Not Worthy

(Homily for Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

Someone did a study which indicated that when you kiss a person in a passionate way, strands of his or her DNA will remain in your saliva forever. I told my niece about this study. Remembering a couple of her boyfriends, who would be better off forgotten, she said, “ugh,” then began making spitting gestures.

I don’t know if this is what Isaiah meant by “unclean lips.” I suspect he has something more serious in mind, but still we should not ignore the significance of a kiss. Jennie Bishop has written a children’s book called The Princess and the Kiss. It is not about changing a frog into a prince, but rather the great value of the first kiss.

Our Holy Father speaks about the “language of the body.” In reality, it is our most fundamental means of communication. When we cheapen or distort that idiom, negative consequences will follow.

We live in a culture of lies. People tell lies with their bodies and with their words.* The prophet Isaiah said,

Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips

Now, Isaiah had lived for years surrounded by falseness, a falseness he himself had, to some degree, participated in. Perhaps like many of us he grew accustomed to that environment. However, when encountered the Holy One, the glory of God, he recognized his unworthiness.

Peter had a similar experience. It was precisely at the moment of triumph - Jesus had enabled him to make a marvelous catch - that he saw how unworthy he was. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Peter’s sense of unworthiness did not lead him to despair or flight. Rather, Jesus invited him to take a step, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Finally, we see Paul. Few human beings could match him for sheer, singlehearted dedication. Yet he, like Peter, recognized who he was: “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle.” Without that humility Paul would have been like so many other gifted men – cold, condemning, cruel.

Today we approach the Lord’s altar. We should tremble a lit bit – like Isaiah, like Peter, like Paul. The Church Fathers noted that Isaiah received the burning ember from the altar. The live coal touched his lips as the Host touches ours.* May the Eucharist be a burning ember to cleanse our lips and hearts. “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

************

*Quoting Augustine, the Catechism states, "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving." (2482) Oftentimes lies tend to pass as harmless slogans. Here are ten slogans which I feel do most damage in our church and society.

*St. John of Damascus, who summed up patristic teaching, gave this explanation:

With our hands held in the form of the cross let us receive the body of the Crucified One: and let us apply our eyes and lips and brows and partake of the divine coal, in order that the fire of the longing, that is in us, with the additional heat derived from the coal may utterly consume our sins and illumine our hearts, and that we may be inflamed and deified by the participation in the divine fire. Isaiah saw the coal. But coal is not plain wood but wood united with fire: in like manner also the bread of the communion is not plain bread but bread united with divinity. But a body which is united with divinity is not one nature, but has one nature belonging to the body and another belonging to the divinity that is united to it, so that the compound is not one nature but two. AN EXACT EXPOSITION OF THE ORTHODOX FAITH BOOK IV, CH. 3

Versión Castellana

From Archives (Homilies for Fifth Sunday, Year C):

2016: New Beginning: Nowhere to Go But Up
2013: Like Fresh Walnuts
2010: Cleanse My Lips
2007: Before the Grandeur of God
2004: Not Worthy
2001: Do Not Be Afraid
1998: Unclean Lips

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Fr. Jeffrey Keyes comments on the Super Bowl

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