05 September 2013

Courage to fish in the deep

22nd Week OT 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA 

Fr. Rector, I'd like to propose a new motto for NDS: “Put out into the deep. Lower your nets. Do not be afraid.” If our ministry to the Church here is forming fishermen for Christ, then what better encouragement can we give to our students than Christ's own words to his most imperfect apostle, Simon Peter? Of course, there's no reason to think that faculty and staff won't be encouraged by this new motto as well. We rely on hearts and minds well-built and maintained by the Holy Spirit's fire as much as our students do! Maybe even more so since we bear the heavier burden of leadership as well as discipleship. After all, it's no accident that it's Simon Peter who complains about the disciples' exhaustion and frustration and at the same time obeys the Lord's command to resume fishing. And note too that it is Simon Peter who confesses his sinfulness when the nets are returned to the boat brimming with fish. Christ says to these fishermen and to us, “Despite your anxieties, your fears, your feelings of being unworthy, put out into the deep and lower your nets. Do not be afraid.” 

Well, it's easy, isn't it, for Jesus to say things like, 'Do not be afraid'”? He knows who and what he is; where he's going; why he's here among us. There can't be much fear hindering you if all the usual unknowns are known. For us, however, the unknowns can worry at the edges of our confidence, fraying our attention, picking at what strength we have to carry on. Why am I here? What possessed me to leave home and train to be a fishermen? To train others to be fishermen? Am I smart enough, holy enough, competent enough to take in the wisdom of the Church and serve selflessly for the rest of my life? Is the sacrifice worth the reward? Just asking the questions is exhausting, let alone searching for the answers. But don't these questions beg the question, the question of faith? What makes any of us here think that we serve the Church out of our native intelligence, holiness, competence, or courage? What we do here is a graced undertaking, a gifted mission of preparation for being Christs in the world sent to complete among the nations the glorious work of the Father. Sure, it's easy for Jesus not to be afraid. But his admonition to us is more than just a rousing pat on the head: it's a promise, a promise of his abiding presence, a promise that our native failings cannot and will not leave God's salvific plan in failure. 

The disciples are exhausted and frustrated. And their exhaustion and frustration could prevent their obedience. Too tired, too worried, too disappointed, they could shrug, let out a huge sigh, and stomp off angry. Instead, they obey; that is, they listen to Christ. They hear and understand his command, trusting in him and believing fully that he will not leave them empty. Nota bene: their obedience is more than mere compliance out of respect for their teacher, or fear of punishment. Peter follows Christ and the disciples follow Peter. That takes courage. And what else is courage but fear transformed by faith? Perhaps more than any other acquired virtue, our ministry here NDS is fed by courage. We're given faith, hope, and charity. But courage arrives when we freely cooperate with these virtues despite our fear, despite our doubts and hesitations. When we listen—truly hear, believe, and act upon the presence of Christ among us—then the deep isn't so deep, nor are our nets too heavy for one more throw. Let me be blunt: if we choose to rely on our native abilities and refuse the graces God freely offers us, the deep will always be too deep and those nets will always too heavy. Therefore, “Put out into the deep. Lower your nets. And do not be afraid.”

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  1. I nearly always enjoy the way you write, this homily being no exception: "Worry at the edges of our confidence....", "graced undertaking", "gifted mission", and "courage...fear transformed by faith."

    Good advice and encouragement for any of the "unwashed prophets" out there, not necessarily just for seminarians/faculty. Especially any who might be called to lead but don't know why they were called - what they could add - who need courage and the advice given toward that end in the final paragraph. I really liked the conclusion.


  2. Father, you and I are probably polar opposites politically and there is much we would not agree on, but I find your homilies to be genuinely inspiring. They are well crafted, intelligent without being "brainy" or inaccessible; rooted in sound theology but also reflecting your own deep faith and and life of prayer. Thank you for posting them.

    1. Thanks, Marty! For me, politics has the intellectual nutrition of wedding cake. Fun to eat but not really good for you. My political habits are leftover from my Lefty days. Worst of all, I'm an Idealist. Never a good thing for an idealist to be dabbling in politics.