That sense of feeling unworthy about our calling is always there. Sometimes we do something, not because we would like to do it, or because there is glamour, fulfilment or pleasure in doing a job, but simply because it is the thing we are called to do. We are the right people, at the right time, in the right place. And even if we are not the best people, we are the ones called to do the task anyway. This is the situation in our readings today.
Isaiah is called to be the Lord's messenger, but he acknowledges that he is unworthy, a man of unclean lips. He knows how far short he falls of the holiness of God, which he has just glimpsed. And in today's Gospel, Peter is confronted with the words and the power of Christ, and he responds in a similar way to Isaiah: "Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man."
Each of us can surely identify with Isaiah and Peter. Yet the Lord continues to callus to do his work, even though we judge ourselves to be unworthy or not the best choice available. God's call is a mystery. It is always a gift: we do not choose him, rather he chooses us. Just as with Paul: though not an apostle, one of the Twelve, God nevertheless chose him to do his work, even though he was a "late arrival". And just as it is God who calls us, so also it is God who gives us our own particular mission: God decides, not us. For we cannot decide to follow the Lord and then try to tell him where we should go!
The more observant among you will have noticed that for the last few few weeks we have had an older altar server with us. I was hoping that one of his friends would join him this week too, but unfortunately he has has to go into work at the Christie Hospital.
So to put you out of your misery he is a friend of mine who is now studying at the University of Manchester. Our paths crossed a couple of years ago at the Cathedral and we struck up a conversation. At that time he let slip that he was thinking of becoming a priest and turned to me for a little guidance. I hope and pray that he does not follow me too closely so as to pick up my bad example living the priesthood. My dear people I commend him to your prayers and the other members of our diocesan vocations group: Luke, Eddie, Patrick and Nathan. Pray that, if it is the Lord's will they will become holy and dedicated priests. The priests who com after us have got to be better than the ones we have at the moment and in that case, my dear son you won't have a difficult task there.
Being in the right place at the right time. I am reminded of words that our previous bishop, Bishop Kelly said to some of the priests the diocese. 'For about half of my priests I will be the wrong bishop. Wrong because I am not progressive enough, wrong because I am too progressive. Wrong because I am not traddy enough. Wrong because I am too traddy.'
Reflecting on his words I have come to the conclusion that for some of the people in this parish I will be the wrong priest. Wrong because I am too happy clappy. Wrong because I am too traddy. Wrong because I I am not my predecessor. Yet for some I will be the best priest because I am not happy clappy, that I am traddy and for some simply because I am not my predecessor.
I remember once scandalising the present Bishop of Shrewsbury by telling him that my devotion was not to the Holy Cure of Ars. When he asked why I told him my devotion was for the poor priest who followed him. 'Father Vianney had eighteen hours of confessions. Your having ten. Father Vianney lived on moudly potatoes. You keep going to the supermarket.' My dear son, whatever we do as priests will be wrong in some peoples eyes. You better get used to that!
God calls each one of us in a particular way. We might hear God's voice in the depths of prayer, like Isaiah, or through a dramatic intervention in our lives, like Paul. Most probably, though, most of us hear God's voice in the ordinary routine of daily life and work, like Peter. For most of us, it is in the context of our existing commitments and life situations that our following of the Lord will be worked out.
Whether it takes us to the other side of the world or keeps us in our home town and neighbourhood, the encounter with God will always have an effect on us, if we allow it. It will take away our sin, like it did with Isaiah, it will turn our lives around completely, like Paul. God's call always transforms us, moves us on and is life-giving, as long as we respond with generosity and trust.
My dear son tomorrow we celebrate the fesat of Our Lady of Lourdes - a french town that as you know holds a special place in my heart not least because it was there that I first heard the call to become a priest. The advice given to me I pass on to you, my son: 'Entrust yourself and your vocation to Her and you won't go far wrong.' And my dear people I encourage all of you to entrust yourselves to Her - the Immaculate One. After all if Her prayers can help a miserable priest like me they can help anyone.