6th February, 2022

Fish in a basket

The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C

When I read today’s Word of God yesterday evening, I remembered the very beginnings of my personal friendship with Jesus, my call to the priesthood which I discerned very early as a little boy shortly after my first holy communion, but also my time in the seminary, my lecturers and teachers and a very simple inscription that is above the tabernacle in the seminary chapel, where I spent a great deal of time during my six years of my study and formation. Anyone who enters this chapel can immediately see this short passage from the Bible very clearly. The words of this inscription are probably well known to you – even if you have never been in my seminary – because they were taken from the Gospel according to John, and read as follows: You did not choose me, but I chose you. You may ask: Why did someone write these words in big capital letters in a central place of the seminary chapel, just below the ceiling and above the tabernacle, so that everyone who enters this place can see it very clearly.

Before we answer that question, let’s take a look at today’s readings, which tell us about the calling of the three very interesting figures in the Bible. The calling of Isaiah, which we heard about in the first reading; the calling of Saint Paul, which he himself proudly described for us in the second reading; and finally, the calling of Peter and his companions, which is the main and most important theme of today’s Gospel. Let’s ask: What do these three completely different life stories and also completely different callings have in common? First of all – as we have seen – it is God who is always the first to come out with the initiative to meet people whom He chooses at His own discretion. Nobody knows why exactly them and not somebody else. As we probably remember, a few weeks ago our seminarian Antony spoke to us of a very similar experience of God who invited him to a very close relationship with Him as a seminarian, and at some stage – please God – as a priest. He also did not understand and could not explain to us why God chose him. Perhaps at some point of his life Jesus said to him: You did not choose me, but I chose you. Having said all this, I think each of us can easily answer the question why these words are so important for us, and also why someone decided to place them in the seminary chapel.

Secondly, God very often fills all the people He chooses with fear and anxiety, and then shortly after that He gives them energy, zeal and strength and spurs them on to be more courageous in their ministry that seems to be far beyond their human abilities and strength. This was the case with Isaiah, who was terrified only because he experienced an incredible presence of God in the temple. What a wretched state I am in! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have looked at the King, the Lord of hosts. Likewise, Peter in today’s Gospel was terrified of what he saw and what he witnessed. We can only imagine this wonderful catch of fish and the reaction of the many people who accompanied Peter that day. It seems to me that each of us would be terrified if we were in a similar situation. Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man! – Perhaps it would be the only reaction of many of us. And finally, one more very interesting and spectacular calling which we heard about in the second reading – the calling of St Paul. We can imagine how much fear Paul experienced when he unexpectedly encountered the Risen Jesus on his way to Damascus. As a result of the light that suddenly dazzled him, he fell off his horse and lost his sight. As we see, none of these three encounters with God took place in a peaceful atmosphere or in a gentle and silent breeze of God’s grace. What happened next? I think each of us – more or less – knows the story of these three men who finally became powerful instruments in God’s hands. Isaiah became an extremely brave prophet, Paul became the apostle of the Gentiles, and Peter began to ‘catch people’ – that is, to bring them to Jesus. All of them left their jobs, plans and aspirations. They overcame their human weaknesses, fears for the future, and followed the Master of Nazareth without knowing what the purpose of their journey was.

What does today’s Word of God encourage us to do, since its main theme is vocation? First of all – as usual – it encourages us to put even greater trust in God who comes to us – sometimes unexpectedly and surprisingly. Perhaps sometimes – like Peter – we don’t feel worthy enough, and we would like to run away or to say to him: Leave me, Lord – go away from me – I am a sinful man. But we need to remember that for Him it does not matter what our life has been so far, and what we did in the past. But what he values and what really matters to Him is our humility, our simplicity and our honesty in every approach to Him and to all our brothers and sisters. Moreover, God appreciates our willingness, our openness and our determination to change our lives for the better. We really don’t need to do anything more. These few simple tips and directions given to us by Isaiah, Paul and Peter are enough to understand the most important message of the Gospel, and to hear the same words of invitation as Peter heard from his Master: Don’t be afraid, from now on it is men you will catch. May we – like Peter and his companions – be able to leave everything behind and follow Him.

Fr Gregory