Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, July 2, 2017

Dominica 4 post Pentecosten / Evening, 1 July 2017 / Church of St John

Stand out into the deep water, and let down your nets for a catch (Lk 5:4).

Duc in altum. Oft-quoted words to young men considering the priesthood. But in point of fact, they are spoken to all of us.

Consider the net. A net entangles. That is its first function. It entangles so as to gather and catch and not release. Sadly, such nets are often tangled about our hearts and spiritual lives. Our weaknesses, for instance, get tangled round grudges or pains, and they weigh about our souls. Disappointments or jealousies get gathered in these nets. Painful memories, traumas, perplexities, illnesses, lusts, sadness, anger—all these and more can congregate within the nets of the interior lives of men and women. And even a cursory look around us and within reveals that such nets are many. In a word, they so often constitute the tragedy of sin and the burden of life.

But this need not terrify us. For after our blessed Lord bids St Peter to duc in altum, he goes on: et laxáte rétia vestra in captúram. Laxare: loosen, unfasten, release, relieve, relax; lower. Let fall your nets for a catch.—Yet Christ’s Sacred Heart is the deep into which we must let fall the nets we carry. This is done by acts of surrender, the decision of peace, the refusal to worry, and a keen understanding of the simplicity of the spiritual life. 

Understand this correctly, dear friends. It was the doctrine of the Quietists that said, “perfect resignation reduces the soul to a state in which its only activity is to know that God exists.”[1] But the Quietists were wrong and were condemned as such. This was a heresy that flourishing in the late seventeenth century. We are not talking about a motionless waiting around for God to do something.—No, there are real and grace-given human acts that constitute our spiritual life. St Peter had to navigate the ship, drop the net, and haul the fish. But the point is that whatever requires our doing in the spiritual life, requires, in fact and first of all, this obedience and trust—not our own cleverness or ability to arrange and perfect everything.    

St Peter’s sins and worries fell upon him heavily like the tangled catch of fish at his feet, and we know the feeling. It brings him to his knees and excuse-making before the Lord of Life, who responds (if I may paraphrase), “That is not the point, Simon; fear not. From now on you shall catch men.”

St Peter gives us the proof: God does not need our anxiety and excuses; he asks for our trust and obedience. Trust is that confidence that one who promises will make good on what is promised; the hope that all shall be well; the combination of a sense of peace and safety and favorable expectation. Obedience seems a hard word to us. But obedience is a listening with the ear of the heart and responding with a prompt yes to the demand of what is heard. To obey is to do the good without always knowing the full import. To obey is to entrust the treasure of our will—of our own preferences and ideas and comforts—into the sovereign, wise will of God, he who is the Lover of all mankind and the source of all goodness.

Next week we will meditate on how and whom we are to trust and obey. Now is a moment of seeing the necessity of trust and obedience. That master of the spiritual life, Jean-Pierre de Caussade, wrote this: “Perfection is neither more nor less than the faithful cooperation of the soul with this work of God”—his making us like himself—and this work “is begun, grows, and is consummated in the soul unperceived and in secret.”[2] But this process is impossible without trust and obedience. Like St Peter, ours is to put into the deep of the Sacred Heart, to let down the nets that tangle us, and then we shall cooperate in the supernatural catch of a virtue and grace.

[1] Enthusiasm: a Chapter in the History of Religion, Ronald Knox, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957), p 294.
[2] Abandonment to Divine Providence, trans E J Strickland, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), p 32.

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