Bottom line: Before the grandeur of God, you and I have one thing to offer: humble tears.
Pope Benedict XVI is famous for his unscripted question and answer sessions. He has been interviewed on German television, by seminarians and even by groups of children. Once a young boy asked the pope: How can we know God exists, if we cannot see him? The pope replied that there are many things we cannot see, yet we know that they exist, for example human reason. No one can see human reason, yet we see evidence of it: we tell stories and jokes, we make plans, we find ways to work together. Similarly, even though we do not see God, we see indications of his existence in our world and in our lives.
To compare the invisible God to human reason gives us some idea about him, but we have to add that God is very different from what happens inside our minds. In todayís first reading Isaiah speaks about Godís transcendence, his otherness, the immense distance between him and anything in the created world. The prophet has a vision of mighty angels, called Seraphim, who surround God and cry out, Holy, Holy, Holy! The word "holy" signifies deep reverence, a sense of awe which overwhelms. It is hard for us today to understand such reverence and awe. Images constantly bombard us and words like "amazing" and "awesome" lose their meaning. Still, we do sometimes slow down and experience a night sky or a small baby or a sunset or lovely music. We have a tiny sense of what Isaiah felt when the door of his house shook and the smoke of incense filled it.
When we experience reverence or awe, it naturally leads to humility. Not humiliation, but humility - a sense of who I really am in relation to the Other, the Transcendent. Isaiah cried out, "Woe is me, I am doomed." St. Peter said, "Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man." In the presence of the Risen Lord, St. Paul confessed that he was the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle.
There is an ancient legend which illustrates this sense of humility before God. The legend tells about a young man who comes before a large crucifix to confess his sins. The young man freezes when the hand of the crucifix pulls away from the nail. From the table the hand picks up a cup and gives to the young man. The Crucified Lord tells him that he thirsts and he wants him to fill the cup with water and bring it back. The young man goes to spring, but when he dips the cup, the spring goes dry. He walks to a valley with a mighty river, but as soon as he extends the cup, the river disappears into the earth. Finally, after crossing several mountains, he arrives at the ocean. But when he approaches the waves, the ocean begins to recede. Convinced that he cannot receive pardon, the young man begins to cry. He weeps so bitterly that tears fill the cup. In that instance, he realizes what causes the Lord's thirst: his desire to save souls, to restore them to life. What the Lord wants from the young man's is contrition, tears.
When the Lord made himself known to Isaiah, Peter and Paul, each understood the one thing they had to offer: their tears, their humility. Something similar needs to happen if you or I come before the grandeur of God. You know, the distance between us and God is greater than the distance between the sun and furthest galaxy. He utterly transcends us. That thought should fill us with humility. Who is he and who am I? Holy, holy, holy is the Lord. His greatness fills the universe. But what he most desires is to give you and me a place in him. Like Isaiah, his purifying love can touch our lips. We may hear those same beautiful words: Do not be afraid. And perhaps even like St. Paul we might dare to say, But by the grace of God I am what I am - and his grace to me has not been ineffective.
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