Awe and presumption: Catholic homily outline for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Duccio "Appearance of Christ to the Apostles" (1311) fragment

Duccio “Appearance of Christ to the Apostles” (1311) fragment

Central idea: Awe in God’s presence. Doctrine: Awe in God’s presence vs. the sin of presumption. Practical application: An examination of conscience on awe and presumption.

To view Lectionary 75, click here.

Central idea: Awe in God’s presence

Reading 1 Is 6:1-2a, 3-8

In the year King Uzziah died,
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne,
with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above.

They cried one to the other,
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!
All the earth is filled with his glory!”
At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook
and the house was filled with smoke.

Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me,
holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar.

He touched my mouth with it, and said,
“See, now that this has touched your lips,
your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

  • All of the earth is filled with God’s glory. The entire universe proclaims God’s glory. This means that everything that exists reflects God’s being, goodness, intellect, power, and beauty.
  • God extends the hand of fellowship to man in directly creating each person’s soul. But men need to be transformed for this friendship to flourish: man must be purified of his sins and sanctified.
  • Some men are to be instruments of this friendship between God and men. Isaiah is called to the service of proclaiming God’s message to Israel. Christ will call Peter and the apostles to this service for all humanity.
  • This call is an invitation, not a command. When he was cleansed, Isaiah heard the invitation and volunteered. Peter will see his need to be cleansed and when Christ invites him to be a fisher of men he says yes with his feet by following him.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8

R. In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple
and give thanks to your name.

Because of your kindness and your truth;
for you have made great above all things
your name and your promise.
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.

All the kings of the earth shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
when they hear the words of your mouth;
and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD:
“Great is the glory of the LORD.”

Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.

  • The prophet, the apostle, the disciple (all of us are disciples) loves the Lord and serves him through worship and self-giving to his neighbor. This service includes apostolate.
  • God’s servants and friends also rely on the Lord for help because of their weaknesses and the opposition of men. God’s servants have experience that God does support them.
  • Not all kings of the earth have yet given thanks to the Lord, because they have not heard the words of God. A king like Herod heard the Jewish scriptures and even the Gospel through reports, yet he did not “hear” the word of God because of his countless depraved acts. So when the Word of God himself stood before Herod, He would not speak. Herod was like the seed that fell on the path or rocky ground.
  • In the fullness of the Kingdom of God we all shall be royalty. We will all give thanks and glory to the Lord like the angels: “Great is the glory of the Lord” and “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!”

Reading 2 1 Cor 15:1-11

I am reminding you, brothers and sisters,
of the gospel I preached to you,
which you indeed received and in which you also stand.
Through it you are also being saved,
if you hold fast to the word I preached to you,
unless you believed in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, Christ appeared to more
than five hundred brothers at once,
most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.
For I am the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God.
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.
Therefore, whether it be I or they,
so we preach and so you believed.

  • The letter from which this reading is taken was written by St. Paul about the year AD 56, at most a quarter century from the event that he articulates as of first importance: Christ died for our sins and then rose from the dead. Then he lists the persons and groups who were eyewitnesses of the Resurrected Christ. This is the gospel that he and the other apostles—the fishers of men—are preaching, that they are passing down to us.
  • Christ’s death for our sins and his resurrection for our life are the fundamental truths we assent to in our act of faith.

Gospel Lk 5:1-11

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening
to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.

  • Jesus is the Word of God who spoke the word of God to the crowds.
  • Jesus asked a favor of Peter—to let him use his boat to teach—and Peter granted it.
  • Then Jesus bestowed on Peter the best favor a fisherman could conceive: a great catch of fish.
  • This miracle left Peter in fearful awe, a consciousness of the greatness of Christ and his own inadequacy.
  • Then Jesus granted Peter a much greater favor: an invitation to be his disciple. If he accepts, Peter will go from being a man who catches fish to a man who catches men.
  • Jesus’ material gift of fish and his own material possessions suddenly mean nothing to Peter: he, James, and John leave everything behind to follow Christ.
  • God brought Isaiah up to heaven to enlist his service. God came down to earth to enlist Peter, the other apostles and first disciples, and us.

Doctrine: Awe in God’s presence vs. the sin of presumption

  • When Isaiah had his vision and Peter had his epiphany, each experienced deep humility, fear, respect, and reverence—in short, awe.
  • They experienced But awe can also be a habit or virtue. Blessed John Henry Newman argued that “In proportion as we believe that He is present, we shall have [these feelings]; and not to have them, is not to realize, not to believe that He is present” (quoted in CCC 2144). It is fitting for us to treat God and sacred things always with deep reverence.
  • At first glance, awe in God’s presence seems to crush one, but in fact it leads to great daring. When Isaiah hears God’s question of whom He should send, Isaiah exclaims, “Send me!” When Christ says, Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men, Peter follows.
  • We can do great things because God is asking them of us and he gives us the grace to actually do them.
  • The vice in opposition to awe is presumption.
  • According to Fr. John Hardon, S.J., presumption is “The desire to undertake, or the actual undertaking of, what is above one’s capacity. It is a result of pride, which makes a person overestimate his abilities and blinds him to his deficiencies. It also leads one to expect graces from God without doing anything to obtain them, and even when acting the opposite, as when sinning, the person presumes that forgiveness is assured.”
    • So, an aspect of presumption in one’s relationship with God is choosing to sin while assuming God will forgive the sin.
    • Another aspect is assuming God will give one grace without, say, receiving the Sacraments worthily, or without a life of prayer, or without any self-denial.
    • Another is undertaking God’s service without being called to it and in fact without being qualified for it.
  • One way to see the absurdity of presumption by comparing those attitudes with the one displayed by Isaiah and Peter when they were in the presence of God: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips” and “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Practical application: An examination of conscience on awe and presumption

  • It is not in our power to have an experience of awe. Indeed, fear of the Lord is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. However, we can ask ourselves questions in regard to awe and presumption to reveal behavior that is in our power to cultivate or root out. Here are some.
    • Do I have a realistic understanding of what I am capable of doing? Do I endeavor to do that as well as possible? At the same time, am I open to the possibility that I might be able to do and may called to do great things that I can hardly imagine now?
    • Am I willing to see my own deficiencies, which my pride may try to make me hide? Do I realize that the people around me can already see these deficiencies and that God knows me through and through?
    • Do I think I can do God or his Church some kind of favor by my actions when they are not motivated and supported by my life of prayer and the grace of the Sacraments?
    • Would I rather do anything else besides pray? Am I happy to be distracted even when I am in my time of prayer?
    • Do I think I can put myself in occasions of sin or actually commit sins with the assumption that God will always forgive me?
    • Do I believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, both at Mass when I can receive him and reserved in the Tabernacle?
      • In church, do I behave as one who believes Christ is present by my thoughts, participation, silence, and bodily posture?
    • Am I daring when it comes to carrying out God’s will in my personal and professional life?
    • Do I rely on God’s grace as I try to live as a child of God?
    • Do I want to do great things for God and ask him to allow me? Do I at least ask God to want to want to?
    • Do I really appreciate and live Our Lord’s invitation and admonition: “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5)?

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

This outline is written to be in accord with the Homiletic Directory issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2014). (To read an excellent summary of the Homiletic Directory, click here.)

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