Three Ways God Breaks Through

User's Guide to Sunday, Feb. 7


Sunday, Feb. 7, is the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C).

Mass Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138:1-5, 7-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or 15:3-8, 11; Luke 5:1-11

Today’s three readings are great illustrations of the charm and drama of Scripture. They are each illustrations of how God knows that we like a good story and provides them in abundance. But they are also all stories of how God reached three very different men through very different kinds of religious experiences. He reaches us in the same three ways.

The first way is through our worship of God. This is the most common, too: God usually comes to us through the “front door.”

In the first reading, Isaiah sees the angels praising God with the cry of: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” An angel holds a burning ember to Isaiah’s lips, and his prophetic vocation begins. Few of us will literally have a vision of him like Isaiah did, but we join the same angels in the same cry at every Mass — and then Jesus Christ himself is placed to our lips.

Our faith is often jolted alive through powerful experiences at religious events: at adoration, on retreat or at conferences. For Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, a powerful experience of Jesus Christ and the call to be a priest came in the confessional. In these experiences, like Isaiah, we get a glimpse of God in his majesty, seated on “a high and lofty throne,” and that changes our direction in life.

The second way God often comes to us is through a sudden, disruptive act. For Paul, it was literally God appearing and knocking him down. For us, it is often an illness or tragedy.

We suddenly remember that we are fragile, and life is short. Jesus is no longer a character in a book or a distant figure; he becomes the meaning of our life. The second reading is St. Paul’s remarkable summing up of the Christian story — a story which he suddenly identifies as part of his personal story.

A friend’s dad had this experience when he was hospitalized by cancer. Before that, he wasn’t practicing his faith. But for the past 15 years, he has been a daily communicant volunteering at meal-sharing and pro-life apostolates.

The third religious experience happens in ordinary life. The Gospel shows the moment when Jesus, in order to get some distance from the crowd to preach, steps onto Peter’s boat. You can imagine the scene with the tired fisherman and young preacher. Jesus sits down, gives the crowd (and Peter) his message and then directs the fisherman to a life-changing catch of fish.

For us, this happens as we see how grace works miracles of personal fulfillment in daily life that would be impossible without it.

There are two things that all three of these religious experience have in common: signs of authenticity.

First is the deep humility they cause. These aren’t moments of self-righteousness; they are moments of weakness. Isaiah says, “Woe is me, I am doomed!” St. Paul says, “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle.” St. Peter says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

But the second sign of authenticity is that these three figures go beyond feeling weak. They commit to Christ. “Here I am; send me!” says Isaiah. St. Paul has “toiled harder than all of them.” And at the end of the Gospel, Peter leaves everything to follow him.

When religious experiences enter our life — through the liturgy or through daily “life moments” — our response should be the same. Admit weakness — then trust in the grace of God.


Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.