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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Prophets are Set on Fire by God

February 10, 2019

[75] Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8 / Psalm 138 / 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 / Luke 5:1-11

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The setting for the first reading is the temple, imaged as the place where God is both present and honored.  This is not dissimilar to how we regard the “real presence” of Christ in our churches.  Notice Isaiah speaks of seeing the train of God’s garment but no description is given about the deity.  Exodus 33:20 affirms that none could see the face of God and live.  This perspective will change with the coming of Christ who is regarded by Christians as giving a human face to God; he is the revelation of the Father.

Who or what are the Seraphim? While our angelic hierarchy differs from the Jews, the Seraphim are regarded in Christian tradition as angels of the highest rank. Angelology regards these six winged angels as essentially composed of fire and light.  It is in this sense that they share a special affinity with the LORD who is the greatest fire of all.  These angels are in close proximity to God.  They always keep their sights upon him. (A basic tenet of Scholastic philosophy is that when the veil is lifted between creatures and the absolute Good, which we associate with God, all are compelled to embrace it.  It is for this reason that we come to God in the mortal world by faith and not through sight.  At death our status becomes fixed, either sharing the beatific vision in heaven or rebelling to face the pains of hell.  Along these lines, some thinkers propose that a veil or cloud existed between God and his angels.  Tradition suggests that a third of the angels rebelled against God.  Existing outside of time their decision in obedience or rebellion is immutable.  The Seraphim bask in the light or fire of the absolute Good or the divine mystery.  Literally, “to see God” is “to worship God.”  That is why the catechism speaks of the angels and saints giving eternal glory to God in heaven.  The eyes of the saints are locked in awe upon the divine mystery forever.)

The prophet Isaiah acknowledges that he is a man of unclean lips and immediately in response a seraph comes to him with an ember taken with tongues from the altar.  We read, “He touched my mouth with it, and said, “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”  The prophet is not only chosen but he is enabled for his mission.  Isaiah receives his calling to which he accepts in the context of this worship.  Turning to Catholicism, the priest or bishop is ordained within the rituals of the Eucharistic liturgy.  Lay men and women are to live out their prophetic role in taking into the world that which they are given at every Mass, the message and risen person of Christ.

Notice the connection with worship to the fire of incense.  Just as we as Catholics speak of the Mass as our earthly participation in the marriage banquet of heaven; here there is a profound association or parallel between the worship of the temple where God is present and the heavenly adoration rendered by his angels.  The Seraphim offer a resounding hymn of praise, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.  This formula of worship, called the Trisagion, becomes an important element of Christian worship, East and West.  Some of the ancient Church fathers would even discern something of the Trinitarian personhood of God in the hymn.  The word holy is more than a descriptive adjective— it is the very name of God as all HOLY.  Isaiah associates holiness with the ember that touches his lips.  He is essentially burned by the fire of God.  Fire destroys the old to make room for the new.  There is no space between us and the HOLY God for sin.  Christians associate this fire with the purification of souls in purgatory that approach the throne of God.  As for believers in this world, there is an expression for fervent believers that carries forth this theme— that they are “on fire” for Christ and the Gospel.

The responsorial furthers the topic of collaboration between men and angels in giving glory to God. The posture of all creation, material and spiritual, is one of dependence upon God.  When we as Christians envision the communion of the saints, we list righteous men and women as well as angelic beings.  The pure spirits may stand before us in the natural hierarchy; however, we attain our own privileged status in grace because the LORD becomes a member of the human family.  While the angels might differ from us more than any hypothetical and fictional space alien; they have become our protectors and friends in the family of faith.  The word “angel” means messenger.  While we retain our human nature, those called by the LORD in the race of Adam are also messengers of God’s truth and mercy.  Note how Jesus and his apostles go out to the world.

The apostle Paul is a type of Isaiah.  He says that he gives what he has received— in other words, the message of the saving death and resurrection of Christ.  Those who receive this message are admonished to hold fast to the faith so as not to believe in vain. He does not hesitate to mention his own witness as one who persecuted the Church and now, by God’s grace, to be the hardest working of the apostles.  He attributes his success to the grace of God.  God formed him so that he might also make disciples of others.  This is not unlike the angel’s gift of a burning ember upon the lips of Isaiah.  God forms us and makes us into his instruments. The alleluia verse and gospel reading bring forward the theme:  “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.”  Following the pattern of Isaiah, both Paul and the apostle Peter respond to the LORD’s call.  Isaiah confesses to being a man of “unclean lips.”  Paul acknowledges his past persecution of Christians.  Peter says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  There is in each case a sense of unworthiness.   Jesus calls his first apostles, not within the confines of the religious temple, but while they are in their boats. There is no hesitation on their part.  Jesus tells them not to be afraid, the same words that he shares at the end of the Gospel.  Just like the great catch of fish, it is understood that God’s grace will allow an even greater catch for souls.