homily – February 4

Lord, I am not worthy…

For a long time I had trouble with the prayer we pray right before receiving Holy Communion: Lord I’m not worthy to receive you, only say the word and I shall be healed. We all know we are not worthy to receive Christ, the Bread of Life. But we don’t come to communion because we are worthy, we come to communion because we are hungry, frightened, confused, struggling with a problem. Our extended empty hand is a symbol of our neediness, our dependency on God.

In today’s three readings we have people declaring themselves to be ‘unworthy.’ Isaiah is praying in the temple when he is blessed with a religious experience, an awareness of the holiness of God. God’s holiness makes Isaiah deeply aware of how far he is from such holiness and so he speaks the truth, “woe is me, I am lost, I am a man of unclean lips.”

In the second reading, we have Paul reminding the Christian community of Corinth what is of first importance: that Christ Jesus died for our sins was buried and on the third day He was raised from the dead. When Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus he had his own religious experience. In the very depth of his soul Paul was gifted to know Jesus and the transforming wonder of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Changed by this experience Paul would say of himself, ‘I know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.’ Still Paul would always say of himself, ‘I am not worthy.’ I am the least of the apostles; I persecuted the church of God.

In the gospel we have Peter, disappointed after a night of fruitless fishing now stunned by this bountiful catch of fish, saying to Jesus, ‘Stay away from me of Lord, I am a sinful man.’ In a way Peter was saying, “I don’t know who you are about but you’re way too much for me.” I don’t belong in your company.

Isaiah, Paul and Peter each had an experience, an awareness of the presence and the holiness of God. Each of them was overwhelmed by this experience. This experience helped them put things into perspective. Their experience made them humble.

How often do we think of humility as putting ourselves down, belittling ourselves, seeing nothing but the negatives in our lives. That’s not true humility. The Blessed Mother was being totally humble when she said, “He Who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His name. Henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” Mary recognized her place in God’s reality – God chose her.

Someone wrote of today’s readings, “Isaiah, Paul and Peter were forced to compare themselves directly with the presence of God. When they met the holiness of God head on, they saw their own humanness as full of holes. They were no longer able to pretend that they shone like the stars because they saw the real star bursting with light. Their experience of God let them see they are far, far less than God. And this is not bad, it is good. God will make us holy not our own sense of holiness. We can be proud to be unworthy if God’s love is the result.”

Sunday Mass can become so routine, even boring. Other than the different scripture readings at Sunday Mass things are pretty much the same. In a way we can become dull to the wonder of what we are about. At every Mass God makes present to us what is of first importance – “that Christ died for our sins, was buried and on the third day was raised from the dead.” At every Mass we are touched by Christ’s total giving of Himself for each of us -“this is My Body, this is My blood, and this is my life given for you – unconditionally, no holds barred.” At every Mass, Christ’s message to us is: ‘no matter how little you may think of yourself, no matter how down you may be on yourself – I think enough of you to give my life for you.’

If we could grasp this truth then we would see how far, far less is our love for Christ than is His love for us – how far, far less is our love for Christ as we meet Him in family, friend or stranger – than is His love for us.

Then we would mean what we say when we say, “Lord I am not worthy.” Not a put down but recognition of our own reality. Then we could say, “I am so far away from you, nourish me with your body and blood – for you told us, those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me and I live in them, from Your love for me let me draw love for others.

As we continue to celebrate this Mass in which we remember what is of most importance; Christ died for our sins, was buried and on the third day was raised from the dead, we can pray for ourselves and for each other that when we say Lord I am not worthy to receive You we honestly acknowledge our distance from and our need of Christ the living bread. Nourished by this living bread may each of us live as we are meant to live, love as we are meant to love, imitating Jesus, Who loved us and gave His life for us.