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Father Vincent Hawkswell

‘Our souls demand purgatory,’ wrote C.S. Lewis

Voices Feb. 4, 2019

Our Lady of Carmel presents the scapular to St. Simon Stock, as the infant Jesus holds a habit ensuring the wearer swift passage through purgatory. It would break our hearts to enter heaven without being cleansed first, writes Father Hawkswell. (Bank of America restoration/Pinacoteca di Brera)

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
First Reading: Isa 6:1-2a, 3-8
Second Reading: 1 Cor 15:1-11 
Gospel Reading: Lk 5:1-11

After the miraculous catch of fish described in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading, Peter “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’“

In the First Reading Isaiah reacted in the same way to the sight of “the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty.”

“Woe is me!” he said. “I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

In Newman’s poem The Dream of Gerontius, Gerontius asks his guardian angel whether he will see God as soon as he dies, and the angel answers, “Yes – for one moment.”

“That sight of the Most Fair will gladden thee,” the angel explains, “but it will pierce thee too ... Thou wilt feel that thou hast sinned, ... and wilt desire to slink away, and hide thee from his sight.”

And Gerontius says, “I go before my Judge. Ah! ... Take me away.”

“Our souls demand Purgatory,” says C.S. Lewis. It would break our hearts if God said, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you.” Would we not say, “If there is no objection, I’d rather be cleansed first”?

During Advent and Christmas, we meditate on God-made-Man, God-with-us. However, this Sunday we remember who and what God is. He who has done so much for us by becoming man is also the God who is from all eternity: “I am who am.”

The proper response is simply worship and praise, like that of the seraphs who attend God continuously, calling to each other: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

We are commanded to worship and praise God, not because he needs our reassurance, but because in our worship he communicates himself to us.

“In commanding us to glorify him, God is inviting us to enjoy him,” Lewis explains. “All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise,” he notes. “Delight is incomplete until it is expressed.”

One of the most beautiful prayers of pure praise is sung by the three young men in the Book of Daniel. Beginning, “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever,” they invite all creation to join them: angels, sun and moon, stars, showers, winds, etc.

In the Gloria at Mass, we praise God purely for his glory. “For you alone are the holy one; you alone are the Lord; you alone are the most high.”

Faced with God’s glory and holiness, our impulse is to prostrate ourselves. But God does not leave us cowering away from him in shame. He blotted out the guilt of Isaiah with a burning coal. He told Peter not to be afraid. For all of us he became man, died on the cross, was buried, and rose again.

This is the good news by which we are saved, as St. Paul says in the Second Reading. For this mercy we owe God thanks as well as praise. However, even if he had not saved us, we would still owe him worship just because of who he is: “I am who am.”

“I am who am” is the name God revealed to us, but it is also “something like the refusal of a name,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “Hence it better expresses God as what he is – infinitely above everything that we can understand or say: he is the hidden God; his name is ineffable.”

Accordingly, we pray, “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.”

Father Hawkswell teaches Catholic Faith - in Plain English, a free course on the Catholic faith from now until Pentecost: every Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre, 4885 Saint John Paul II Way (just off 33rd Avenue between Oak and Cambie) and twice every Monday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. Anthony’s Parish, 2347 Inglewood Avenue, West Vancouver, and from 7 to 9 p.m. at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre. Everyone is welcome, Catholic or non-Catholic. For more info and the list of topics and dates, visit rcav.org/adult-catechesis-course.