In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"
I thank you, Lord, with all my heart,
you have heard the words of my mouth.
Before the angels I will bless you.
I will adore before your holy temple. (R./)
I thank you for your faithfulness and love
which excel all we ever knew of you.
On the day I called, you answered;
you increased the strength of my soul. (R./)
All earth's kings shall thank you
when they hear the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the Lord's ways:
'How great is the glory of the Lord!' (R./)
You stretch out your hand and save me,
your hand will do all things for me.
Your love, O Lord, is eternal,
discard not the work of your hands. (R./)
Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast-unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
These are great readings. The two call stories are, each in its own way, classics. Luke expands the simple call story by adding the miracle and its consequences. It invites a personal reflection on the "why" of my own call as a disciple: what drew me originally and what continues to draw me today and every day?
The story of the 'miraculous catch' in the Sea of Galilee was very popular among early Christians. Various Evangelists pass on the episode, but only Luke ends the story with a moving scene that has Simon Peter as the protagonist: a believing disciple and a sinner at the same time.
Peter is a man of faith, seduced by Jesus. Jesus' words have more power for him than his own experience. Peter knows that nobody goes out fishing at noon on the lake, especially if he hasn't caught anything the night before. But Jesus tells him to do it and Peter completely trusts in him: 'If you say so, I will pay out the nets'. At the same time, Peter is a man with a sincere heart. Surprised by the great catch they got, 'he fell at the knees of Jesus' and with an admirable spontaneity says: 'Leave me, I am a sinful man'. In front of everyone, Peter recognizes his sin and his complete unworthiness to be around Jesus.
Jesus isn't afraid to have a sinful disciple near him. On the contrary, if Peter feels himself to be a sinner, he can better understand Jesus' message of forgiveness for everyone and his welcoming of sinners and the undesirables. 'Do not be afraid; from now on it is people you will be catching'. Jesus takes away Peter's fear of being a sinful disciple and joins him to his mission of reuniting and gathering men and women of every condition to enter into God's saving project.
Why does the Church so resist recognizing her sins and confessing her need of conversion? The Church is Jesus Christ's, but she isn't Jesus Christ. No one can miss seeing sin in her. The Church is 'holy' because she lives animated by the Holy Spirit of Jesus, but she is 'sinful' because not seldom does she resist that Spirit and wanders away from the Gospel. Sin is in believers and in institutions; in the hierarchy and in God's people; in pastors and in Christian communities. We all need conversion.
It's very serious to accustom ourselves to hiding the truth, since this keeps us from committing ourselves to a process of conversion and renovation. On the other hand, isn't it more evangelical to be a fragile and vulnerable Church, one that has the courage to recognize her sin, than to be an institution uselessly bent on covering up her wretchedness from the world. Aren't our communities more believable when they collaborate with Christ in the evangelizing task, humbly recognizing their sins and committing themselves to a life that is each day more evangelical? Don't we have a lot to learn even today from the great apostle Peter, recognizing his sinfulness at Jesus' feet? [J A Pagola].
We've just heard two iconic vocation-stories from biblical times. Last week we had the call of Jeremiah, and this week we have the vocation stories of Isaiah and the apostle Peter. One might ask: "Why these guys? What was God thinking? But this is really nothing new for the God of surprises. Abraham is made a new father in his old age; slow-tongued Moses takes on Pharaoh, young shepherd David is chosen as king, and Saul the persecutor became Paul the apostle. It is clear that God does whatever God wills.
The characters that God has chosen throughout history to be instruments of justice, mercy, love and compassion have been brave, earthy individuals. We could be wrong to disqualify ourselves from ever being called by God to be his instruments. We may intellectually understand that God has chosen many people like ourselves to be his workers; but too often it ends there, if spiritually we lower our heads, and leave it to others to follow God's call.
After the extraordinary catch of fish, Peter was suddenly aware of his own weakness and unworthiness. Surely he did not deserve such generosity from Jesus? Then Peter discovers that the Lord has chosen him and has a great purpose for him, in spite of his faults. From now on he will gather people into the net of God's kingdom. God's purpose for us does not dependent on our virtue or worthiness. He does not wait for us to be worthy before calling us to a share in his loving service to others. Indeed, our very sense of unworthiness creates an opening for Christ to work through us. If, like Peter, we are called to work with Jesus, we will do so as wounded healers, trying to practice what we preach.
A popular Irish hymn contains the hopeful prayer I liontaibh De go gcastar sinn, "may we be gathered into God's nets." It is a fine prayer in view of the many other nets that are spread out to catch us in these times. There are various nets of consumerism and gambling, that can easily tangle us in a mesh of artificial need, and worry about ability to pay. We feel pressured into "buying things we don't want, with money we don't have, to impress people we don't like!" What about the net of image-building and lots of hype about the success ethic, with an exclusive focus on financial growth and the outward self, to the detriment of human and spiritual values? Also, the net of drug and alcohol culture, and the net of depression, despair and suicide for those for whom life loses its meaning?
We pray that we may be taken caught up in God's own net where life, even with its faults, holds out a promise of goodness, acceptance and hope. We must also involve ourselves in spreading this net. In the story in John 21 the spread net caught a hundred and fifty three fish , every type was taken in the net. Like Peter we are commissioned to "be fishers of people" and if we spread the net at the command of the Lord we too can take every type of person into God's net of forgiveness, meaning, love and hope. This is our vocation and duty as Christians. To really do it, however, we must make sure we are not trapped in one of the other nets. I've always been fascinated by the number of references to fish in the gospel. In Matthew, Christ says: "The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind." When he miraculously fed the multitude he used fish as well as bread. He even found the money to pay his taxes in the mouth of a fish. Fish figured so prominently in the gospel that the early Christians in Rome, chose the symbol of a fish to designate their tombs in the catacombs. The letters which make up the Greek word for fish, ichthus, came to signify "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour."
There were a lot of other people in Palestine in the time of Our Lord, besides fisherman. Yet when it came to picking his apostles, he showed a marked preference for them. He made "the big fisherman', Simon Peter, their head. And he reserved his special miracles, such as the transfiguration and the raising to life of the little girl, only for him and his two fishing partners, James and John. "Put out into deep water', he told Peter. Peter knew, as every fisherman knows, that fish only feed in shallow waters. Jesus was testing him. After a whole night covering the best feeding grounds on the lake, it was asking a lot. But Peter complied, almost as if to humour Jesus. His compliance was amply rewarded. More importantly, he had passed the test. "From now on," Christ told him, "it is men you will catch." (Or as Mark phrased it: "Follow me and I will make you fish for people.")
The one virtue, above all others, that fishermen need, is the virtue of hope. To cast a small hook into a large expanse of water in the expectation of catching a fish, is an act of hope. And to do it time after time, hour after hour without catching anything, without even the tiniest bite, is to hope beyond hope. It was the one virtue Christ needed in the person he chose to lead his followers. He was, as history has shown, launching Peter into deep waters indeed. But he knew what Teilhard de Chardin expressed almost two thousand years later, that "the world belongs to him who will give it its greatest hope."
Jesus has begun to draw followers, whom he will inform, and eventually transform, so they can continue his mission when he returns to his Father. Today's gospel presents a beautiful and simple picture. There is something special about a lakeside, and the presence of the odd fishing boat makes it even more attractive. By now, Jesus had begun to attract crowds, who gathered to listen to his message; and this was in the days before megaphones or public address systems! The nearest thing to a pulpit he could find was a boat, and by pulling out a bit from the shore, his voice would carry much better on the water, and give his space from the pressing crowds.
The next scenario is both simple and central. Peter was disappointed, without even one fish to show for his work, and so the scene was set for a miracle. As usual with Jesus, the outcome was abundant, "pressed down and flowing over" as with the wine at Cana, or the baskets of loaves and fish left over after everyone had been fed. Then Peter was his impulsive self and asked Jesus to leave him, because he was a sinful man. That must surely have brought a smile to the face of Christ, because it was precisely to draw such sinful people to himself that he had come. So Jesus ignored Peter's remark, and instead invited Peter and his friends to join him full-time in the mission he was undertaking. There was something magnetic about Jesus, and, immediately, they abandoned ship, and set off down the road with him.
Christianity is more about attracting others to share a vision of life than about forcing it upon them. Throughout history, we read about founders of religious communities and orders. These were people with a vision, dynamic, filled with zeal, and had a powerful sense of mission. Their enthusiasm was highly contagious! Such people always attract attention, and this leads to attracting followers. In our own time we have seen aberrations in the form of cults, based on mind control, that led hundreds to their deaths through suicide pacts. It is the duty of leaders to lead, but they should also know where they're going. Like Moses headed for the Promised Land, Jesus was totally open and definite in the direction of his life. He came to do the Father's will, and he was led by the Spirit. Thank God for the many wonderful leaders and founders with which the Lord has provided us down the centuries. Thank God, for the many such people who are alive and active among us today.
Jesus is more often shown as teaching rather than preaching. The art of teaching is to bring the learners from they already know to is yet unknown to them. Jesus speaks of fish, of sheep, of vines, of trees, of water, etc., of things well within the lived experience of his listeners. The Acts opens by telling us that Jesus came to do and to teach. A cynic once described classrooms as places where information is transferred from the teacher's notebookto the student's notebook, without passing through the heads of either! Jesus spoke and taught from the heart, and what comes from the speaker's heart always reaches the listener's heart. The person and message of Jesus were so united that his words were inspiring and lifegiving.
Was Peter wrong to judge himself unworthy to stay with Jesus? He had not yet grasped that Jesus came to call sinners. What he should have said was, "Lord, stay with me, because I am a sinful man." Sometimes our church has not been good in welcoming sinners. Sometimes we so emphasised hell-fire and condemnation, that sinners felt they could not share the Eucharistic table. The message often came across as "Depart from here, for you are a sinful person." Thankfully, under Pope Francis' leadership, we are reminded of the mind and the message of the Jesus who came to seek out sinners and bring them safely home. If he had a hundred sheep, and one went astray, he would leave the ninety-nine to go after the one that is lost. This message is central to the Year of Mercy proclaimed by the Holy Father.
Instead of asking the Lord to "DEPART FROM ME", Peter's prayer to Jesus could have been, "Lord, please STAY with me, BECAUSE I am a sinner. Don't ever leave me, because, apart from you, I'm lost." Indeed, the whole message of Jesus is to reassure sinners that he is always there for them. Peter was well aware of his brokenness, and several later episodes confirmed that fact. It is significant that Jesus made Peter head of the apostles. The principle of evangelising is that one sinner tells another the good news, just as with Alcoholics Anonymous, where one recovering alcoholic helps another to sobriety. Many of us could come up with some instance in our lives, when, like Peter, we have tried hard and caught nothing. This could be anything from an addiction, to resentment, an inability to forgive, to a scar of mind or memory, which has never healed. This has the potential for a miracle, if I am willing to hand it over. Let go, and let God. There is nothing impossible with God.
In áit iarrú ar an dTiarna IMEACHT uaidh, ba féidir go mbéadh paidir naoimh Pheadair ar an lorg seo "Bí AM CHUIDEACHTA de shíor, a Thiarna TOISG gur peacach mé." Go deimhin féin níl i gceist i teagasc an Tiarna ach go bhfuil Sé farainn de shíor. "Ná tréig mé choíche a Thairna, mar id' eagmais tá deireadh liom". Bímís deimh daingean de nach bhfuil i gceist i dteagasc Íosa go bhfuil Sé de shíor in ár n-aice. Thuig Peadar go maith a leochailí is a bhí sé, rud a bhí go rí-shoiléir níos déanaí in a shaol. Nach ait an rud gurab é Peadar rogha an Tiarna mar cheannaire ar na haspail?. Cuid bunúsach de chraobhscaoileadh an chreidiimh é ná go roinneann peacach an dea-scéal le duine eile, dála an AA, mar a réitíonn ainniseoir amháin sa ghluaiseacht a chabhair le créatúr eile ata ar bhóthar a leighis. Níl duine ann nach féidir leis sampla amháin, ar a laghad, a sholáthar faoi rud a thárla, dála Pheadir, gur theip air breith fiú ar "iasc aonarach amháin". Mar shampla andúileachas nó doicheall, leisce faoi rud a thárla i bhfad ó shoin, agus atá fós ag déanamh scime dúinn. Tá abhar mhíorúil againn anseo ach bheith toilteanach scaoileadh leis. Scaoil leis agus fág faoi Dhia é. Níl aon rud do-dhéanta ag Dia.
(Aistrithe ag an tAth. Uinseann, OCSO)