Scripture Readings: Book of the Prophet Isaiah 6:1-10; First Letter to the Corinthians 15:1-11; Gospel According to Saint Luke 5:1-11
This Sunday’s Gospel passage can be called a literary and religious masterpiece. By careful use of description, dialogue, suspense and emotion, the Evangelist Saint Luke, traditionally thought to have been an artist, paints with words a wonderful portrait of the calling of the Apostles. Saint Luke describes the call that will ultimately determine the vocation of various people who will proclaim the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Saint Luke first stresses that people are crowding around Jesus early on in his ministry in order to hear the word of God. Here is the long-expected Savior in their midst, though they can hardly grasp the full meaning of his presence. Only over time is it clearer to them that Jesus is the Anointed of God, the prophet and beloved Son of God, sharing our human nature but at the same time divine.
Jesus is teaching on the Lake of Gennesaret in Galilee seated in the boat that belonged to Peter. This underlines the fact of the continued presence of the Lord in the apostolic work of the Church, whose Lord will always be present, in goods time and bad. A large crowd listens attentively to Jesus and prefigures the multitudes who will one day form the Church of Christ on earth.
The Gospel text goes on to describe an extraordinary catch of fish at Jesus’ command. It happens in very unfavorable circumstances, after a night of catching nothing on the part of Peter and his companions. What looked like a hopeless situation turns into an amazing success story. But the point is deeper: under the care of the Lord the Church will flourish and many will find their home there. Peter, who will play a central role in the growth of the Christ’s Church, is told he will be a fisher of souls.
For Simon Peter, the first step toward partaking in the future mission of Jesus is a total surrender into the hands of the Lord. The Church will be continually called to imitate this whole-hearted surrender. “Do not be afraid,” is the message Jesus offers to Peter and that is our assurance as well. We may tend toward fear and flight at times or often, but are called to resist that and to really trust that God is with us, carrying us, leading us in love and gentleness. That should be comfort for one and all in the Church and for those pondering entrance into the barque (boat) of Peter, the Church.
In the face of massive responsibility, Peter understandably confesses his unworthiness and weakness. This sense with probably remained his whole life and may be our experience as well. “Who am I to take on a place in the Church, to be part of Christ’s Body?,” we might ask. The message of Jesus remains constant: do not be afraid. The presence and power of Jesus is always active, and as the one who overcame death by death, we can rest assured that we will not be abandoned or left as orphans. That is unthinkable from God’s perspective.
The same phrase, “Do not be afraid,” is spoken by the Risen Christ to his disciples. Clearly the Lord desires that we be at ease, rest assured of his help and never despair of God’s mercy. This is an important theme in this Jubilee Year of Mercy which Pope Francis has designated for the Universal Church.
The power of Jesus’ word on people is clear in the response of Peter and his companions by their complete surrender and ultimate adherence to the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Peter here also symbolizes or stands in for the entire Church as a community called to belong and to be fully committed to Christ our Savior. This is the moment of Peter’s metanoia (change of heart or direction), when the Lord speaks to him personally, but to each apostle and follower of Jesus as well.
Simon Peter was called to be the leader of the apostolic mission of the Lord. Our call may be less lofty, but no less important as “bearers of Christ,” to all those we meet.
The first reading for Mass this Sunday, the call of the great prophet Isaiah, is a prefiguring of what Peter experienced in being called and not feeling not up to the task, but ultimately willing to leave all false security behind and place his life under the care of the Living God. We are called to do likewise.
Today our prayer might be that God’s Holy Spirit fill and inspire the entire Church, laity and clergy alike, with eagerness, wisdom and courage to proclaim Jesus and the message of mercy and hope that Jesus incarnates.
The Holy Spirit of God formed Jesus in the Virgin Mary and assisted the Lord for his mission of salvation to the ends of the earth. This same Holy Spirit works is in the Church today, bestowing the gift of proclaiming God’s Word, despite all human weakness, opposition in the work or fear that those preaching or hearing might encounter. Jesus is saying to the Church today, bowing before him, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching people for eternal life.”
Prior Christian Leisy, OSB
Monastery of Christ in the Desert
Abiquiu, New Mexico