Our entire Diocese is currently in the midst of a Novena for Priestly Vocations, through the intercession of Servant of God, Frank Parater — a scout and a seminarian who tragically died while studying for the priesthood in Rome way back in the year 1920.

And in honor of this Novena for Priestly Vocations, I want to say something very clear:

Nobody in this church building right now, and nobody in our parish, and nobody in the WORLD… is worthy of the priesthood. NOBODY! In fact, if anybody thinks he’s worthy of the priesthood, that guy would make a TERRIBLE priest!

It’s sort of like from the Chronicles of Narnia, where Aslan asks Prince Caspian a direct question: “Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?”

And Caspian replies really honestly. He says: “I — I don’t think I do, Sir. I’m only a kid.”

And Aslan responds: “Good!” — “If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not.”

Nobody is worthy of the priesthood.

So, if that has been your excuse up to this point NOT to consider going off to seminary — that you’re just not worthy enough, holy enough… WHATEVER enough — I have officially called your bluff.

Absolutely nobody is worthy of the priesthood.

But let’s make this even more universal in scope. Because I fully realize that the vast majority of you here today at church are not able to discern the priesthood.

Nobody is worthy of the priesthood — yes! — but I could have just as easily started this homily off with an even more fundamental statement — a statement that is immediately applicable to all of us, regardless of our vocation or state in life. And that statement is this:

NOBODY is worthy.

Unless you’re Jesus. Or the immaculately conceived Virgin Mary — NOBODY here today is worthy. 

None of us!

Saint Paul made this clear enough for us in his letter to the Romans: 

“There is no distinction — since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

All have sinned! All have been justifiably condemned! Apart from God’s free gift of grace — apart from the saving event of Jesus’ Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension into Heaven — WE’RE DEAD. 

Without God’s totally undeserved forgiveness, we actually do deserve hell. We deserve eternal separation. We deserve eternal suffering.

Does this make you uncomfortable?

If so, then GOOD. 

Because if we still buy into the modern lie that it would be a horrible injustice for God to send anyone to Hell ever — if we don’t believe that we’ve been completely undeservedly and freely justified by an all-merciful, all-loving God — if we don’t get that NOBODY is worthy — then we won’t ever experience the salvation that God really does have prepared for each and every one of us.

As one spiritual writer puts it, the “good news of damnation” is always the necessary prelude to the good news of salvation.

That’s very striking isn’t? The “good news of damnation” — Did you ever think you’d hear those words put together? It sounds like an awful contradiction to us sophisticated 21st Century people, whose knee-jerk reaction is to think of “hell” as an old-fashioned, unnecessary relic of a much harsher, more demanding era in Church history.

And yet — if damnation isn’t a real, tangible possibility, then what exactly did Jesus save us from? What is the point of any of this?

If we’re basically worthy, right now, as is — without Jesus, and without His Cross, and without His grace, and without God’s forgiveness — then what ARE we doing here at Church?

Who needs any of this?

So, I’d like to say: Thank God that none of us are worthy!

Thank God we can all fall down together like Isaiah does in our first reading this weekend: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips!”

That reminds me of a great GK Chesterton quote where he says: “We’re all in the same boat, and we’re all seasick!” We’re all people of unclean lips. We’re all unworthy to stand before God!

But what prompts Isaiah to say this? — “Woe is me, I’m doomed!”

Well, he has seen a vision of Heaven! He’s been given a rare glimpse into the purity and goodness of the heavenly liturgy itself — He’s seen and heard those holiest of angels, the blessed Seraphim, singing back and forth to each other, with that scorching and divine song that we also get to sing at every Mass: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!”

When we sing the Holy, Holy, Holy — or the Sanctus as it’s called in Latin — how often does that song instill in us the fear of God in us? How often do we quake before the reality of the Thrice Holy God? Do we tremble at His presence?

Because I think all too often — at least for me — that song has sort of become routine! We sing it so often — it’s just become part of the background of the Mass. And that’s probably why this reading from Isaiah is so important for us. It’s a reminder — it’s a life-giving reminder that NOBODY is worthy. We see Isaiah crying out with his whole soul: “Woe! Woe is me! I’m not worthy!”

I’m not worthy to be in your presence, Holy Holy Holy, Lord.

What does God do in response to this deep, primal cry of Isaiah? Does God assure him: “Oh don’t worry, you’re worthy to me! Don’t feel bad about any of your sins! Don’t feel guilt! You’re fine!”

Is that what God says? No. That’s not what God does.

Instead, what does He do? He sends an angel down to Isaiah, and the angel brings a burning ember from the altar and he touches that fiery ember to Isaiah’s lips, saying: “See, now… NOW your wickedness is removed, your sin is purged.” It’s gone! It’s not there anymore!

Only then, can Isaiah find the courage and the zeal to rise up and say: “Here I am, Lord. Send me!” 

I’m willing to go. I accept my mission, unworthy as I am! Send me!

We can hear an echo of our second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in all this — He says: “I am the least of the apostles” — least of those sent to preach the good news of the Gospel! — Why? “Because I persecuted the church.”

Paul is utterly unworthy! But does that disqualify him? No!

He says: “But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace — God’s grace — to me has not been ineffective.”

Paul, too, experienced a burning ember from the altar of God! On the way to Damascus, when he was blinded by the heavenly light — Jesus appeared to him saying: “Saul, Saul — why are you persecuting me?”

And he replies: “Who are you Lord?”

Jesus says: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” 

Paul could have easily replied with the words of Isaiah in that moment: “Woe is me, I’m doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips! I’ve killed Christians! I’ve had them arrested! I’ve actively undermined the work of the Church! And yet now — “my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

But Jesus doesn’t give up on Paul. He lets him feel the depths of his unworthiness — only then to ask: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”

And we see in Paul’s life that he responded so generously: 

He said: “Here I am. Send me — to the ends of the known world. To the non-Jews, send me! To people who would stone me, reject me, torture me, imprison me — Send me to those people!”

We see this same exact sort of thing happening in our Gospel this weekend with Jesus and Peter.

Jesus performs the miraculous draught of fish, right?

Peter and his coworkers have been working all night long. They catch absolutely nothing. And then at Jesus’ command — they say: “Alright Lord, we will put out into the deep and let down our nets, but only because you asked us.”

And what happens? Of course they catch an unbelievable number of fish — and when Peter sees that — When he sees the glory of God right there in front of him — what does he do?

He does exactly what Isaiah does: He falls down on his knees, and he says “Depart from me, I am a sinful man.”

Get away from me, Lord! I don’t deserve this miracle! I am UNWORTHY!

And again, did Jesus say: “Oh, you’re fine Peter! Your sin isn’t a big deal. Just ignore it.”

No. He says: “Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid of your very real sinfulness.

Do not be afraid of your very real unworthiness.

It will not disqualify you if you come to Me with repentance and with true contrition of heart — which is what we do every time we come to confession, right? 

We say: “Lord, I’m a sinful man! Lord, I’m a sinful woman!”

And Jesus responds in the Sacrament: “Don’t be afraid. I will send you out, and I will make you catchers of men. I will send you out to be the modern-day apostles to gather in, not fish, but people — human souls — that I want here at Mass, so that I can give myself to them totally in the Most Holy Eucharist.

We’re all totally unworthy of that.

And we say it, too, don’t we?

What do we say right after the priest holds up the broken Host, after we sing the Lamb of God together? At that moment, we’re all gazing at Jesus — Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. He’s standing right there in front of us!

Do we say in that moment: “Lord, I’m fine. I’m ok. Everybody around me is ok. We deserve this!”


We say together: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.”

But then He says: “Do not be afraid.” And He gives Himself to us.

So, come to the Eucharist today knowing that the Lord wants to ultimately purge you of every sin, of every uncleanness. He wants to MAKE YOU WORTHY — Worthy to stand in Heaven forever.