5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
February 7, 2016


Isaiah was not just a great prophet. He, too, was a great man, if greatness begins with being honest – emotionally honest, first and foremost – and morally so, too. He had no lofty dreams for himself, no ambition. He just took things as they came … yes, including the experience of being privy to a divine manifestation of the “Lord, seated on a high and lofty throne.”

Isaiah was gifted with the vision of God’s holiness, His transcendence, His stark otherness. But he was gifted, too, with an honest view of who he was: “a man of unclean lips.”

But while greatness may begin with emotional and moral honesty, it is enriched and made complete with utter availability. Having heard God’s question: “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah responds forthwith: “Here I am. Send me.”

Honesty, modesty (humility) and availability are never mutually exclusive. Isaiah was honest enough to cry: “Woe is me. I am doomed!” St. Paul was accepting enough of the truth to proclaim: “For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.”

But the truth of their unworthiness – even, rottenness – is complemented by the greater truth of their being graced, saved, redeemed by no less than the one who called them. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.”

Dear friends, this, too, is my story, and your story.

Let me explain a bit. You see, I don’t deserve at all to have the privilege and honor of doing what I have been doing for several decades now as a priest. Like most Filipinos, I don’t come from a pedigreed family. Like most everyone else in this country, I come from the boonies. I have no birthright to anything … to education, to fame, to fortune.

But by the grace of God, I am what I am … This, by the way, is what I printed in my invitation to my first Mass many years ago. This is the honest truth. I lay no claim to anything that I possess and acquired, including my relatively good education, and everything else.

But I would like you to know today that there is something great and deep and noble that you and I are called to do. The Lord, the same Lord who has called us, undeserving though we all are, now tells us to probe deeper, to work harder, to go the extra mile … Put out into the deep.

He tells us, incapable, unworthy, and un-pedigreed though we may be, to lower our nets for a catch.

And after more than three decades of putting out into the deep … after so many years trying to do what He tells us to do … after mistakenly thinking so many times that the successes we may have had are due to our human capacities, the truth eventually stares us in the face, and puts us right back where we ought to belong … “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Yes, the truth remains and will forever remain … We are all unworthy and undeserving servants who are only called to do what He commands.

But the more than three decades of failures and successes only have taught me the wisdom that can only come from an honest acceptance of who and what we are … sinful, unworthy, and undeserving, but called and sent by Him who alone can do wonders in and through you and me …

Put out into the deep … and lower your nets for a catch!