When you visit the Holy Land, one of the most moving and beautiful things that you can do is to take a ride in a boat on the body of water which is called either the Sea of Galilee or the Lake of Tiberias or the Lake of Gennesaret. That lake measures about ten miles north and south and three miles east and west, and played a very large role in the life of Our Lord and the disciples.
In the gospel, we have a little episode that is both somewhat comical but also very moving. It was morning, and a crowd had gathered around Jesus on the northern shore of the lake to hear his words. When he had finished speaking, he got into Saint Peter’s boat and told him to go out for a catch of fish. Peter was tired after a night of futile labor and didn’t take Our Lord’s suggestion very enthusiastically. But, in obedience to his Lord, he added, “But at your command I will lower the nets.” They caught so many fish that their nets were at the breaking point and they had to call to their partners, James and John in another boat to come and help them. The catch was so large that Peter took it as a sign of the power of Jesus at work in their business of fishing. He fell at the feet of Jesus and said to him, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Wrong thing to say! We should never ask Our Lord to depart from us. But we can understand what Saint Peter meant: he was unworthy to be in the presence of the power and holiness of Christ. His thought reminds us of the divine instruction to Moses as he approached the Burning Bush: come no closer; take off your shoes for the ground you are standing on is holy ground. And the centurion who said to Jesus: “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.”
So here we find Saint Peter, on his knees in a boat full of wriggling, flopping, jumping fish tumbling out of a large net, while marveling at the power of Our Divine Lord, and saying exactly the wrong thing. But Jesus in his gentle patience and understanding and kindness says to Peter, “Don’t be afraid; from now on, you will be catching men.” Now, let’s move our gaze from this fishing scene on the Lake of Galilee to some Sunday or Wednesday in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome when the Holy Father appears and speaks to those gathered there. They number in the thousands, sometimes the tens and hundreds of thousands. How striking is this fulfillment of Jesus’s words: from now on, you will be catching men. The successors of Peter the Fisherman will catch men until the end of time. Thank you for seeking God’s truth, God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.