1 Corinthians 3:18–23
Psalm 23:1–2, 3–4ab, 5–6 (R. 1ab)
Today’s Gospel opens with the people pressing upon Jesus to hear the Word of God. Eagerness to hear the Word is a sign of spiritual vitality. So too is the desire to be close to Jesus. But already Our Lord is intimating that His Word and His presence will be mediated through His Church. “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” (Lk 5:3). The fisherman’s boat becomes the pulpit of the Word; even more, it becomes an image of the Church called to bear the Word across the waves of history.
After preaching to the people, Our Lord addresses a personal word to Simon: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4). Duc in altum! Put out into the deep! Simon answers the Master honestly, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” — and then he obeys — “But at your word I will let down the nets” (Lk 5:5).
This simple exchange opens for us a window into the soul of the Prince of the Apostles. Peering into his soul, what do we see? We see that Simon Peter, for all his blustering masculinity, in the secret of his soul resembles Mary, the Virgin Mother of the Lord. “How shall this be, since I know not man?” —and then — “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to your word” (Lk 1:34, 38). “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” — “But at your word I will let down the nets” (Lk 5:5). A pattern emerges here. It is the Marian pattern of holiness. There is no holiness that is not Marian. Even Simon must, in some way, be conformed by the Holy Spirit to the Virgin Mary in her humility, in her singleheartedness, in her trusting obedience.
Peter directs his co–workers to let down the nets. “And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish” (Lk 5:6). So great was the catch that it filled two boats, and the boats began to sink. Simon realizes that He is in the presence of the transcendent power of God. “He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8). Here, Simon resembles the prophet Isaiah who, in similar circumstances, cried, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!” (Is 6:5).
There is in the Sistine Chapel an amazing tapestry entitled The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (Pieter van Aelst, 1450–1533). It depicts Simon on his knees before Jesus. Saint Andrew is standing behind him. Simon’s whole body is leaning toward his Master. His sleeves are rolled up, revealing the muscled arms of a man accustomed to hard physical work. His hands are folded and thrust forward. The most striking thing in the tapestry is Simon’s face. Although his mouth is saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8), his eyes are saying, “Do not depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord, and you, you alone are my Jesus, that is, He who saves me from my sins!”
How does Our Lord respond to Simon’s mixed emotions? Does He listen to Simon’s words and withdraw from him? Or does He read the deeper prayer in Simon’s eyes, and respond to that? Our Lord’s project for Simon surpasses anything Simon could have imagined. “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men” (Lk 5:10). The great adventure of Peter and the Church begins. “And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him” (Lk 5:11).
The Lord Jesus is not afraid to entrust the designs of His Heart to sinful men. He allows us to experience His power and our own weakness. He waits for us to say, “Do not depart from me, for I am a sinner, and you, you alone are my Jesus, that is, He who saves me from my sins.” How close this prayer is to the beautiful invocation murmured over and over again by the English and Irish Martyrs: Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesus, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me a Jesus.” Whether you are overwhelmed by the awareness of your sins, or annihilated by the nearness of the Thrice–Holy God, lift your face to Jesus, allowing him to read in your eyes the deepest cry of your heart: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me a Jesus.” And then, follow Him.