Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
The month of February is dedicated to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph: let us call upon the Holy Family to help us live family life in a holy and loving manner! This weekend I share with you a reflection on the Faith and Obedience as part of following our Lord. I en-courage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
“Faith and Obedience are essential in the Apostolate: St. Luke tells us (Luke 5:1-11) that Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesareth, where so many miracles took place and so much Grace was poured out by the Son of God. The people were crowding around Him to such an extent that they did not leave Him enough room to preach. So He got into one of the boats and asked the men to row out a little so that He could speak to the crowd who remained on the shore.
The boat that Our Lord preached from belonged to Peter, who had already met Jesus and had accompanied Him on some of His journeys. Christ purposely goes into his boat. He enters progressively into Peter’s life and prepares him for his decisive dedication as an Apostle. God does this with every vocation, with every soul He wants to enter deeply into. Often the grace that leads us to make a definitive decision is backed by a long preliminary history, an in-depth preparation on God’s part. This preparation is so discreet and affectionate that, some-times, we are unaware of its consisting of anything other than quite natural events, of what seem at the time to be quite normal happenings. (cf. F. Fernandez, St. Luke’s Gospel, Madrid 1981)
Jesus has finished His preaching. Perhaps Peter is feeling rather pleased with himself for having been the one to lend his boat to the Master. In any case we can think about it in these terms. Then, when Jesus has finished speaking to the crowd, He tells Peter to man the oars and put out into the deep water.
It had not been a good day. Jesus had come across them as they were washing their nets after a whole night’s toiling away to no effect. They must have been feeling tired, because it was tough physical work. The nets (measuring some four to five hundred yards) were formed by a system that comprised a sort of mesh curtain, which in turn was made up of three smaller nets: they had to be lowered right to the bottom of the lake and it took at least four men to handle each net.
Peter told Our Lord that they had been working all night and had caught nothing. The fisherman’s reply seemed reasonable enough. The night hours were their normal time for fishing, and this time the attempted catch had yielded nothing. What was the point of fishing by day? But Peter has Faith: ‘Nevertheless, at Thy word I will let down the net’ (Luke 5:5). He decides to act on Christ’s suggestion. (J. Escriva, Friends of God, 261) Although they are tired, and although it is not a man of the sea who gives the order, and although the fisher-men are well aware that the time is all wrong for fishing; although they know perfectly well there are no fish around, they put all hands to lowering the nets. Now, purely out of Faith, purely out of trust in the Master, they simply dismiss from their minds those considerations that normally would tell them whether fishing was advisable or not. What sets them to work again is Peter’s Faith in his Master. Simon simply obeys and trusts.
In the apostolate, Faith and obedience are indispensable. Of what use are our efforts, our human resources, our wakeful vigils or even our mortifications, if they are separated from any supernatural sense? Without obedience, everything is useless in God’s eyes. It would be no use starting to work if we did not intend to count on Our Lord. Even the most worthwhile of our works would be fruitless if while doing it we did not have the desire to carry out God’s Will. God does not need our work, but He does need our obedience. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. Matthew’s Gospel, 56)
Our Lord calls all of us to follow Him closely and to be apostles in the middle of the world. Apostolic effectiveness depends on our union with Christ: Peter completed the task Our Lord had committed to him. They enclosed a great shoal of fish; and their nets were burst-ing. If we are guided purely by Faith, the task we undertake will bear fruit in abundance. Peter had seldom, if ever, fished as on that occasion, when every human indicator pointed to the futility of the task.
This miracle contains a profound lesson. It is only when we acknowledge our own uselessness and put our trust in Our Lord, (at the same time using all the human means at our disposal), that the apostolate is effective and the fruits abundant, because for His followers, the fruitfulness of the apostolate depends on their living union with Christ. (Second Vatican Council, Apostolicam Actuositatem, 4)
In that shoal of fish Christ contemplates a still more copious catch throughout the centuries. Each of His disciples will become a new fisherman who will gather souls into God’s Kingdom. In this new task of fishing, all the power and effectiveness of God will also be at hand: the apostles are instruments for the working of great wonders, in spite of their personal shortcomings. (J. Escriva, loc. cit.)
Peter is amazed at the miracle. In a single instant he sees everything with great clarity: Christ’s Omnipotence and Wisdom; his own calling and his unworthiness. He throws himself down at the feet of Jesus as soon as they come to land. De-part from me, he says, for I am a sinful man. He acknowledges the loftiness of Christ’s great dignity, his own wretchedness and his ob-vious lack of ability to carry out the mission of which he already has a presentiment. But at the same time he asks the Lord to stay with him forever. If his defects and his personal unworthiness do not dis-qualify him for his mission or separate him from it, he knows that with Christ there is nothing he cannot do.
Then Our Lord takes away his fear and reveals to him in all its clarity the new meaning of his life: Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men. Jesus draws on Peter’s occupation, in the pursuance of which He had sought him out, to make known to him his mission as an Apostle. The awareness of God’s holiness and of our condition as sinners does not separate men from God, but rather brings men closer to Him. Moreover, once a man has been converted, he declares his Faith openly and becomes an apostle. He feels that God’s intentions are now within his reach, and they become lovable to him. His life then takes on its deepest meaning and value. (St. John Paul II, Homily, 6 February 1983)
Our Lord calls all of us to be apostles in the middle of the world, whether we are sitting by a computer, or following the plough, in the great city or in a little village, with five talents or with three or with one. Jesus does not want His followers to be second-rate. He calls all of us, so that with holiness of life and by giving good human ex-ample we may be instruments of His in a world that seems to turn its back on Him. All the faithful, whatever their condition or state - though each in his own way - are called by the Lord to that perfection of sanctity by which our heavenly Father Himself is perfect. (Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 11) By means of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the Kingdom of God by en-gaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s Will. (ibid., 31) Our Lord calls those who are Christians, and leaves the majority of them in some job or professional occupation, so that that is where they find Him, fulfilling their particular task with human perfection, and at the same time with supernatural outlook. Offering their work to God, they live Charity with everyone, not spurn-ing the little mortifications that arise and constantly seeking the presence of God.
The Apostles’ readiness to follow Our Lord. He calls us too. He will give us all the help we need so that we may be good instruments: God’s call - and He calls each one of us - is first of all an initiative that He Himself takes, but it demands human reciprocation: You did not choose Me, but I chose you. (John 15:16) And perhaps we discover that we are not worthy to be so close to Christ, or that we lack the dispositions to be instruments of Grace. It is the situation of each man who finds, in the depths of his soul, a strong and imperative call from God. Thus the prophet Isaiah - as we are told in the First Reading of today’s Holy Mass (Is. 6:1-8) - when he feels the closeness of God’s majesty, exclaims: Woe is me! I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! But God knows our littleness, and just as He purified Isaiah with and so many of the men and women He has called to His service, He will cleanse our lips and our hearts. Then flew one of the Seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal… And he touched my mouth, and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.’ The Lord forgives us in Confession, and we purify ourselves mainly through penance.
The Gospel continues: A nd when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. After they had contemplated Christ they did not have to puzzle over things any more. Generally the resolute decisions that transform a person’s whole life are not the result of lengthy conjecture. From that time on, Peter’s life was to have a wonderful objective, to love Christ and to be a fisher of men. Everything else in his life was to be an instrument and means towards this end. The same is true of us. If we struggle daily to become saints, each of us in his own situation in the world and through his own job or profession, in our ordinary lives, then I assure you that God will make us into instruments that can work miracles, and if necessary, miracles of the most extraordinary kind. (J. Escriva, op. cit., 262)
Our Lord speaks to each one of us too, so that we may feel the urgency of following Him closely in the midst of our own occupations, and of carrying out a daring apostolate in our own environment. At the same time we must have Faith in Jesus’ word, ‘Duc in altum’. Put out into deep water! Throw aside the pessimism that makes a coward of you. ‘Et laxate retia vestra in capturam.’ And put out your nets for a catch. Don’t you see that you, like Peter, can say: ‘In nomine tuo, laxabo rete.’ Jesus, if You say so, I will search for souls? (idem., The Way, 792)
As we contemplate the figure of Peter we too will want to say to Jesus:
Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. And at the same time we will beg Him not to let us ever leave Him, and to help us to plunge right in, into deep water - into friendship with Him, into holiness, into carrying out a sincere apostolate. We will ask Him to rid us of human respect, and to fill us with Faith, because in our personal prayer we know how to listen to the voice of Our Lord, Who urges us to take souls to Him.
Then, though you won’t see why, because you’re very aware of your own wretchedness, you will find that people come to you. Then you can talk to them quite simply and naturally - on your way home from work for instance, or in a family gathering, on a bus, walking down the street, anywhere. You will chat about the sort of longings that everyone feels deep down in his soul, even though some people may not want to pay attention to them; they will come to understand them better when they begin to look for God in earnest. Ask Mary, ‘Regina Apostolorum’, to help you make up your mind to share the desires of ‘sowing and fishing’ that fill the Heart of her Son.
I can assure you that if you begin, you will see the boat filled, just like the fisherman from Galilee. And you will find Christ on the shore, waiting for you. Because the catch belongs to Him. (idem., Friends of God, 273)” (From In Conversation with God, by Francis Fernandez) Through the intercession of the Holy Family, St. Michael, and St. Paul, may our good Lord grant us the grace of a true Faith and loving Obedience in following Him!
In Christ through Mary,