Bottom line: To bring souls to Jesus, we must spend time - daily - in prayer and also do our part to keep the boat and nets in good repair. The readiness is all.
In today's Gospel we have a beautiful image of the Church: The disciples, led by Peter, in a small fishing boat. At the Lord's command they lower the nets and bring in a huge catch - one hundred and fifty-three large fish. The number obviously has significance - and can tell us something about the Church. Early Christian writers said that the number implies that the Lord wants to include all people in his Church. St. Jerome (who was arguably the greatest Scripture scholar in early Church) noted that zoologists of that time identified 153 species of fish. The number, 153, indicates that Lord wants us to bring people of every nation, language and ethnic group.
Jesus means his Church to be "Catholic," that is, universal. Jesus has something for every human being. He alone can satisfy the deepest longing of each person.
The Church by its nature is Catholic - meant for everyone. You will, in fact, find Christians in almost every nation of the world. Still, we have a long way to go in bringing all people to Christ. We might even feel frustrated that so many fish seem to be slipping out of the net!
We have a lot to learn from today's Gospel. They worked all night, but caught nothing. They kept at it even though they did not see results. But then - when they were bone tired, ready to call it a night - Jesus tells them to put out the nets. Like the apostles We must do our required tasks, but also be ready for surprises, the Lord's unexpected presence. He can open up a possibility - and even though we might feel exhausted and discouraged - that might be the moment of the greatest opportunity. How often in my years as a priest have I seen the greatest results from something I did not plan or expect. Shakespeare said:
That also applies to our faith. There is a moment to let down the nets, to bring in a harvest of souls. To recognize that moment requires daily prayer, being attentive to the Lord's voice. Often people will tell me their concerns about their children or grandchildren who have fallen from the practice of the faith. I encourage them to spend time in prayer, especially prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Maybe they are not the one to speak a word to a child or grandchild. Maybe the Lord will send someone else - or touch their hearts in a more direct way. Our main task is to listen to the Lord and be prepared to speak or act when he tells us. To quote again from Shakespeare: "the readiness is all." We must be ready to hear the Lord's voice and act.
There is something more: we also have to keep the boat and the nets in good repair. I remember visiting my relatives in Croatia when I was a young man. I spent about a week with them. They were fishermen. They not only looked for the best times to cast their nets, but they spent quite a bit of time tending their nets, making sure there were no places where legal size fish could escape. And of course they were constantly checking their boat to make sure everything was in order.
You and I have to do the same. We have to keep our parish and diocese in good repair. Not just the buildings and grounds, of course, but our programs and people. We have to train and form seminarians and other pastoral ministers. We have to work hard on the education of our young people. We have to have ways of responding to a variety of needs. We must keep our boats and nets in working condition.
You have a part in that. I am not going to speak about the Annual Catholic Appeal this weekend, but what I want to say is this: The Lord wants his Church - guided by the successor of Peter - to bring in people from all corners. Jesus wants his Church to be Catholic (universal) because he alone can satisfy the deepest needs of every person. To bring souls to Jesus, we must spend time - daily - in in prayer and also do our part to keep the boat and nets in good repair. The readiness is all.
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