February 4, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

Jesus invites us to trust him, follow him, risk everything for him

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Our hearts ring out with the words of Jesus when one day, after speaking to the crowds from Simon’s boat, he invited the Apostle to ‘put out into the deep’ for a catch: ‘Duc in altum’ [Lk 5:4]. Peter and his first companions trusted Christ’s words, and cast the nets. ‘When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish’ ” (Lk 5:6). —Pope St. John Paul II

The Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Lk 5:1-11) can be seen as a summary of the six stages of Christian discipleship:

1) recognizing the need for salvation, 2) Christ’s invitation to trust him even when we don’t understand why, 3) the disciple’s response, 4) the everyday miracles that result, 5) astonishment and a sense of unworthiness, and 6) the call to be evangelists who proclaim the good news of salvation in Christ.

This is a lot to consider in one relatively small passage of sacred Scripture, but if you listen attentively as this Sunday’s Gospel is proclaimed at Mass, the six elements are all there.

Simon Peter and his partners have just returned from an unsuccessful night of fishing. Jesus uses one of their boats as a platform from which to preach to the crowd that has gathered. Afterward, he says to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4). Simon replies, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets” (Lk 5:5).

These two sentences describe a profound encounter between the disciples and their Lord. Jesus recognizes their need, and the frustration they feel, and he instructs them to do something that as professional fishermen they believe is a waste of time and effort. And yet, Simon, their reluctant leader, readily agrees. They put out into the deep and catch more fish than they can handle!

In this moment of encounter with Jesus, the disciples experience firsthand the abundance that results from God’s generosity. Not only do they recover their losses from the previous night, but they take in so many fish that their nets are tearing and their boats are in danger of sinking. This is an astonishing everyday miracle like the wine at Cana, or the baskets of food leftover following the multiplication of loaves and fish.

Once again, it is Simon Peter who responds. As St. Luke tells us:

“When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’ For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon” (Lk 5:8-10).

This is the fifth stage of Christian discipleship: astonishment and a sense of unworthiness. Peter has a keen sense of his inadequacy in this situation. He knows himself to be a sinner, and like all great saints, he protests that he does not belong in the company of the Son of God.

Jesus does not accept Simon Peter’s request to be excused from the responsibilities of discipleship. On the contrary, he makes it clear that Peter and his partners have nothing to fear because, from now on, they will be full-time evangelists (catching men and women instead of fish). Their response to this sixth stage of discipleship is simple. St. Luke tells us that, “When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him” (Lk 5:11).

This selection from St. Luke’s Gospel was a favorite of Pope St. John Paul II, who frequently referred to Jesus’ command, “Duc in altum” (“put out into the deep”), as an invitation to trust, follow and risk everything for our Lord and Savior.

As the Holy Father says:

“Duc in altum! These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever’ ” (Heb 13:8; St. John Paul II, apostolic letter “Novo Millennio Ineunte,” #1).

We are invited to experience the six stages of discipleship in our own lives (past, present and future) and to respond generously to Jesus even when his commands seem unreasonable.

With our Blessed Mother Mary, St. Peter and all the saints, we are invited to say “yes” and to “put out into the deep” with confidence that we need not be afraid because Jesus is with us and he will reward us with God’s abundant generosity.

Duc in altum! Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. †

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