165. Catching Fish and Leaving Boats (Luke 5:1-11)

“Christ is the light and the lamp stand is Peter.” – St. Ephraem

Luke 5:1-11: Now he was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch’. ‘Master,’ Simon replied ‘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 they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signalled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point. When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.

Christ the Lord Jesus shows his mastery over the hearts of men (the crowd was “pressing round” him to hear him speak) and over the forces of nature (they caught a “huge number of fish”). Yet when he asks Peter to “put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch,” the future Apostle complains before he obeys. However many times God shows himself worthy of our trust (creation, the Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection, the sacraments – what more could he have done to win us over?), we still hesitate to do things his way. We need to acknowledge him as Lord not only with our lips, but with our hearts as well, and with our decisions. Like Peter, we need to apply all our natural effort (they had been fishing all night), but then take the extra step of faith: “Master… if you say so, I will…”

This applies to our apostolic endeavors, but it also applies to our moral lives. Many times the Church’s teaching on controversial moral issues (for example, artificial and assisted reproduction, contraception, divorce and remarriage) is hard to understand on a merely natural level, especially when the prevailing culture bombards us with contrary views. In those moments especially, we need to realize that the life we are called to live surpasses our natural capacities. Jesus could never have proved to Peter beforehand that he would take in a miraculous catch in the middle of broad daylight, but that’s what the Lord had in store for his disciple. To experience the wonderful action of God’s grace in our lives, we have to bolster our natural understanding with supernatural faith (we need both faith and reason – either one without the other is not Christianity), and then we, like Peter, will draw in a wondrous catch.

Christ the Teacher  Whenever we trust Jesus sufficiently to admit the limits of our merely human judgment, God rewards us in multiple ways. He gives us a greater experience of his goodness (the enormous catch of fish); he gives us a deeper knowledge of ourselves (in the wake of the miracle Peter sees clearly, maybe for the first time in his life, how arrogant and headstrong he really is: “I am a sinful man…”); he brings us closer to him, giving us a more intimate knowledge of him and the mission he has entrusted to us (“from now on you will be catching men… they left everything and followed him…”).

Whenever God asks anything of us, it is always for our good and for the good of his Kingdom. This is the experience of all the saints – as soon as they launch themselves into the enterprises of God, life takes on an entirely new and indescribable dimension. On the other hand, when we hesitate, or demand proofs, or measure God by the undersized standards of human reason, we inhibit him from showing forth his goodness and love. But when we make an act of trust in God, obeying his will even when our human nature resists, God rewards us beyond our wildest imaginations.

Christ the Friend God doesn’t want to do everything by himself; he wants us to help him. He wants it so much that he makes himself weak in order to actually need our help. In this passage, he asks Peter to take him out from the shore so he can more effectively address the crowds – God enlists the help of a fisherman to make his voice heard! Since that moment, the advance of Christ’s cause has been linked to an unbroken chain of men and women generous enough to lend their boats to the Lord, just as Peter did – or even to dock their boats, to “leave everything, and follow” him. He doesn’t want to impose his Kingdom from above; he wants us to enter freely into it, and help others to do the same, walking right beside him.

RaphaelTheMiraculousDraftOfFishesGoogleArtProjectAndrew: It was mid-morning, my least favorite time of day. We were fixing our nets on the shore – my least favorite task. Everyone was tired and surly. As Jesus came by with the crowds I didn’t even look up, I was in such a rotten humor. But he came over to us. I could tell Simon didn’t want to oblige the Master, but sometimes it was simply impossible to say no to Jesus. We rowed out a little way. You should have seen the faces of the people as they listened to Jesus. They didn’t miss a syllable. You could see their souls in their eyes, begging him for solace. I was barely listening to him. I couldn’t look away from the crowd. Some of their faces were full of joy and enthusiasm. Others were yearning for something. Others were trying to hide, but unable to pull themselves away. When Jesus asked us to put out for a catch, I was still thinking about all those people. And then, when we drew in the overflowing nets, and when he told Simon that he would make us into fishers of men, it all came together. The fish were like the crowd of people; the boat was like his Kingdom. From then on I wanted only one thing: to go wherever Jesus went.

Christ in My Life I believe in you, Lord, and I believe in your Church. You continue to teach and guide the human family in every era and in every place through the living Magisterium of your Church. I want to follow you, and I want to experience the life you created me to live, and so I commit myself once again to be a faithful child of the Church, your chosen sacrament of salvation…

I am impressed by Peter’s faith. He resisted at first, but when he saw the light in your eyes, he did what you asked him. And he did it only because it was you who were asking. I want to be like that. I want to see the light in your eyes and obey your every command, your every indication. You are the Lord; you are my Savior; Thy will be done…

Take my boat, Lord; enter into my life and use it to preach your saving message. I will go wherever you ask me. I will do whatever you require of me. Give me the strength to persevere in your will, no matter how dull or how painful it may become. You alone have the words of eternal life; turn my life into an amplifier that will make them resound to the ends of the earth…

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.


Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Raphael, 1515, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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