- Without me you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5)
Last Sunday’s first reading, taken from chapter 1 of the book of the prophet Jeremiah, was about the prophet’s calling. Focused on the rejection that would be the prophet’s lot and on the strength that he would be provided with by the Lord, the reading omitted verse 6. This contains Jeremiah’s immediate reply, which was: “Ah, Lord God! I know not how to speak; I am too young.”
Keenly and with holy fear did Isaiah felt too his unworthiness and inadequacy when he witnessed the revelation of the thrice-holy Divine Majesty that was about to give him the prophetic commission. So then Isaiah 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.”
And this same feeling of unworthiness and inadequacy came over so many others who were called and sent by the Lord:—over Moses who first protested that he was not a match to Pharaoh and later pointed out that he was slow of speech and tongue; over the Virgin Mary who professed herself to be the Lord’s obedient handmaid after declaring she had had no relations with a man; over the apostle Peter who pleaded, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”; over the apostle Paul who characterized himself as the least of the apostles and not fit to be called an apostle.
Included, for sure, among those seized with astonishment at the presence of the Lord, at once awesome and fascinating, is St. Vincent de Paul. Remembering the important date of January 25, 1617, when the Congregation of the Mission had its beginning and when he discovered his vocation and also when there was a huge catch of fish, so to speak (the catch of those inhabitants of Folleville who turned out in big crowds to hear the preaching and to go to instruction and confession), the Founder gave the Lord credit. He acknowledged that God blessed the first sermon of the Congregation of the Mission due to the trust and good faith of Madame de Gondi and without regard to his many and enormous faults.
Many are called by God despite their unworthiness and inadequacy, but few are chosen. The person called who is also chosen, in my view, is the one who puts himself or herself at God’s service and, like St. Paul, works harder than everyone else, not using his or her unworthiness and inadequacy as an excuse. The called and chosen is the one who says with the prophet Isaiah: “Here am I; send me.” One called and chosen puts his or her trust in the Lord, who equips him or her for every good work and does not allow God’s grace to him or her to be ineffective. He or she recognizes, along with St. Therese of the Child Jesus, that he or she may not be able to be an apostle or a prophet or a miracle-worker or a healer or someone with the gifts for helping or managing or speaking in tongues, but nonetheless he or she can strive for love, without which all the other gifts are for naught.
One’s sins are forgiven if one loves, in the same manner that the many sins of the woman of Lk. 7:37-47 was forgiven because she loved much. And does not love cleanse? It is said that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pt. 4:8; Prov. 10:12). One who loves will be capable of everything, because love can do it all: “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Let him or her go to work then, the person who feels unworthy and inadequate, embarking upon love, affective and effective, not in word or speech but in deed and truth. One has no reason to be afraid, given the assurance that we love because God first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). To love could simply consist of complying with a suggestion made by St. Alberto Hurtado. He wrote in Humanismo Social: “Do you know the names of your students, of your clients, of your employees? There is nothing that a human being loves more than his or her name, the most important word in creation.” Loving thus, one may capacitate and prepare those called by their names—who may well be feeling unworthy and inadequate--for the charism of love.