"Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat" Luke 5:3.
Lake Gennesaret (also called the Sea of Galilee and the Lake of Tiberias) is situated 680 feet below sea level and flanked by hills on its west side. This geographical situation allowed Jesus to use the lake as an amphitheatre, projecting his voice to the crowd consisting of ordinary people, who, unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, were eager to listen to him.
The people that came to listen to Jesus were simple and poor, humble people, seeking the truth and opening themselves to God. They are the kind of people that we must be at all times. They were thirsting for something new, transcendent, and real. They were unsatisfied with the heavy legalistic burdens placed on their shoulders by the Pharisees and the political oppression brought on by Roman rule. They were seeking a happiness that only God could give them.
Today, most people are skeptical and apathetic. When they look religious and political leaders, they find very few who live authentic and convincing lives. Only someone real will be able to challenge their indifference and inertia. People wallow in apathy when they hear no proposals and principles that fascinate the human psyche.
When the human person encounters mystery, when the human person experiences the transcendent, when the human person finds the treasure and the pearl of great price, only then will the human person be able to escape from apathy and skepticism to find joy and peace.
Mystery, transcendence, the treasure, and the pearl of great price all were revealed in the person of Jesus to the crowd. In Christ, ideas that were abstract in the Old Testament became real, tangible, and possible to live out. This is why the people were so eager to listen.
Today, Jesus is visible through his Church and the challenge to all those who are part of this Church is to make Jesus visible to contemporary man. This is why Pope John Paul the Great, in Redemptoris Hominis, quoted Vatican II's concern for the human condition, and said:
"In man himself many elements wrestle with one another. Thus, on the one hand, as a creature he experiences his limitations in a multitude of ways. On the other, he feels himself to be boundless in his desires and summoned to a higher life. Pulled by manifold attractions, he is constantly forced to choose among them and to renounce some. Indeed, as a weak and sinful being, he often does what he would not, and fails to do what he would. Hence he suffers from internal divisions, and from these flow so many and such great discords in society."
This man is the way for the Church — a way that, in a sense, is the basis of all the other ways that the Church must walk, because man — every man without any exception whatever — has been redeemed by Christ, and because with man — with each man without any exception whatever — Christ is in a way united, even when man is unaware of it: "Christ, who died and was raised up for all, provides man" — each man and every man — "with the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme calling."
If the presence of Jesus in the Church is clouded over by corrupted bureaucratic forms of governance that impede communion and evangelization, then the Church will not be convincing for modern man who already is so immersed in boredom and cynicism. If Christians are not living the gospel and have been overcome by a spirit of negativity, personal ambition, and dishonesty, then how can the Church be salt and light?
Presentations and programs do not move people. Only something tangible and real can awaken in people a sense of astonishment. As the gospel narrative continues we see that "the crowd was pressing in on Jesus" precisely because they intuitively knew something new, something unique, something totally different, was happening. God was walking the earth.
The challenge for every Christian of the modern world is to make Jesus present to others by the authentic witness of a life lived with conviction.
Peter was among the first disciples of the Lord. As his journey begins, he already knows who the Lord is. He calls him the Master. He loves the Lord and trusts him. Why would an expert fisherman listen to a carpenter about fishing? Peter is able to go beyond human thought and human sight. The vision of faith allows him to see Jesus as he really is: the Master. "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets" (Luke 5:5). Knowledge leads to love, and Peter's love is made manifest in surrender. Surrender did not take away from his personal freedom. Freedom can only be found in the truth.
Today, as we journey through into the third millennium of human history, we are confronted with conflicts and upheavals that at first may frighten us, but in reality are part of a profound cultural and spiritual transformation that is in dynamic process.
A serious life of prayer is very important for the times that we live in. Pope John Paul the Great directed our gaze toward a new springtime in the life of the Church. However, spring means that snow, ice and mud are still on the ground. Flowers and leaves are just beginning to bud.
The Catholic Church in America may soon become smaller and more faithful. The America of today may soon become something different. All of the traditional social structures of support that have made our lives comfortable and easy are presently engulfed in confusion. Sometimes we can see only a negative end result of all the confusion and miss the transformation that is slowly taking place. Without daily contemplative prayer and daily Mass, or at least a prolonged visit before the Blessed Sacrament, you may be overpowered by anxiety and fear. We all desperately need a personal relationship with God.
"But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord'" (Luke 5:8). The astonishing result of their renewed effort to fish amazed Peter and those who were with him. Like Peter, we need to recognize our own sinful condition and the need for divine assistance.
Autonomy, rooted in pride does not allow the Lord Jesus to enter into our lives. Autonomy is not freedom. In our journey towards eternal life the exercise of human freedom is essential. That is why John Paul the Great brilliantly reminded us over and over, especially in his encyclicals Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae that freedom and truth are inseparably linked. The truth is that we are dependent upon God. Dependence does not take away from personal freedom.
Following the Lord Jesus will always be an exciting adventure, but frequently we may struggle and even fail. Peter had fished all night, only to be discouraged by the results. However, when the Lord ordered him to try again he responded, "But at your word I will let down the nets." Here is the continual reminder that we must never give up but always begin again.
Inevitably this loving discipleship leads to increased apostolic activity. Love cannot be bottled up and contained. Grace transforms us into living members of the Church who can make the transcendent real, appealing even to our cynical age. "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men" (Luke 5:10).