Sunday, February 7, 2016

Into the Deep - Homily for the 5th Sunday in OT


“Cast your nets into the deep.”

“Not into the shallow, but into the deep, Peter.”

And Peter could have said, “Lord, I have done this before—even last night—and we caught nothing! And, Lord, don’t you know about the deep? It’s dangerous out there! And there’s no fish out there anyway. They are in the shallow, not the deep…”

Peter could have simply dismissed this Jesus. Who was this Jesus anyway? Peter didn’t know who He was. And it was simply another morning anyway, another morning at work. And here comes this teacher whom he has never met before. And this Jesus is jumping in the boat?

But Jesus asks. And Peter responds with generosity.

Jesus sees something in Peter. He loves Peter. And Jesus is going to do something in Peter beyond Peter’s wildest dreams. Jesus sees the potential in Peter and is calling him to a new life, to no longer catch fish, but men. Peter, in this moment when he generously welcomes Jesus into the boat and even more generously casts into the deep—even though he has done it before—in this moment, Peter embarks on an incredible journey of faith. The trajectory of his life changes.

Could Peter have ever imagined that he would someday walk on water? He is going to witness miracles and someday he is going to perform his own. Peter is going to be anointed with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and preach to 4,000 people—and he will have been a fisher of men. And he is going to go to Rome as the first Pope and be crucified upside-down and become a martyr and a saint.

An ordinary fisherman at an ordinary day of work, who meets Jesus, and his life is never the same. Peter had no idea.

Cast into the deep, Peter, and your life will never be the same!

*          *          *

That’s the theme of this morning’s readings. Isaiah, called by God, and Isaiah responding: “Here I am, send me!” And Paul: telling us about his conversion story and how he was not worthy to be called: I persecuted Christians; I was the least worthy! And then Peter—and notice: when Peter responds, John and James quickly follow. (That’s usually how it goes: when one person responds to Jesus, there are always others that follow—like dominoes, one after the other)

*          *          *

I saw this happen in my own life this week. This past week was Catholic Schools Week. And on the last day of the week, in the last hour of that day, we invite the eighth graders to take over the school as the teachers, as the principal too, and the staff, the janitors, and… the priests.

We had three young boys who became our priests. They were dressed in black shirts, slightly unbuttoned at the top so as to show the white shirt underneath—like a collar. And they came to the church and we prayed daytime prayer together. And we dressed them in our cassocks—mine, Father Chrismer’s,… and one of the boys was shorter, so we dressed him in Monsignor’s….  And we went to the confessional and we showed them the chair where the priest sits and we invited them to try it out. And the light-switch that turns on the red light. We even taught them the words of absolution and showed them how to bless.

After that, we gave them the aspergillum with which to sprinkle people and we went to the school. As we were doing this, one of the "nurses" came to us and said, “Fathers, we need your help. Someone is sick and we need you to anoint them.” So I sent one of the boys to take care of them, like a priest.

At the end of the day, we invited them to give the final blessing. Each of them opened their hands in prayer and then extended their hands to make the sign of the cross in blessing. And as they did that, I saw one of them really praying; another was really into the blessing; another was simply trying to figure it all out.

And I saw something in them. And they have no idea.

They have no idea if they cast their nets into the deep, the amazing trajectory of their life… the miracles that they will see…

*          *          *

In my own life, I never imagined that I would be up here, preaching to so many at the largest parish; that I would be holding Jesus in my hands as bread and wine are changed into God; that I would be immersed in your lives and in so many of the most important parts of your lives: at the baptism of your children and grandchildren, at their first communion, at confession, at their marriages, at the moments when the marriage needs our help, at your homes for dinner, at the hospital when we are sick and dying, at the funeral, … and so many moments in-between.

How many miracles I have experienced!—and I’m only five years in.

My Lord saw me. He saw my potential. And He called me to “cast out into the deep.” This changed my life.

And not just for me. But for you, too. He calls each and every one of us. Perhaps not to the priesthood, but to be great saints! He sees the potential in you. He loves you! And he tells each and every one of us to cast into the deep: into that place that is uncomfortable, into that place where you don’t think there is any possibility of a catch. Go out to that place where you are vulnerable…. But did you see the catch? It was superabundant. Peter’s boat nearly sunk, it was so generous!

And you might say, “Well, Father, I’m in my 80s. Life has passed me. I have no more potential.” Well, in football terms: if a team has been losing all the way to the fourth quarter, but then pulls out the victory in the last two minutes—we call that a comeback. And those are the greatest games—those are the ones that we remember most: the ones where it seems like all hope is lost, but the victory is won! So you are in the final two minutes—there is still time!

Our Lord sees the potential in you to be a great saint!

All that you have to do is have your heart open to have Jesus come into the boat of your soul. And be generous to His call to cast out into the deep.

*          *          *

[That was the end of the script. But I felt compelled to practice what I just preached. So, at Mass, this next part was off the cuff: I invited any young man or boy who has had a thought about priesthood to come forward… (“Don’t worry, we’re not going to ordain you now. That will happen after Mass.”)

At two Masses, I had a total of 23 come forward, ranging in ages from 1st grade to 25 years old. I told them I was proud of them, I blessed them, and I asked everyone to offer the Hail Mary for them. I then told them to be generous—it may lead you to the priesthood, it may not—but be generous.

Finally, I invited us to consider offering our Lenten sacrifices for them and for any of the boys who did not come forward because they didn’t yet have the courage. I invite us to be generous this Lent, to cast out into the deep, not the shallow.

I see the potential in this parish. We have 8 seminarians; I see the potential for 30. Indeed, I see the potential for many great saints! Do you see it too?]

A 9-minute documentary on a priest...

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