If there is one common theme in today’s Mass it is confidence: confidence in God, in the promise of the Holy Ghost which we received at Pentecost, confidence in the Church, and confidence that present difficulties can and will come to a happy issue for those in the love of God. Confidence is in this Mass from beginning to end:
- Introit: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
- Epistle: “I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us.”
- The Gospel shows us Saint Peter’s confidence rewarded.
- Communion Verse: “The Lord is my firmament, and my refuge and my deliverer; my God is my helper.”
In the Gospel, we see what is probably the pivotal moment in Saint Peter’s career as a disciple. The episode happened at about the end of Our Lord’s first year of public ministry, probably sometime around March. Peter and his brother, Andrew, had known about Our Lord for almost a year. They first met Him when Saint John the Baptist pointed Him out as the Lamb of God. They weren’t yet “full-time disciples,” so they still made a living by fishing on the Sea of Tiberias, where we find them in today’s Gospel.
Peter and Andrew fished from one of the two boats mentioned here. In the other one are James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Having caught nothing all night, the four were doing the hard work of cleaning their nets and rolling them up so they won’t be a mess for the next day’s fishing. It was then that Our Lord decides to use one of the ships as a platform from which to preach to the crowds. He chooses Simon’s — the Barque of Peter.
After the sermon — which we don’t get to read — Our Lord commands Simon to “launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a draught.” The thought must have entered the mind of Peter the fisherman that late morning is not time to fish. They hadn’t caught anything all night long, and now that the full light of day is upon them, it would be foolish to expect a catch. Besides, the nets are clean: why go through all the trouble of dirtying them again for nothing? But, by the grace of God, Simon the fisherman put aside his personal judgment in the matter and Peter the disciple obeys, saying: “at Thy word I will let down the net.”
And what happens? A catch of fish so great that the nets burst. There were so many fish that Peter and Andrew needed to call James and John for help. The catch was so plentiful as to fill both ships almost to the point of sinking.
Saint Peter, overcome with the power of Our Lord, fell down at the Master’s knees and cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Our Lord’s merciful reaction to Saint Peter’s humble confession must have filled him with confidence: “Fear not: from henceforth thou shalt catch men. ”
Of course, we know what the ship symbolizes. The “Barque of Peter” is one of the oldest and most familiar figures of the Church. The Fathers used this figure in their writings, and we find images of it in the catacombs dating from the ages of persecution.
In Saint Peter, the first Pope, we see a pattern for the Church’s successes and her failures. When those in authority trust in themselves and do things their own way, they fail and the Church suffers. When they do Our Lord’s will, they succeed and the whole Church is blessed. Peter fails in his confidence in our Lord and begins to sink in the sea after walking on water. He trusts in himself when Our Lord told him not to and ends up running away in the garden and denying Our Lord in the courtyard of the high priest’s house.
But when he trusts Our Lord and not his own judgment, he is blessed. Today’s catch of fish and the other miraculous catch after the Resurrection — the one with the 153 fish, as related by St. John — are two examples out of many. Seeing things the way God sees them and doing them according to His will are the guarantees of success for Saint Peter, the first Pope. The same is true for all his successors.
Can we not say that the present problems in the Church are the rotten produce of men, including ecclesiastics, following a program other than Our Lord’s? A false irenicism, a false peace with the world has invaded our thinking. The Church Militant seems to have become the Church Milquetoast. The last several decades have been a long dark night for the Church during which her labors appear to result in little more than torn nets and a ship falling apart.
At some level, the same is true of us all. Whenever we fail to see or do things Our Lord’s way, whenever we have a program other than Our Lord’s, whenever we sin, we are Peter sinking. We are Peter running away. We are Peter denying Our Lord. And our sins don’t just effect us; they affect the entire Church. We are making the ship take on water.
But today’s Mass reminds us to be confident — inflexibly confident in God’s promises. This is Saint Peter at his best: “at Thy word I will let down the net.” Saint Peter was obedient to his Master’s command because he had confidence in his Master’s words. It was this confidence that led him, when others were doubting, to say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”
There is a flip side to this coin of confidence in God. It is mistrust of self. The saints warn us not to trust in ourselves. Like Simon trembling at the knees of Our Lord in his own ship, we have to realize that we are sinners and without any hope of doing good by ourselves. In the concrete, we cannot trust ourselves in occasions of sin. Each of us knows — or should know — the sins to which we are susceptible. A healthy person can eat a candy bar that could kill a diabetic. So too, each of us has his own moral “poison” that will kill us and each should know what people, places, and things lead him to offend God. By avoiding them we put mistrust of self into practice.
It is primarily in prayer and reflection that we come to this humble self-knowledge, as well as a knowledge of what God’s will is. Our Lord is not going to command you as he commanded Peter. He usually works in a quieter setting.
Even if this “quiet setting” is only a few moments of the morning or evening, its use will help you to make more sense of the rest of your day. Perhaps this is a good time to mention the need not only for individuals, but for families, to pray. The great Irish Holy Cross priest, Father Peyton, was not uttering a mere platitude when he said, “The family that prays together, stays together.” If you do not have a daily family Rosary, I strongly encourage you to begin one. The Rosary is our lifeline to Mary, the cause of our joy, and the cause of our confidence.
Finally, let us take heart at the conclusion of today’s Gospel: “And having brought their ships to land, leaving all things they followed him.” When they witnessed what Our Lord could do, the first four disciples — Peter, Andrew, James, and John — began to follow Jesus “full time.” There are young people today who, with the grace of God, are being called to leave all things to follow Jesus as a priest or religious. God is not wanting in generosity. Even now, He calls some to be fishers of men. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”