Sunday, Feb. 10, is the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138: 1-5, 7-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11.
“They cried one to the other, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!’” — Isaiah 6:3
What is God’s glory? What does God’s glory look like? Such questions are difficult to answer because, although we hear the word “glory,” quite often in both the prayers and readings of the liturgy, it is an abstract word that defies any easy or succinct definition. It can be helpful, then, to consider what we mean by the term “glory,” since this can assist us in better understanding what our scriptural readings and liturgical prayers reveal to us about God.
In general, the word “glory” is used in the Old Testament to refer to God’s fundamental importance and authority as the sovereign Lord and creator of the world. More concretely, God’s “glory” denotes his presence and activity in the world: His glory led the people out of Egypt, through the wilderness and into the Promised Land; his glory was initially manifested on Mount Sinai, then in the tabernacle in the wilderness, and finally in the Temple in Jerusalem. And his glory guided the patriarchs as well as the prophets in their leadership of his people. God’s glory, therefore, is not abstract at all, but is the dynamic presence of God in the world.
This truth about God’s glorious presence in the world is precisely that which is revealed to the prophet Isaiah through the vision of the eternal heavenly liturgy: The six-winged seraphim make it clear that “all the earth is filled with God’s glory” (Isaiah 6:3). It is not only the angelic worshippers who are able to perceive God’s glory as he is seated on his throne in his heavenly temple; rather, God’s glory is also something experienced by God’s earthly worshippers in the Jerusalem Temple as well as in God’s saving activity on earth.
Moreover, the reading from Isaiah reveals that the experience of God’s glory is transformative. Immediately upon perceiving God’s glory, Isaiah calls attention to his own impurity, or unworthiness, of being in the presence of God: “I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). His statement is both a recognition of human iniquity — his own and that of his fellow Israelites — and an expression of personal compunction. Isaiah’s admission of guilt is met with the healing grace of God delivered through his angelic intermediary (Isaiah 6:6-7), and this transforms Isaiah into a man ready to accept God’s prophetic mission: “Here I am; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). In this exchange, we see that Isaiah’s vision of God’s glory does not terminate in his personal experience, as though it were only of benefit to him. Rather, we see that the transformative power of God’s glory impels the prophet to go forth and proclaim that same glory to his fellow Israelites.
Although the manifestation of God’s glory in the miraculous catch (Luke 5:1-11) is perhaps more subdued than Isaiah’s dramatic vision, it is nonetheless similarly transformative. When the apostles experience God’s glorious saving action in this simple sign, they leave everything and follow Christ (Luke 5:11), a response which signals that they have detached from material possessions in order to proclaim Christ’s Gospel.
As Catholics, we too are tasked with reflecting God’s glory to others in the world by following Christ completely in our lives. This is not a platitude or something optional that only the holiest among us are meant to follow; rather, it is a task for each and every one of us and it is only possible to fulfill because we are given a corresponding experience of God’s glory in the Eucharist. At every Mass, we are able to touch and taste the glorious presence of God that connects heaven and earth, and this encounter transforms us ever more completely into prophets and disciples who proclaim God’s glorious majesty in the world.
Dominican Father Jordan Schmidt is an instructor
in sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Faculty of the
Immaculate Conception at the
Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.