiment of Psalm 50/51 in the Apostles, when they were called by Jesus, and the deliberate invitation by Jesus to make happen the seemingly impossible, to be possible……the huge catch of fish! So much so, that the ‘faith-activity’ of the Apostles becomes so contagious, that only a signal was needed for help, because the ‘new comers’ could see what was happening, from the point of view of seeing/hearing and knowing through faith. This is just not information for the readers that the catch was so big that help was needed to get the fish out of the breaking nets, and get them to the markets while the catch was fresh! No, the Gospel Community of Luke, who put this narrative together, were not interested in that, they were deeply absorbed by the “faith-response” of the Apostles, and its direct implications for the fledging Church, and of course for us, it is ever new!
After the catch of fish, and the filling of two boats to almost sinking point, Simon, in seeing this and processing this in his mind and heart, dropped to his knees, at the feet of Jesus…..this being a ‘living action of Repentance and Conversion’, is similar to that of Isaiah, in the first reading. In the face of such a phenomenon…..that is the inner change in Simon, and his companions. Notice their reaction? ”They were frightened”, then in another translation from the Greek it says: they were astonished/ amazement had seized them! Then Jesus, sensing their fear, as Simon represented the group; Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, from now on it will be people that you will catch”. To conclude the activity of Conversion preceded by Contrition, they hauled in their nets; dropped everything, left everything on the beach…not even getting cash for their catch; and they followed Jesus.
When I was a teenager, I used to often think that the Apostles were rather thoughtless in just leaving all this gear on the beach and following Jesus. Well, of course as I later discovered, the authors of this Gospel were not concerned by the details of leaving boats and nets for someone else to pick up….it is about a “faith-response” which the Evangelistic Community were keen on….In other words, it was an immediate change of life style…..in terms of faith, meaning in this instance, that their insight into the One who was calling them, enabled the Apostles to experience Salvation, that also means the ability to see the saving hand of God at work in Jesus. Hence with the pre-condition of a contrite heart, the change can then become immediate……but not necessarily final. Continued work would need to be done to fortify and nourish their faith response, and contrition, as we see further on in the unveiling of the Good News. We should also keep in mind that this experience of Salvation did not safe guard Simon Peter for the denial of his Master, when the chips were down, prior to Our Lord’s arrest! But it does say a lot about the Lord’s profound understanding of our human nature, because He shared in it too, in all things, but sin.
What about us? The message is the same, but the faces have changed! In order for our ‘faith life’ to be highly tuned, we need to nourish our inner sense of contrition frequently, so that we can see more clearly the One who continually calls us to change, to newness of life and to mission! This enables us to respond to the constant invitations from Jesus which come to us each day. We don’t go looking for the Mission, the Mission finds us. Are we as keen on nourishing our inner conversion, as we are to getting our cars put in for Service? Do, we regularly spend time working at our sense of contrition, by praying reflectively Psalm 50/51 or other kinds of Life Reviews and associated meditations? Is our response to ‘pop up’ mission invitations each day, taken up promptly, or done in our time when we are ready? These questions are just as important for me as they are for you. Then there is the feeling of ‘powerlessness and fear’ when we are face to face with the living Body of Christ within our communities; do we give the time to hear the comforting words from Jesus: “Do not be afraid!” Are we prepared to sit silently with these words????
Finally, who gives us the push, the urge to press on with the Mission of Christ in today’s world? An answer could well be that which alerted the Apostle Paul to the very same thing…’ I can do all things through Him who gives me the strength….’ Food for thought, eh?
As a concluding Twitter message to comfort us, and give us strength, may the prayerful words in the concluding verse of our Responsorial Psalm 137:8, echo throughout our being, always… “You stretch out your hand and save me, your hand will do all things for me. Your love is eternal…..”
Fr Kevin Walsh & his Companion, Shauna