Readings for February 10, 2019
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
This week’s readings feature three pillars of the faith who had dramatic conversion stories — a burning ember purifying sinful lips, a flash of light and temporary blindness for a persecutor of early Christians, and a net-tearing catch of fish for a sinful fisherman. But as a lifelong Catholic, having been baptized as an infant, I do not have a dramatic, or even tangible “conversion story.” I grew up in a family that prayed together, went to church together, and participated in church activities. I’ve always believed in God. That said, I do have a “conversion story” of sorts, moving from non-belief to belief in my ability to answer God’s call.
On my 50th birthday I was at my wit’s end with my own anger and I asked God to “fill me.” I didn’t really know what I was asking for but my thought was in line with the elementary school experiment whereby a glass filled with red colored water is slowly filled with clear water and eventually all of the colored water is forced out. I needed God to force out my anger by filling me up with His goodness. He answered my prayer that day and I have seen the grace of faith more clearly since that time.
This blessing is not unlike the ones that Isaiah, Paul, and Peter receive in this week’s readings. As each accepted the gift of faith in their lives, they were richly blessed by God. Isaiah became the chief prophet of the coming of the Son of God, Paul the predominant evangelist to the gentiles, and Peter, the rock on which the Church was built. And their conversion became much more than a personal faith experience. With the gifts they received, they changed the world.
I, however, did not go about seeking ways to change the world after my reawakening. Instead, I spent time studying, reading, reflecting, and praying. Doing so, I was given a gift of understanding that I had never had before. I was reading the daily readings of the Catholic Church and seeing and piecing together God’s story with greater clarity than ever before. But I had no idea what to do with this gift. Or, perhaps I was afraid to try. After all, even with my newfound understanding, surely I was not fit to speak out on God’s Word.
The stories of Isaiah, Paul, and Peter indicate that each of them felt the same way. Isaiah believed he was doomed by his sins, and Paul wrote he is “not fit to be called an apostle.” And when a wandering and obviously popular teacher climbed into Peter’s boat to use as his pulpit, later telling Peter to pull out into deep water and lower the nets, the catch led Peter to fall to his knees and say, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Yet, for all of their feelings of unworthiness, these three are each taught that the gift of grace transcends human understanding, and comes with a call to do something more.
That truth took more than a year to get through my thick skull. I understood that I had been given a gift on my 50th birthday, and I even spent a lot of time pondering whether I should do something with that gift, yet I remained convinced that I was unworthy. It was about a year after my birthday that I spoke with a priest during the sacrament of reconciliation. I was not in my home church and the priest didn’t know me or anything about me. He asked some pointed questions that led me to share my story with him and after I had finished, he paused, thought for a minute, and said, “Welcome back. I think it’s time to stop pondering and start doing.”
It was then that I knew that I needed to find a way to “preach the gospel to the whole world.” (Mark 16:15) After some steadfast encouragement from my wife to lower my net into deep waters, and a push from my editor, I started to put into words some of that which I believe I have been gifted to understand.
I am still not certain that my reflections, prayers and poems are all that God wants from me, and I still don’t understand why I was given this gift of grace. But I believe in my heart that I am finally offering God thankfulness for His gift of understanding, and I am willing to accept that I don’t need to understand why I was given this gift, I only need to answer God’s call. “Here I am Lord, send me.”
O God, my loving Father, thank you for the gifts you have chosen to give to me. May I use those gifts forever for Your glory, sharing Your gospel with the world. I ask this of You in the name of Jesus Your Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit, One God, forever. Amen.