Today’s gospel presents us with Luke’s tale of the miraculous draught of fishes. Luke takes material from Mark and John and redacts it to give us a lively, human scene. He opens with the crowd at the lakeside enrapt in Jesus’s talk: Jesus is speaking to them "the word of God." Feeling the people pressing upon him at the water’s edge, Jesus looks around and sees two empty fishing boats, one of them Simon’s. He asks Simon to take him out a short distance from the shore. From the boat he continues to speak to the crowd – and clearly over the water they hear his voice. Jesus lures them with the word of God.
Finished speaking, Jesus then tells Simon to put out into the deep and lower the nets for a catch. Simon, weary and feeling perhaps a frustrated failure, honestly tells Jesus that they have worked hard all night and caught nothing, "but at your command I will lower the nets." Then the hustle begins – the rush of straining and pulling, of calling to the second boat for help, of emptying the nets into both boats, of bailing and balancing to keep the boats from sinking with so much fish. In all humility, wonder, and awe, Peter falls to his knees, saying, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."
Luke is doing a number of things for us here – one of them is setting Peter up as the leader whom Jesus will choose for his intimate group. Then, after a night of catching nothing without Jesus, Simon(Peter) and the group experience the immediate and overwhelming catch of fish. Luke thereby enables Jesus to establish his credentials for what he is about to ask of them. Astounded at the miracle, Peter responds with deep and humble faith in his Lord. Jesus in turn then tells them all – "from now on (an expression always indicating a life’s turning point in Luke) you will be catching men." And at that they leave everything and follow him.
Two days ago was the feast day of St. Jeanne Jugan, the Foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor. In reading about her, I was taken by her advice on what to do when, metaphorically, the fishing seems hopeless and the nets are frustratingly empty, when we seem to be unable to lure anyone with the word of God: "When your patience and strength give out and you feel alone and helpless, go and find Jesus. He is waiting for you in the chapel. Say to him, ‘Jesus, you know exactly what is going on. You are all I have, and you know all. Come to my help.’ Then go and don’t worry about how you are going to manage. That you have told God about it is enough. He has a good memory."
Br. Peter A. Fitzpatrick, CFX, a Xaverian Brother, is a Passionist Associate at Ryken House, St. Xavier High School, across the creek from Sacred Heart Passionist Monastery in Louisville, KY