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Set out into the deep

Out on the Sea of Galilee, the time for catching fish is at night. If you haven’t caught anything by morning, it’s time to pack up the nets and go home. That’s exactly what St. Peter is doing in the Gospel this week, when Jesus calls him to something higher. “Put out into the deep,” the Lord says, “and lower your nets for a catch.” Such a command would have made no sense to St. Peter, because the best fishing in Galilee is not in the deep, but close to the shore. And who is this rabbi to tell a fisherman how to catch a fish? Moreover, cleaning your fishing nets is a time-consuming and messy project. Why soil them up again, after so much work?

Although Jesus’ instruction seems foolish, somewhere in the depths of his soul, St. Peter knows that ignoring the word of the Lord is more foolish still. And so, by some intuition, by some invisible grace, Peter sets his ego aside, and gives the Lord the gift of his trust. What happens next? A catch of fish beyond anything he could have imagined. Nets strained to the breaking point. Two entire fishing boats, nearly swamped. In an instant, St. Peter realizes he has just witnessed a miracle. He stands in the presence of no ordinary teacher. This man Jesus controls the forces of nature. Overcome with awe and reverence, St. Peter says to Jesus, “depart from me Lord. I am a sinful man.”

The blessings God intends for your soul are just like this miraculous catch of fish: literally beyond anything you can imagine. Let’s note, however, that it’s St. Peter’s trust and humility that allows him to receive such an abundant blessing. That same trust and humility we must imitate as well.

Trusting the Lord always feels like a risk, but nothing in this world could be more certain. I heard a fascinating story once about a deceased Vietnamese Cardinal, the Venerable Nguyen Van Thuan. He was imprisoned by the Vietnamese communists for 13 years. At first, he despaired of his imprisonment. “What good could possibly come of such monumental injustice,” he thought to himself. Gradually however, he began to trust. God has his purposes, even when he could not understand. For years, government officials transferred the cardinal from prison to prison, and then suddenly, with no explanation, released him from prison, and exiled him from Vietnam. Years later, Cardinal Thuan learned the full truth of what had happened. It turns out that his mere presence in each prison camp inspired all the other prisoners with the faith, much to the consternation of their atheist overlords.

It takes a generous measure of humility to believe, as Cardinal Thuan did, that God’s providence is always operative even when life’s circumstances make no sense to us. But such humility is exactly what it means for us to “put out into the deep.” The deeper the humility of your heart, the greater the blessings you can receive. That’s why humility can be understood as the foundation of the entire spiritual life. In fact, St. Teresa of Avila once likened humility to the foundation of a building. The deeper the foundation, the higher the building can rise. Similarly, the deeper the humility of your soul, the greater God's power can work through you. Humility is never the goal of our lives, of course. Charity is always the goal. But humility is the only means by which we can ever arrive.

There are many things you will never accomplish by your own strength alone. Some things only God can do — things such as changing lives, touching souls and moving stubborn hearts. But when we cooperate, in humility and trust, God does act, even through unworthy human instruments. Let’s take to heart then, these words Jesus addresses to St. Peter, “Put out into the deep, and lower your nets for a catch.”

Fr. Hudgins is pastor of St. Jude Church in Fredericksburg.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019