One of my favorite things to do over the past few years has been serving my local Catholic parish church, Saint Christopher’s, as a lector. I get to utilize the gift of public speaking that was given to me by God in presenting his Word to my community of believers. That is, quite frankly, a humbling honor.
In doing so, not only do I read something out loud, but I also am reading for myself. It is not only an exercise in dramatics or presentation meant to inspire my fellow parishioners and visitors to our church, but also a learning exercise, an educational and inspirational one, for me as an individual.
The topic of the readings at this week’s Sunday Mass services were, as they frequently are, tied together in a theme that is very appropriate for both the time of year, but also one that presents a message of importance for every human being alive today.
The message is that God believes, no matter what your actions, your thoughts, or your current state of belief, disbelief, or practice, that you are worthy of his love.
In the first reading, taken from the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah tells the story of a vision in which he is presented with God sitting on his heavenly throne, and then of angels appearing to him.
His home shakes and fills with smoke, and he trembles as his unworthiness engulfs him: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips” thinks Isaiah.
Isaiah feels that he is unworthy of being in the Lord’s presence, unworthy of his love. But one of the seraphim approach and shows him the Lord’s power of forgiveness. The Lord then asks aloud, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah immediately responds, “Here I am, send me!“
In the second reading, taken from the New Testament, Saint Paul speaks of the ultimate Truth: that “Christ died for our sins..was buried..was raised on the third day” and then Paul goes on to recite as proof the appearance of Jesus to Cephas, and then the twelve disciples, and then to numerous other believers, many of whom were still alive. The Lord then appeared to James and all the apostles. And then Paul recounts his personal meeting with our Lord.
“Last of all..he appeared to me..for I am the least..not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Paul was lamenting his past in that brief moment. A lamentation that today holds many back from fully embracing their true path. Paul’s story is the ultimate one of good triumphing over evil, of man’s ability, with God’s loving grace, to overcome even his worst sins.
For those who do not know Paul’s story, I will try to paint a quick picture. Born as Saul of Tarsus, a Roman citizen, he was about a decade younger than Christ, and he grew to become a zealous persecutor of the nascent Christian church. He had or helped get early believers imprisoned, tortured, and even killed. He was as vocal and active an anti-Christian as one could possibly become.
One day while traveling along the road to Damascus on a mission to bring some believers to Jerusalem for punishment, Saul was met by the resurrected Jesus, and he underwent a conversion experience that would change both his life and the history of the world. Taking the new name of “Paul” given him by Christ, he became one of the two greatest apostles in the history of early Christianity.
In recognizing the overcoming of his early sins against the church at the completion of this week’s reading, Paul, after his self-admonition of being unfit to be called an apostle, went on to speak confidently of his current state: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.”
There are many out there who may believe that they are too far gone to even seek God’s forgiveness, let alone to expect to receive it. Some may even have publicly denied Jesus, spoke of him in folly, made fun of his followers. They may feel a desire inside, but fear to be shunned as hypocrites, or worse, as idiots by their friends who feel as they have in the past. None of that is important, and none of that has anything to do with ultimate truth.
No one, not the worst sinner, is too far gone from seeking God’s forgiveness. No one is too far gone from embracing fully the Word and the Truth of Jesus Christ. All you need to do is embrace that Truth and begin to commit to a deeper understanding of it, and also to begin to fearlessly go public with your belief. You may lose friendships. You may be scorned and ridiculed by non-believers. But you will be gaining everything important in return.
I myself drifted from my church, drifted from God, and certainly have sinned. But I have always felt pulled back to him. I have never felt abandoned. I have ultimately turned to his good. It’s nothing you can’t do yourself.
On Wednesday we celebrate the occasion of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season known as Lent, a season of repentance that leads us up to the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus Christ in his death on the cross for you as an individual. This is a perfect chance at repentance, conversion, sacrifice, and renewal.
Never let anyone, least of all yourself, tell you or in any way make you feel that you are not worthy of God’s love, that you are not worthy to take up the cross of Jesus Christ. You are worthy, you are loved, and you are important to him. You only need to make him important to you. Begin today.