The following is an excerpt from a recent homily at a Mass in honor of St. Josemaria Escriva, the Founder of Opus Dei. The homily followed the Gospel passage about the miraculous catch of fish as read in Luke, chapter 5:
1. While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. 2 And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5. And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6. And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, 7. they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10. and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” 11. And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Isn’t it amazing that in the midst of all the dramatic happenings of this Gospel scene—the crowd pressing on Jesus, the teaching of the crowds from the boat, and of course, the miraculous catch of fish—Jesus and Peter maintain a personal conversation. In the midst of the noise and confusion, a dialogue persists. As Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master we have worked hard all night, and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets…” In fact, it seems that by the end of the scene of the miraculous catch of fish, a kind of secondary miracle is confirmed: the friendship between Peter and Jesus. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Conversation, confidence, friendship.
Now, this particular Gospel story was one of St. Josemaria’s favorites, and thus is proclaimed at this Mass in his honor. Exactly why it was one of his favorites I am not sure, but it was one of the passages he had memorized so that it could be recalled for his personal prayer or—as was the case during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s—he could celebrate Mass without a missal or book of readings (they were illegal during the religious persecution at that time). In any case, the story of the miraculous catch of fish continues to inspire us in our day and time. We marvel at the command of the Lord to let down the nets in the deep water, totally “against the odds” of actually catching anything, and we marvel even more at the actual catch of Peter and the rest of the Zebedee Fishing Company. Jesus’ prophesy that “…from now on you will be catching men is spoken, not only to Peter, but to each and every one of us: with the Lord Jesus we will gather men and women from all corners of the world to love and serve the Lord. And we are moved by the generous response of the Andrew and Peter, James and John: “They left everything and followed him.”
All of these elements of the story of the miraculous catch of fish can be imitated in our lives and in our time, and in our own style. As St. Josemaria used to say, “old as the Gospel, and like the Gospel new…” With the grace of God, we want to be included in this scene, and apply it to our own situation in life. Not many (any) of us are professional fishermen or women, but all of us want to be the instruments of God that we are called to be. We want to be quick to leave all things and follow Him. Say to him today, “I know that I am a sinful person, and I know that I have a long way to go in order to be a saint, but—with your grace—I want to be a saint; and with your grace, I will be a saint!
But it all begins with having a heart-felt relationship with The Master. This cannot be replaced by anything else: not technology; not education; not success; not popularity; not anything. In the end, it doesn’t matter how much we know, but how much we love, what, who, and how we love. Coming back to the initial point of the dialogue between Peter and the Lord; we have to become aware that personal prayer—with the time and concentration necessary to make it happen—is an indispensable requirement for bringing about a true relationship with the Lord Jesus. And Peter’s conversation with Jesus leads us to desire a personal conversation of our own with Jesus. We want to have that same closeness with him that is our joyful right and duty. Ask Jesus now to challenge you in your life to follow him more closely, and to perhaps even hear the words of command that seem impossible in your life, in your workplace, in your family: “put out into the deep water!”
This is the kind of relationship and constant conversation St. Josemaria had with Jesus throughout his life. In fact, above all, St. Josemaria was a contemplative, with a contemplation that was a fruit of his friendship with Jesus. This is the kind of contemplation you and I want to imitate in our own lives. From the time he was a boy and young adult, St. Josemaria spoke with God, he listened to God, he simply enjoyed and sought to be in the presence of God. This is our great desire as well: to be contemplatives in the middle of the world, sanctifying our ordinary lives. From our contemplative life in Ohio—or wherever you might be—we will catch men and women for the Lord and His Kingdom. Let us ask Holy Mary—Queen of All Saints and our Mother—to intercede with us so that we may be the saints God has called us to be. May our friendship with Jesus be our hope, and may it lead us along the ways of holiness in this World. Amen.