[Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time: ADDU Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption. Feb. 6-7, 2016]
We have ordinary experiences in life. We also have extraordinary experiences. But these are different from experiences of the Holy.
We have ordinary experiences. Ordinarily, in the course of a day, we get up in the morning, we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, we take care of our personal hygiene, we go to work, we come home from work, we relax in ordinary ways; we watch television, listen to music, we play games, engage in sports. We interact with friends and relatives in ordinary ways: we go to a café, we go to a movie, we share a meal. We go shopping for ordinary needs; we do the household chores. At the end of an ordinary day, we go to bed. Ordinariness repeats itself as routine. Ordinariness sustains life. But it is seldom exciting. Sometimes, ordinariness is boring.
Extraordinariness is exciting: when the routine is broken, the boredom overcome by a new friend on the block, a new iPhone for my tinkering, a new restaurant filled with creative delights.
But the despair of excitement, as in the thrill of a new gadget, or in the enjoyment of a new game, or in the delight of a new friendship, is that with time or repetition or familiarity, what was once exciting, exhilirating, and intensely pleasurable becomes ordinary. Pleasure is stripped of its surprise; relationship is bereft of its depth. Love ordinarily but skin deep. The complaint of many of our youth, already widely experienced in aspects of life that were once reserved for the married or mature, spoiled by the gadgets they master, or by superficiality with which they pampered, or by the thoughtlessness with which they “learn,” is that they are bored.
Boredom with no end is despair. In despair, some do stupid things to break out of the ordinary, to reach out for meaning. Sometimes, deliquency is an attempt at the extraordinary, and violence a tragic cry for the Holy.
The experience of the Holy, I think, is clearly different from both the ordinary and the extraordinary. The experience of the Holy is certainly extraordinary. But the Holy is not just extraordinariness. The Seraphim in the first reading from Isaiah proclaim before the throne of God, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts” (Is. 6:3a). The Holy is God; the Holy is divinity; there is only one Holy. If one has experienced the Holy, one knows, “…all the earth is filled with his glory” (Is. 6:3b). If one has experienced the Holy, one knows God in all, and one begins to find God in all. For us, the experience of the Holy is always through apparently ordinary things. But the ordinary is experienced not only extraordinarily but divinely. I am in a real financial crisis, down and out, and an understanding person comes to my aid, not to take advantage of me, but simply to help me. That can be an experience of the Holy: not just the experience of a friend indeed aiding of a friend in need, but an experience of God meeting my need through that friend, an experience of the Holy breaking into my life. When I was a young Jesuit, I was in a car accident which almost killed me. All of a sudden, the limitedness of my life merged in the fullness of all that is, is captured in a moment of consciousness of impending life or death, life that is totally mine and totally not mine, the totally mine being miniscule, and the totally God’s being overwheming. All, I knew, was up to God. That was an experience of the Holy. Many times, in the sacred spaces of nature, in the majesty of the mountains, the grandure of the rivers, the wonder of trees, the delicacy of the flowers, the power of the winds, the endlessness of space, the vulnerability of a baby, one can say, “Wow!” and experience not only the surface natural but the interior Holy. It is is an experience of God’s omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, before which there is only surrender. The experience of the Holy leads to a sense of giftedness, of awe, but also of unworthiness, of sin, of fear.
The experience of Peter, James and John described in our Gospel was an experience of the Holy. They were ordinary fishernmen. The whole night they had worked catching nothing. Grateful to them for loaning him their boat to preach, Jesus told them, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4). Peter blurted out his response for all: “Master we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets” (Lk 5:5). Having obeyed, they brought in so many fish that their boats were in danger of sinking. Through the unexpected catch of fish, they experienced the presence and power of God. They were filled not only with astonishment, but with fear. Peter fell to his knees pleading, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). It was the same experience that Isaiah had in experiencing the Holy: “Woe to me, I am doomed!” he wailed, “For I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Is. 6:5).
And just as Isaiah was purified from his wickedness and sin through the Seraphim’s burning ember, Peter is told, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Lk. 5:10). His purification would come with the suffering and death of Jesus. But in the power of Jesus’ word, he was not to fear. He would be sent to become a fisher of men.
So what is the good news today? The Good News is: In the ordinariness of our lives, the Holy breaks through – on its on power, in its own initiative. In our encounter with the Holy, his compassion breaks through. In the compassion of the Holy, we are forgiven our sins, then sent forth to bring the ordinary world his exciting Good News.
The Good News is profound: Life is not all ordinary; it is not all routine, day in and day out. It is not all boredom and despair. It is not all sickness unto death. It is not an endless cycle of evil that is never truly broken.
The Holy breaks through. It breaks through into history and into our lives on its own, startling us, terrifying us, loving us, healing us, then sending us forth in joy. In our tiredness at trying to make financial ends meet, in our frustration at trying to reconcile our quarreling friends, in our wrestling with our illnesses, in our sadness at the Peace Process seeming to go nowhere, in our frustration at the decisions people make destructive of our common home, in our fear of terrorism and violence, the Holy breaks through asserting itself as Peace, as Goodness, as Love. The Holy breaks through to touch your life and mine – and fill it with blessings.
We can well say, “Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful person!” But in the light of our Gospel do not be surprised if the Lord responds, “Do not be afraid, from now on, because of this experience of the Holy, you will know yourself touched by the God, touched by my love. I will make you a fisher of persons.”