Saturday, February 6, 2016

Here I am, send me!

Sunday's First Reading from Isaiah 6:1-2,3-8 struck me particularly and reminded me of a recent conversation with a new found friend here in Switzerland:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord of Hosts seated on a high throne; his train filled the sanctuary; above him stood seraphs, each one with six wings. And they cried out to one another in this way, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. His glory fills the whole earth.’ The foundations of the threshold shook with the voice of the one who cried out, and the Temple was filled with smoke. I said: ‘What a wretched state I am in! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have looked at the King, the Lord of Hosts.’ Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding in his hand a live coal which he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. With this he touched my mouth and said: ‘See now, this has touched your lips, your sin is taken away, your iniquity is purged.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?’ I answered, ‘Here I am, send me.’

The gist of the leisurely conversation between the two of us centered on the work of evangelization really and not just on mere human acceptance. Without boasting, my friend shared with me that in his pastoral activity rarely do people reject him when he encounters them on a one to one basis. Such encounters, he said, are almost always moments shared with the Risen Lord and shot through with that respect which we owe to each other as children of God. He did not say it, but I will: they can be considered Emmaus events. His suffering, on the other hand, centered on not being able to reach out across ideological barriers in more formal or public settings and thus remaining estranged, shut out or prejudged and condemned in absence of the possibility of a one on one. The indifference or hostility toward his person not only deprives the other of acquaintance with this good man, but leaves no room for an encounter with the Lord, yoked as the two great commandments are to each other. He feels helpless in this public world which seems rather to draw up sides than to seek the other; without being facile or having recourse to hysterics, it would seem to put into question any possibility of a saving grace. 

Similar concerns came through in a press statement I saw on video from the German Bishops' Conference, expressing the results of a five year process to find ways to bridge gaps in their Church. At this press conference they cautiously announced the progress made toward a new and more constructive way for various factions to talk with each other and one of the speakers labeled it the discovery of "ein neues Gesprächskultur".

Let me stop there with this line of conversation before an older reader begins to suspect that I am about to make a pitch for a group dynamics seminar or some other kind of training involving either deep breathing or yoga.

Back to the Prophet Isaiah! The prophetic mission belongs to those who watch and wait for the Lord and accept His burning purification. Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?’ I answered, ‘Here I am, send me.’ 

It is certainly a good point that none of us, the baptized, should flag in reaching out to others of our community, but more to the point would seem to be that our pray, our contemplation of the Lord of Hosts, should bring us to seek cleansing and accept mission. These days the relics of two great confessors, Padre Pio and Leopold Mandic, have been brought to Rome for the veneration of the pilgrims come for this year of mercy. Isaiah said it and they applied it; not unlike the seraphs of Isaiah's vision, they burned people clean with the grace which comes from the altar. Our sorrow for sin, recognizing our unworthiness before the Almighty, should lead us to the Sacrament of Penance, amendment of life and readiness to accept mission. 

We live in hope and count not so much on motivation as on radical cleansing.


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