The Drama: God fishes for men
There is great drama in today’s Gospel. It’s not the kind of drama played out at high school proms, where creatures seek each other out; it is the deeper drama of the Creator seeking his creature. In our race’s first drama, God sought Adam and Eve “in the cool time of day.” This traumatic drama was made whole when God proposed to the maiden Mary in Nazareth. In today’s Gospel, God fishes for men. Once inside his net of divine love, the men themselves become fishers of men.
The drama opens with great excitement at the lakeshore: “Great crowds were pressing in on Jesus to hear the Word”—how great a thirst people have, even in our day, for the Word of God. Peter and his fishing partners, however, were paying no attention. They were too busy with their business. The City of San Francisco, where I live, is exploding with big business. Great crowds pour in from all over the world to get coveted tech sector jobs. Our streets, office buildings, and restaurants surge with talented young adults. One columnist quipped that the city has become one big singles bar. Almost none of them go to Mass. It is not that they don’t like Jesus—they are simply too busy to think about him. There is so much to do in San Francisco right now.
The Barque of Peter
Back to the Lakeshore: Jesus asks Simon if he can get into his boat, and from that moment, his simple fishing boat becomes the “Barque of Peter,” now known as the Catholic Church. Jesus is still teaching from this simple boat, and the Church should never doubt who speaks, or who should be speaking, from her pulpits. It is Jesus through Peter who speaks, and we priests had better make sure we are not adulterating the Word with our own shoddy opinions. Jesus commands Simon: “put out into deep water and lower your nets….” Our Divine Lord commands this boat; Christ is the master of His Church. The Pope himself takes direction from Christ, and if not, his nets will remain empty. “Master,” Simon contends, “we have worked hard all night but have caught nothing…but at your command, I will lower the nets.” Peter is not the perfect Pope, but he gives Jesus something to work in his simple obedience.
But Jesus steps into Peter’s boat not principally to preach to the crowds or even to teach him how to fish. He steps into the boat to fish for Peter. First he has to win Peter’s soul, and only then will Peter learn how to fish himself. The men haul in such a great catch that both boats are in danger of sinking. Peter realizes that it is not his work, but God’s. He falls on his knees in the boat: “leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” The one thing necessary for a priest to catch souls is to know that he is a sinner, unworthy, incapable, and so begin the process of surrender to God’s will. Jesus reassures the fishermen: “don’t worry. From now on, you will be fishers of men.”
Leaving it behind to follow the Master
The four men leave everything to follow Jesus. Leaving the business and their families seemed like a lot, but it was their part to play in saving their own souls and the souls of the world. Four men are currently in the seminary from this parish (St. Joseph’s, Modesto). I can think of at least four other men who have been ordained from this parish in recent years. And why this parish? Because for twenty years St. Joseph’s parish has had a Eucharistic adoration chapel, and for twenty years she has promoted devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary (as should any parish named for her spouse). Jesus and Mary: these two names draw a man or woman from the busyness of life to follow God.
Never lose these two guiding principles: Jesus and Mary. In my San Francisco parish, named for the Mother of God, we are developing perpetual prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Already we have 36 hours of continuous adoration from Friday mornings to Saturday nights, and already we have a man in the seminary. We know more will follow, more will enter consecrated life, and more will enter faithful loving marriages, as long as we focus on Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and his Holy Mother in the rosary.