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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - The Invasion of Grace

Robert Barron - The Invasion of Grace

Robert Barron - The Invasion of Grace

Peace be with you. Friends, for this Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Church gives us a wonderful juxtaposition of two readings. I'm talking about this passage from the sixth chapter of the prophet Isaiah and a passage from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. They're very much parallel accounts, and they speak of the spiritual life in this iconic way. So, I want to spend a little time just looking at these wonderful parallels. Chapter six of Isaiah describes the prophet's call, how he was summoned to his life as a prophet. Listen. "In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above. They cried one to the other, 'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!'"

Here's Isaiah. He's in the temple. He's praying. He's disposed, you might say. But this happened to him. He didn't make this happen. He didn't invent this. He didn't follow a set of exercises to make sure it would occur. Rather, there was a breakthrough of grace. Now, so it goes, everybody, in the spiritual order. The spiritual life authentically never begins with our own exertions. Beware of anyone that says, "Here's your ten-step process in the spiritual life". No, no. That's putting way too much stress on our own ego, our own accomplishments. God breaks through. And how beautiful that Isaiah remembers exactly when it was, in that year that King Uzziah died.

I think I've told you this story before, those who follow me, that when I was a freshman in high school and heard one of the arguments for God's existence in a high school religion class, I wasn't predisposed to hear anything important. I certainly never for a minute thought my whole life was going to change. But in that spring of 1974, I can name exactly when it was, God broke into my life. This invasion of grace happened. So the spiritual life commences. Now, with that in mind, go to our Gospel. And we hear about the crowd pressing in on Jesus, listening to God's word, by the Lake of Gennesaret. And he saw two boats along the lake. The fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. "Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore".

Now, we just hear those lines and think, "Well, yeah, of course he got into Simon's boat". But wait a minute, wait a minute. You're a first-century Galilean fisherman. I mean, your boat, that was your most prized possession. It's like someone with a really fancy car. It was their pride and joy, but more than that, because a boat, for these people, that was their livelihood. They don't just let anyone walk into their boat. Jesus just, without asking permission, just gets into Simon's boat and then begins barking orders at him. Well, I mean, what must the man have thought? So it goes in the order of grace. This is the invasion of grace. When Christ decides to get into your boat, the boat here, think of it as symbolizing your life, your personal life, your private life, your professional life, your public life, your livelihood.

Jesus decides, "I'm going to get into this boat and I'm going to start giving orders". After all, he's the Lord Jesus Christ, last time I checked. He's not our servant. So, that's a game people have always loved to play, especially today, is, "Oh sure, Jesus, he's great, as long as he serves my needs, as long as he fits neatly into my little spiritual program". That ain't the Lord Jesus, "Dominus Iesus". No, no. He gets into your boat and begins commanding. Now, here's a beautiful thing. Of course, Simon says, "Look, we've been at it all night and have caught nothing". Well, right. That's the way it goes. As long as I'm charge of my life, I'm making all the decisions, I'm doing my programs, my plans, of course I'll catch nothing. Jesus takes over one's life, begins commanding. And mind you, he always commands us: "Duc in altum," the famous Latin version of this, "Go out into the depths".

See, most of us, even those who think we're a big deal in the world and we've accomplished all sorts of things, who cares? You're just playing around in the shallows, spiritually speaking. Once Jesus gets in your boat, he sends you out into deep waters indeed. Look at all the saints, all the saints. The spiritual journey is one now into deep waters. And it's there, of course, that Simon and his companions catch this wonderful draft of fishes. That's the spiritual life. As long as you're in charge, you catch nothing. Allow Christ to get in into your boat, follow his commands, and you will find now riches upon riches upon riches, things increasing thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold in your life.

So, in both Isaiah and now in the story of Peter, that's the invasion of grace. I can't really prompt it. I can't make it happen. I've talked before about the primacy of grace in the Bible. Not the exclusivity of it; I mean, we cooperate with grace, as Peter does here. But grace comes first. But in our surrender to it, our lives are revolutionized. Okay. Now, let's go back to Isaiah, see what happens next. So, the angels, "holy holy, holy," the breakthrough of God into his life, and then he says, "Woe is me, I am doomed! I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips". That's code, by the way. Unclean lips just meant, "I'm a sinner". I'm a sinner, and I'm living amidst a whole slew of sinners, is the minute God broke into Isaiah's life.

Isaiah became aware of his sinfulness. And this is a really important principle. In the spiritual order, authentically construed, sin doesn't come first. If you think the spiritual life begins with a keen acknowledgement of my sin, and now I have to go abjectly to God asking for forgiveness, you're on the wrong path from the beginning. It begins with grace, the invasion of grace, this unmerited grace. And then, then, in the light of that grace, then we understand that we are sinners. Think of the image of the bright light hitting the windshield of your car. If you're driving away from the light, the windshield looks fine. You see fine out of it. But now you're driving right into the light, now all the imperfections appear. Yeah, so it goes in the spiritual order.

When grace breaks through I become more, not less, aware of my sins, does that make sense? Think here of all the saints. And we might read them and think, "Oh, they're being melodramatic," or "They're being falsely modest," or something. But no, no, the saints, the Little Flower, Padre Pio, go through all the saints, they are convinced they're the worst of sinners. Well, that's because they're directing their lives more toward the light. It's a healthy moment in the spiritual life. If God breaks through into my life in this radical way and I say, "Oh Lord, nice to have you, and I'm sure you're delighted to have me," you're almost certainly not directing your life toward grace. The light makes you more, not less, aware of your sin. Okay?

So, there's Isaiah. Now, go right back to Peter. So, he takes in the miraculous draft of fishes. And then, "When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, 'Depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.'" The sin didn't come first. You see, this moment didn't come first, Peter now abjectly asking for God's forgiveness. No, no, the breakthrough of grace came first. The miraculous draft of fishes came first. This life and abundance came first. And then, in light of it, in light of it, Peter knew, "Look, Lord, I'm not worthy of this". Good. That's the right rhythm.

For many years, I did seminary work as a formator, as a teacher, and then eventually as rector of the seminary. I saw this all the time. Every kid at the seminary with an authentic vocation, they had something like "in the year that King Uzziah died," they had something like Jesus getting into the boat. The Lord entered their lives in a dramatic way and turned them around and set them on a new path. And that's what got them to the seminary. Good, beautiful. But then, inevitably and happily, it would happen. They'd reach this point that they'd come to me as a spiritual director or as the rector and say, "Father, I mean, I'm just not worthy of this". And my response invariably was, "Well, of course you're not. I'm not worthy of it either".

But I would direct them usually to this story. "Good. That means grace has broken in your life. And you've acknowledged that you've directed your life more toward the light. And therefore you're more, not less, aware of your sin". You know, everybody, as an important corrective here, and this has been true from the beginning of the spiritual life until today, we tend to get hung up on the question of sin. Now, no one's suggesting, not Isaiah, not Luke, not me, no one's suggesting, "Oh, sin isn't important. Don't worry about it". No, no, on the contrary. But see, it's as though this is the game we're playing. There's this distant, difficult, demanding God, and unless I get my house in order and please him, he's... No, that's getting it backward. That's getting it backwards. God invades us out of sheer unmerited love first. And then, we are awakened to a sense of our sin. Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed.

Now, now, go back to Isaiah. What happens is, after the breakthrough of grace and after the acknowledgement of sin, an angel flew to him holding an ember he had taken with tongs from the altar. "He touched my mouth with it, and said, 'See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.'" Does God ignore our sin? No, no, no. He's got to deal with it. Because as long as I'm burdened by sin, I'm not going to be able to do what God wants me to do. And so, yes, there's this purification, call this the purgative way, you find it in all the great spiritual masters. "Lord, leave me. I'm a sinful man".

Jesus addresses the sin of Peter. Breakthrough of grace followed by the acknowledgement of sin, and now we're ready for the third great spiritual path. Go back to Isaiah. So, having had the experience, having acknowledged his sin and now been purified, listen: "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?' 'Here I am,' I said; 'send me!'" Now, mission. Grace, and then the acknowledgement of sin, and then mission. I've said this before, I know, to you. Nobody in the Bible, nobody, there's no exception, ever receives an experience of God without being sent.

What does God want? He wants to save us by his grace, listen now, and then make of us vehicles of his salvation for the rest of the world. He sends us on mission. Okay? Go back to St. Peter. So, "'Depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man...' Jesus said to Simon, 'Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.' When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him". Mission. Mission. "Now I got a job for you, Peter. Now that I've gotten in your boat, I've barked orders, you've obeyed me, you've cooperated with me, you've acknowledged your sin, now I'm going to send you on mission".

And how beautiful, everybody, how beautiful that, beginning from this moment, this simple Galilean fisherman did indeed go on a mission so extraordinary that in many ways it grounded the Church. How wonderful, when you go to Rome and you look there, dominating the skyline is the most impressive grave marker in the world. I'm talking about St. Peter's Basilica. Because it's marking the grave of this simple man. Jesus got into his boat, addressed his sin, and then sent him on a mission. And that mission is still ongoing. Spend a little time today with Isaiah chapter six, Luke chapter five, these two stories. They sum up the whole of the spiritual life. And God bless you.
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