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Last week, I shared the words of Cardinal Christoph Schonborn. In a Mass at Benedictine College, he spoke about how Jesus’ hometown turned against him and tried to kill him. “But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away,” said the Gospel.
“Sometimes I have the impression that what we are living now in Europe is exactly described in this scene,” the cardinal said. “We are Nazareth. … We are tired of him.” Then: “Lord, do not abandon us,” he pleaded.
This week’s Gospel — the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C — might be an answer to the cardinal’s prayer.
Look at what happens in the Gospel: Simon Peter and the other fisherman have been fishing the lake in the early-morning hours, the best time for catching fish. Jesus starts preaching on the shore nearby, and soon he plunks himself down in Simon’s boat to create a bit of a barrier between himself and the crowd.
The fishermen are tired out. They are done with fishing for the day. They have done all they can do; if there are any more fish out there, they are going to be safe for now. But Jesus transforms the scene. “Put out into deep water, and lower your nets for a catch,” he commands.
Simon sighs, complains that it will be useless, then does what Jesus says — and catches an unprecedented quantity of fish.
That command of Jesus — “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” — became a kind of catchphrase of Pope John Paul II’s. “Do not settle for mediocrity,” he would say. “Duc in altium!” Go out into the deep!
Father Roger Landry suggested that perhaps Blessed John Paul II saw the same tiredness in us that Jesus saw in those fishermen.
“The reason why Pope John Paul II wanted all of us to take this episode as our thematic marching orders is because he sensed the fatigue in so many of us, especially in the Christian West,” he said. “The Pope wanted us, like St. Peter, to trust in Christ and, at his word, launch out again, boldly, against the pessimism of common wisdom, in unexpected times and places, for a big catch.”
The other readings support this theme of the God giving us another chance to evangelize.
King Uzziah was a great king who brought prosperity to Israel, but he lost perspective. He began to think that the prosperity he had brought was the most important aspect of Israel’s story, and he took to himself a privilege that belonged to the priests. He died as a result — in an earthquake, an unmistakable sign from God.
It was at that moment that a great vision of the holiness of God appears and draws in Isaiah, who probably felt like an unworthy second act to the mighty King Uzziah. But Isaiah would be to Israel’s holiness what Uzziah was to its prosperity.
In our day, we might feel like all the Christian heroes are in the past, like the story of the Gospel has been told. St. Paul felt that way, too.
“Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me,” St. Paul says. “For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.”
He persevered in telling his story of Christ all the same. And it worked. He said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.”
By the grace of God, we too can say we “are what we are.” Nothing great, but not wholly without value either. And if we put Christ in our boat and stay close with him, we can find our nets bursting with a catch even at our late date.
The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).