I remember a story that our late Fr Reid once shared. He said, “When I was a young priest, I had to go to a convent regularly to hear the Confession of a community of sisters especially to a certain Sr Maloney; an old nun who was blind. So, one day I went along. When I was about to enter Sr Maloney’s room, a bent over old nun scuttled out of the room. I wondered who she was, so I asked, ‘Sister, who is that nun who just left the room?’
Sr Maloney answered, O that’s our good Sr Mary. She has been coming here to read a chapter of the Bible to me every morning without fail for the past several years. You see, Father, I believe you can keep a secret, actually I don’t really understand what Sr Mary is reading to me; partly because I can’t hear very well, but I think it’s mainly because she has no teeth! You see, Father, I do not have the heart to tell Sr Mary to stop reading to me because out of the goodness of her heart she is so eager to do something for me, knowing that I am blind. So, as she reads to me, I will pretend and show her that I understand what she is reading.
This beautiful true story of Sr Maloney and Sr Mary shows us how each of them was going beyond themselves for the sake and the good of the other person. Their goodness of heart is the voice of God within them urging them to make sacrifices year after year for the good and love of each other. But, in the language of today’s secular society, we would be tempted to say, logically speaking, both Sr Maloney and Sr Mary were wasting their time. They could have spent their time doing something more worthwhile, like watering the garden or saying the Rosary for each other and the like.
If this story comes across to you as two ridiculous nuns trying to please each other, then you could be either a blinkered psychologist or a logical minded pragmatist or simply someone who thinks he is sophisticated, but actually at heart cold and inhumane. But, if this story touched your hearts, then you have a heart of flesh and better still, a heart of love and faith.
Love is beyond logic. Looking back on my childhood days, I can also see how my very good mother had done so many illogical things for me and my family, just because she loved us so much, and I believe more importantly just because she loved God so very much.
Peter in today’s Gospel was precisely illogical too when he said “yes” to Jesus to sail out into the lake again to cast their nets. Peter was a professional fisherman who knew the weather and the lake very well; he earned his whole livelihood through fishing, probably since he was a young man. The Gospel tells us that he and his fellow fishermen spent the whole night fishing and had caught nothing. They must have all been so tired, and moreover they had already washed their nets.
Yet, when Jesus tells Peter to cast their nets again, Peter replies, “Lord, we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.” And when they had done this, the Gospel tells us, they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, and their two boats were filled with fish to sinking point.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, like Peter, we are each called to listen to Jesus’ voice in our daily living. Like Peter, we are each challenged to go beyond our logical, cold and calculating ways and respond to God’s voice in the different situations of our life. God’s voice can come to us in many ways. For Sr Maloney and Sr Mary, God’s voice for them was to care for each other through their selfless sacrifices.
Just in case, some of us may be thinking that such selfless sacrifices of listening to God’s voice do not happen so frequently in our community, let me assure you that we too have no lack of good examples. Only yesterday at the Mass for the Anointing of the Sick, someone shared with me that she was so very tired and had very good reasons not to turn up for the Mass. Nevertheless, because she did not want to disappoint an elderly person whom she promised, she said, she had to still herself, take a drink of water and pull herself to come for the Mass. And, when she was here at the Mass, her tiredness had all gone and she was able to enjoy and be enriched by the beautiful celebration of the Mass and the Anointing for the sick and aged. I was also touched to see how another young man who went out of his way to bring his 99 year old grandmother for the Anointing. At the end of the Mass he was clearly so happy because his granny was able to receive God’s graces and blessings through the Sacrament.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, one of the ways in which we cut ourselves from hearing God’s voice urging us to live in His ways, is when we allow our daily routine of life to control our choices.Peter was precisely able to go beyond the routine of his professional fishing skills and to obey fully and promptly when Jesus spoke. Peter simply trusted Jesus. He believed that Jesus will always give us more than we could ever imagine, when we obey Him. Thus, Peter was rightly rewarded with a huge catch that filled two empty boats to sinking point.
Routine in life keeps us on the surface of life; we remain superficial and do not really get in touch with the deeper meanings and values of life. If Peter had allowed his routine fishing skills to dictate his decisions, he would not have allowed Jesus’ words to change his mind. If Sr Maloney and Sr Mary were reading and listening to the Bible routinely, they would soon have gotten on each others nerves, and would have told each other off for wasting each other’s time.
If we reflect on our lives more deeply, and look at the times when we were impatient, upset and even angry with people, we would most likely find that one of the main reasons why we react in such uncharitable manner is because our expectations in life are built on superficial and secular meaning and values in life; very often they are none other than our cold logical expectations that do not consider the caring needs of people and the bigger needs of others. We get impatient with what happens around us because we tell ourselves we “don’t want to waste our time on silly things and stupid ways of people.
Was Jesus’ suggestion to Peter stupid? “Yes,” if we use our cold and calculating and superficial approach of relating to Him. “No,” Jesus’ suggestion to Peter was beyond logic. Peter’s heart and mind told him to surrender His own personal will and impatient ways to the Lord who knows infinitely more than his professional ways, and his belief that the outcome of trusting in the Lord would reap an infinitely generous result, and we all know that Peter was right.
Peter was right to the very end of his life. We also know that Peter’s trust of the Lord was total to the point of dying for the Lord, and being crucified like Him. Peter’s love and respect for the Lord made him feel that he was unworthy to die in the same position as the Lord. So he asked his persecutors to crucify him upside down. Again, unbelievers will scoff at such requests as weird and ridiculous. But, believers who love the Lord deeply would be moved to tears by such deep gestures.
If we look at the end of today’s Gospel, we will find that the effects of the miraculous catch of fish brought Peter to his knees. Peter was not simply overjoyed by the big catch; although many people would for materialistic gains.
Instead, Peter was moved and touched at a deeper level; he was moved at the level of his faith. In recognizing the Lord’s miraculous powers, he became aware of his unworthiness. So, he fell on his knees and pleaded with Jesus saying, “Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” Jesus must have embraced him with great love and compassion, and then instructed him, “Simon, do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch” meaning, from now on, you will serve me and my Kingdom, and not serve the kingdom of this world.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, regardless of who we are, without exception, we are each called to serve in God’s Kingdom and to make Him known in our daily living. Are we going to respond with our cold and calculating ways or are we, like Peter going to say, “Lord, if you say so, I will put out my nets.” If we really dare to do so wholeheartedly, we can be sure, that like Peter, like Sr Maloney and Sr Mary, and the many strong believers that we know, that our rewards will be an overflowing joy to the point of sinking .
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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