04 February 2007

Fish as if the Church depended on it!

5th Sunday OT: Isa 6.1-8; 1 Cor 15.1-11; Luke 5.1-11
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul Hospital and Church of the Incarnation


How easy it is for Jesus to show his disciples-to-be how to fish. All you need is Christ’s presence! Lower the nets. Reel in the fish. Where Christ abides, there is abundance. All you need do is be prepared to collect what his presence draws near. To be prepared you will need a partner or several partners to share the work, deep water, strong nets, sturdy boats, and a real sense of humility before the generosity of the Lord! Manage all this and you have an all-you-can-eat fried fish buffet with hushpuppies, fries, and cornbread before you know it! And really now, what more do you need to recruit strong fishermen than hot hushpuppies and Jesus?

I hear the question all the time: “Father, what can we do to get more priests? Is it allowing priests to marry? Ordaining women? What do we do?” Yesterday, I spent the whole day with the UD Serra Club on retreat. We read sections of JPII’s Pastores dabo vobis, his document on priestly formation. Our Holy Father accurately diagnosed the vocations crisis as both a cultural disease and an ecclesial malaise. In the culture, we are more apt to hear the gospels of corporate marketing, faux individualism, narcissistic prattle, relativist and subjectivist gibberish, hyper-sexed panting, the near-fundamentalist gospel of scientism and rationalism, and the always destructive and fear-mongering extremes of feminism. Each of these, just as dark spirits always do, specialize in digging under the faith of those called to serve and weakening the foundations of trust and the desire to sacrifice.

Corporate marketing begs us to worship mass produced objects by convincing us that each of us is a unique consumer, all the while shaping us into a corporate eater, a corporate buyer—just like millions of others. Narcissistic individualism preaches the power of ME, the source and summit for MY universe, a universe where I select my sounds, my tastes, my textures, my flavors, my images and a universe where I am ME and you are (if you in fact exist) you are here to mirror me to me. Relativism and subjectivism are routine postures for those who know that the truth of the matter doesn’t report what they want to hear. There is no argument here, only a sly redefinition what “truth” is and the casual dismissal of anything so medieval. Rationalism, and its religion scientism, work to kill the supernatural so that the bond btw Creator and creature is broken. And feminism in its extreme forms adopts most of these other “ism’s” and undermines the natural, created order of sexual differences. To even utter such a sentence is blasphemy in most churches and universities these days!

These are the dark spirits that are tearing our vocation nets; these are the demons of the age that turn our young men’s heads and whisper fear and loathing in their ears. How do you say yes to sacrificial service to the people of God when on a daily basis for 18, 22, 28 years you have heard that you, as you are, you are the center of the universe; powerful as a purchaser, truly unique as a consumer; virile as a man only to the degree that you are sexual; educated only to the degree that you are committed to scientific-rational inquiry; and deeply afraid of saying anything remotely critical of the feminist dogma that “to be equal” is “to be the same.” With all of that riding on your back, you’d strain the vocations net too!

In his document, PDV, our Holy Father, JPII, offers the cure to the vocations crisis offered by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: hold to the faith in sacrificial obedience! You have heard the gospel! Hold to it. You stand in the gospel: lift it up. It is through the gospel that we are saved. So why sell our salvation to our Jack and the Beanstalk culture of death, fashion, promiscuity, disease, infidelity, superficial spirituality, and cults of ME. For priestly vocations to flourish, that is, for us to establish an atmosphere, a culture of service, in which young men might hear and see and taste the call to serve and answer “YES!” we must begin the arduous task of reclaiming the historic faith of the church for the church and placing at the center of our lives the gospel imperatives of love, trust, and hope.

And I don’t mean to rattle these three words off like a Bingo caller. There’s nothing shy or retiring or pretty about love, trust, and hope. Each is terrifying in its way, each is an awesome delight lightly flavored with dread. How so? What do you think love, trust, and hope require of you? A mumbled amen? The occasional dollar in the plate? An hour on Sunday morning? Hardly. All three require your soul; signed over, freely given. You’ve been baptized! Dead, buried, and risen again with Christ. Neatly, cleanly, conveniently, no doubt. But you’re signed now. Claimed for Christ and his forever. To love him, to trust him, and to hope in him is what you do now. Everything must start there. No “ism,” no theory—but with him who died for you.

With him here in the boat, the catch is full and those nets do not tear. There’s help—other fishermen, other boats, other hands to do the work, but the job in front of you is yours. Let me ask you two very difficult questions: 1) would your life in Christ lead a young man to say “yes” to the priesthood? and 2) would your life in Christ send a young man yelling and into the arms of our culture of death? I wish I could tell you that it’s not your job to stir up vocations. But young men called to priesthood are often demoralized by the national sex scandals, status seeking parents, oversexed friends, spirits of rebellion and entitlement, and priests, bishops, DRE’s, sisters who allow junk to pollute the faith if not kill it outright. The witness of the lay faithful is needed now more than ever! If the faith is to center our vocation efforts, then we need daily witnesses, daily teachers, and the everyday faithful. That’s you, folks! Ask one young man this week to consider the priesthood. Just one. Tell him he is needed. With Christ on board, put your nets into deep water and pull for all you’re worth. And do not be afraid! They are waiting to hear your word of encouragement, your invitation. Trust me! They are waiting to be caught. Fish long and hard and fish faithfully. But whatever you do: FISH!


  1. Fantastic homily father. What a shame that I can't be fed like this by my parish priest.

    What is a 'hushpuppy'? In Australia it is a brand of shoes! lol

  2. Anonymous8:40 AM

    "I wish I could tell you that it’s not your job to stir up vocations. But young men called to priesthood are often demoralized by the national sex scandals"

    And this is the laity's fault...how?

  3. Sharon,

    Hushpuppies are little golf ball sized snacks of fried corn meal batter. Great with ketchup and beer.


    You're misreading the sentence. It is precisely b/c priests and bishops have scandalized potential vocations that it is the laity's job to pick up the slack. IOW, the laity are the least tainted by the scandals and therefore the best qualified to promote vocations.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  4. Anonymous11:38 AM

    Thank you for clearing that up, that makes more sense. But IMO, the final convincing will have to be from the clergy - and they still have some housecleaning to do. They laity can promote all they want, but in the end the clergy has work to do that only they can do, to win back peoples' trust in them.

  5. Superb, simply, superb.

  6. I agree that lay people should be generating more vocations; Fr Philip is right; they are less tainted by scandal. However ...

    I do think that we need to look at the "how" and "who." I think the Church might be better served if that call to service was a broad and general one across the entire laity. By the time a person hears the call to enter seminary (or whatever improved formation process we can come up with) that person should have already been demonstrating years of service as a baptized person. Focusing on young college-aged guys might work in smaller and rural dioceses where young men have fewer attractive options for life. But I suspect one problem the Church has it that it's focused its fishing efforts on one river without looking to ponds, streams, or even the deep water of the oceans.

    I do think we need exemplary examples from bishops as well. They are the ones in the laity's doghouse, more so than the clergy.

  7. Anonymous8:41 AM

    Fr. Powell, I was struck by your words. It seems you're not called an OP for nothing!

    I am a 22 y/o, Catholic, College graduate in philosophy, and I'm looking for advice about priestly/religious vocation.

    My philosophy training has me in the habit of trying to solve problems by reading and discussing books. But I realize I should be discussing this "problem" on my knees with God.

    I know in my own life I feel a lack of confidence and decisiveness. What path do I choose? Do I choose to join my college Benedictines? Do I fall in love with another order's charism and go that way?

    I think another large issue for me is that I haven't ruled out marriage. I suppose I haven't explored any of these options to their depths. Options! Should I even look at this vocation question as a series of options?

    I would appreciate any "fisherman's tips". I know you don't mince words... And I know you will be faithful to the Church in whatever advice you share.

    Thank you Father,

    Peace in Christ!

  8. J.Paul,

    Write to me directly: neripowell(at)yahoo(dot)com.

    Fr. Philip