February 8, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Christ commands us, ‘Go out into the depths!’

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Our encounter with Christ is an invasion of grace. We must be ready to welcome that grace and go out into the depths, and ascend to the heights, at its calling.” (Bishop Robert E. Barron)

The Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Lk 5:1-11) tells the familiar story of the Lord’s command to Peter, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4). To which Peter replied, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets” (Lk 5:5).

The result, as we know, was nothing short of amazing. “When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking” (Lk 5:6-7).

Peter’s response was to fall to his knees and exclaim, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). For, as St. Luke tells us, Peter and his partners James and John were astonished at the number of fish they had caught after a long night of frustration and failure. St. Luke continues with Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Lk 5:10).

This Gospel story is especially appropriate in our current situation in the Church. Like St. Peter, we disciples of Jesus Christ—baptized women and men who have been called to “catch” our fellow human beings—are keenly aware of our inadequacy, our sinfulness.

We are frequently tempted to let our frustrations and our failures prevent us from doing the work that our Lord has commanded us to do: Go out into the depths and proclaim the Good News, as St. Paul did in Sunday’s second reading (1 Cor 15:1–11), “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, that he appeared to Peter, then to the Twelve” (1 Cor 15:3-5). We are, at best, reluctant evangelists who are afraid of both our own weaknesses and the powerful forces operating against us in the world.

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus tells us. No amount of frustration and failure can overcome what Bishop Robert E. Barron has called “the invasion of grace” that comes into our lives as a result of our encounter with Jesus. His love casts out our fear—if, like Peter, we can overcome our reluctance, our resistance to do what he asks—and say, “at your command I will lower the nets.” No malignant force in the underworld, or on Earth, is strong enough to prevent God’s Word from dwelling in our hearts if only we can say “yes” to the power of his amazing grace.

Duc in altum! (Go out into the depths!) was a favorite expression of Pope St. John Paul II. The Holy Father knew that without the gift of God’s grace we lack the courage to do what the Lord commands. “Be not afraid” was also one of his favorite greetings. The two go together. By accepting the gift of grace and agreeing to “cast out into the deep,” we are relieved of the fear that holds us back.

Pope Francis refers to this paradox frequently. He tells us that the only way we can overcome our fears is by getting off our “comfortable couches” and going out to the peripheries, the extreme edges or margins of human society. Mediocrity is the enemy of Christian discipleship. We must be bold and uncompromising in our commitment to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and peoples—starting with our own family members, our friends, neighbors and fellow countrymen and extending out to the ends of the Earth.

St. Paul freely admitted that he considered himself “the least of the Apostles, not fit to be called an Apostle” (1 Cor 15:9) because he had persecuted the Church before his conversion. “But by the grace of God,” St. Paul testifies, “I am what I am, and his grace has not been ineffective” (1 Cor 15:10). God’s grace can turn the least of the Apostles into one of the greatest missionary disciples in the Church’s history. Think what it can do for us!

Let’s ask the Lord for an invasion of grace to allow us to let go of our fears so that we can cast off whatever mediocrity holds us back and put out into the deep. If we open our minds and hearts to God’s grace, he will free us from our fears and give us the courage and the strength we need to do his will always. †

Local site Links: