YEAR C: HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: “Jesus said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.’” (Luke 5:4)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
HOMILY: Luke 5:1-11
That invitation of Jesus to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch,” (Luke 5:4) seems reasonable enough as we reflect on it several centuries after the fact. After all, the fishermen had found few fish in the shallows; why not move out into deeper water and try again? And if God’s Own Son says go deeper, who would hesitate? As we examine our own lives and make the distressing discovery that our nets are nearly as bereft of sustenance as were the nets of the fishermen whom Jesus addressed, we hear the same words: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Dare to leave the comfort of the shallows where you have for so long found nibbles but nothing of substance. Row out into the deeper water where real food awaits. It’s a terrifying invitation, for we’re sure that we’ll drown before we ever find the promised nourishment.
A gang of teenagers taught me something about trusting life to the deeper waters of God’s sustenance back in the late 1970’s during my early years as a teacher. While I expended much energy each day with five classes of Senior English, it troubled me to know that these young people were so soon to go off to college, far beyond parental supervision, beyond my tutelage, perhaps even beyond God’s reach. Yes, I was afraid for my flock so soon to leave home. Regularly did I pray for them, begging God to keep them safe from present dangers and all those that lay ahead. Trusting that God wanted the very best for my students, I wasn’t at all sure that they knew what was best for themselves. Each Monday morning, eavesdropping on student conversations as I hovered at my classroom door, I’d hear of the weekend binges and conquests, dangerous behavior that seemed so casual to them. And I prayed more.
Indeed, God’s light had already broken through, though my own realization of this occurred only on a late fall Monday evening in 1977. Walking along the school’s darkened corridor to my classroom to prepare materials for the next day, I saw dim flickers of light shining through the window of the small chapel just down the hall. Before I could further investigate, the soft strums of a guitar and shy voices accompanied the emerging light. Suspicious of some unauthorized entry, I crept to the chapel door for a peek, and what I spied was near beyond my imagining. While the altar in the center of the carpeted room was aglitter with candles, a dozen students were seated on the floor circling the light. As I hovered unseen in the outside darkness, I recognized one face after another—the very students I’d been so worried about.
Later that night, students gone home, chapel candles long extinguished, I found Brother Mark in the kitchen of our residence. Sharing my astonishment with him, I learned that what I’d spied was the newly-formed Monday Night Prayer Group. The burgeoning idea of Mark and a few students, this prayer group became in short time no less than the fisherman’s net cast into the deep waters of teenage hopes, dreams, fears and struggles. The first prayer group meeting began with Mark and a mere handful of students. As weeks passed, though, word of mouth doubled the attendance each time the group met. And I no longer stood outside the chapel door in the darkness. Now, rather than pray for my students, it was a most wonderful experience to pray with them.
In today’s Gospel passage, we hear Jesus advising the apostles, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4) Did they realize, I wonder, that they themselves had been caught in the very nets they now used? Did these apostles know that they were the fish Jesus hauled in when he offered the invitation, “Come, follow me?” Indeed, they’d been caught, and now they were the catchers.
So it was with the students I’d worried about and prayed for. A few had been caught in Jesus’ net and, once caught, just like the first apostles, they brought in more. As word spread and as those first few put out into deeper water and lowered their nets for a catch, marvelous things happened. By June, 1978 that Monday Night Prayer Group had swelled to dozens of students, the first fish caught in the net having brought in so many others that the boat was in danger of sinking.