Isaiah’s prophetic call, the moment when he encountered God and realized his mission and vocation, is a story for all of us.
Isaiah tells us that he was in the Temple and suddenly saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the Temple with seraphim stationed above.
Isaiah sees the Lord, but he doesn’t in any way describe him. God is always known as someone unknown, comprehended as someone incomprehensible. He shows himself, but doesn’t allow himself to be totally seen. The revelation of God is always, at the same time, the veiling of God.
Isaiah goes on to say that the door shook and the house was filled with smoke. An experience of God always shakes us, upsets us, and turns things around. We are driven out of our complacency, our ordinary ways of seeing and acting.
Then comes the inevitable confrontation with one’s own imperfection: “Then I said, ‘Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips’” (Isaiah 6:5).
The closer we get to God, the more aware we become of our imperfections. We are always humbled in the presence of God, convicted of our sin, shaken and turned around. We are, in one sense, less confident, less cocky, less sure of ourselves. But this is all good, for the “self” that we lose is the false self, the sinful “I.”
One of the seraphim then flew to Isaiah and touched his mouth with a burning ember. God is never interested in convicting us of our sin and leaving us hanging. His purity makes us pure, if we allow him to burn away our sin. Something in you needs to be annihilated. And God’s awe-ful holiness lets you know what that is.
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.