Saturday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Peter 4:14; Matthew 10:24-33
My family and I had the good fortune of going on a pilgrimage to Italy. The churches we visited were, to say the least, breathtaking; each in its own way a masterpiece of art and architecture. It was easy to be overwhelmed by the splendor of it all.
While exploring one of them, I happened to look toward the main altar. A small group of people were gathered in a roped-off space. I assumed it was a tour group waiting for a talk to begin. When I looked back later, I saw that in fact it was people attending Mass. I suddenly realized that, wandering through that majestic space, I got lost in the outward beauty but forgot the deeper one. I was encountering art; they were encountering God.
As the first reading reminded us, the prophet Isaiah also encountered God, and its effect resounds to this day. Who can hear Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory! and not think of the holy Mass? For the Mass, indeed every sacrament, is an encounter with the living God. Pope Francis made this clear when he wrote that Christ, the Incarnation, is Himself the “very method that the Holy Trinity has chosen to open to us the way of communion. Christian faith is either an encounter with Him alive, or it does not exist… We need to be present at that Supper, to be able to hear his voice, to eat his Body and to drink his Blood. We need Him. In the Eucharist and in all the sacraments we are guaranteed the possibility of encountering the Lord Jesus and of having the power of his Paschal Mystery reach us. The salvific power of the sacrifice of Jesus, his every word, his every gesture, glance, and feeling reaches us through the celebration of the sacraments.”1
We heard in the Old Testament readings this week forebodings of this encounter. On the one hand, God said to Israel through Hosea, I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart (2:16); it is time to seek the LORD (10:12); I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks (11:4); and finally, Return, Israel, to the LORD, your God… Take with you words, and return to the LORD (14:2-3). But on the other hand, we also heard Him say that Israel made idols for themselves (8:4); their heart is false (10:2); and the more I called them, the farther they went from me (11:2).
The pattern is clear: God seeks encounter, to share his love; we, to avoid. Why? Fear, mostly. It’s in our nature. God calls us to be holy – set apart – but we fear not fitting in. He calls us to speak truth in the open, but we are silent, fearing the challenge. He calls us to give ourselves completely to him, but we fear the loss of control. He calls us to the humility of service, but we fear giving up our pride. And where does this fear leave us?Empty, ashamed, hiding in the darkness of our sins, and afraid to open ourselves up to the all-seeing light of Christ.
But his light is also the perfect love that drives out fear (1 John 4:18). That is why Jesus urges his disciples to become like their Master, that His love will transform us. Our encounter with the living God in every sacrament is meant to bear witness to the transformative power of His love. Why else would Jesus say, What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops (Matthew 10:27)? Aren’t the most loving words the ones so often spoken in the darkness, or whispered in our ears? The perfect love that drives out fear is the heart of our encounter with God in the liturgy, the love that is meant to evoke in us the same sense of humble self-surrender that Isaiah felt when he cried out, I am a man of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5).
It was the loving and living word of God that cleansed him, the same one who comes to us and seeks to perfect in us the effect of that encounter: the Spirit of God who rests upon us (1 Peter 4:14), who moves us to speak in the light, to proclaim what God has whispered, and to say as Isaiah said, Here I am, send me!