The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Isaiah 6:1-2,3-8 + 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 [or 1 Cor 15:3-8,11] + Luke 5:1-11
February 6, 2022
“Be not afraid.”
In the year of Our Lord 64, Saint Peter laid down his life for the Church. Some thirty years after the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, Peter was held prisoner in the city of Rome, as was his fellow apostle Paul. Both had been taken there in chains, to that city which was the center of the known world. It was the capital of the greatest empire in existence, and a city which from Jerusalem appeared to be “the ends of the earth”. Yet it was the center not only of the empire, but also of paganism. The temples dedicated to Roman gods were numerous, scattered throughout Rome. Within the heart of the city was the Pantheon, dedicated to all the pagan gods.
Today you can still visit the cell where Peter was imprisoned: it’s about halfway between the Pantheon and the Colosseum. Within that cell, Saint Peter was miraculously freed from his chains. Then Peter made it onto the streets of Rome, and searched for the quickest way out of the city, presumably with the idea of somehow returning to his homeland. However, just outside the city walls, on a road leading away from his prison, Peter was confronted by a figure whom he soon recognized as Christ Jesus Himself.
Jesus asked where Peter was going, which of course was a rhetorical question. Jesus wasn’t so much interested in where Peter was taking himself. Peter was trying to escape from his vocation. Jesus was only interested in where God wanted Peter to go, which of course was to Heaven. For Peter, the road to Heaven was a martyr’s death. After that conversation with Our Lord, Peter was re-assured of his final mission in life. He turned around, went back into the heart of pagan Rome, and re-entered his prison cell. The next time Peter left that cell, he was taken to his martyrdom.
Peter’s earthly vocation ended on that spot where he was martyred. In today’s Gospel passage, we hear the beginning of St. Peter’s vocation. It might seem that the focus of this passage is the miraculous catch of fish, but Peter’s response is greater. Reflecting on the Word of God, you yourself are challenged to allow this same dynamic to work in your own life. Every Christian has to do this, but each in his or her own unique way, because each member of Christ’s Body is created uniquely, and meant by God to pursue his or her vocation within a unique setting in salvation history. As each human person is unique, so is the role of each human person within God’s economy of salvation.
The problem in our lives in the twenty-first century is that we don’t want this sort of call from God. It’s not that God is ignoring us, as we sometimes accuse Him of doing. It’s not that God doesn’t want to have anything to do with us. Rather, it’s that we don’t want Him in our lives. Sure, we want to follow God, but at a distance. Every one of our sins in effect says, “I want there to be a comfortable distance between me and God. I don’t want Him too close to me.” If we can admit this, then it’s a lot easier to understand how today’s Gospel passage is not just about Jesus calling Peter, but is also about Jesus calling you, each day throughout your life, not just in your youth.
The words which sum up today’s Gospel challenge are, “Be not afraid.” The words of Peter which sum up his response are these six simple words: “Lord, I am a sinful man.” These six words come from a humble soul. Each of us needs to make his or her own not just these six words, but the virtue that animates them.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us: “Faced with God’s fascinating and mysterious presence, man discovers his own insignificance” [CCC 208]. This isn’t the last word of the Catechism, of course. The last word is God’s love. Despite our relative insignificance, God freely chose to sacrifice His only-begotten Son for our salvation. God never says, “Clean up your act, and get back in touch with me when you’re worthy of my attention.” God reaches down to us in our sinfulness, and pays His full attention to our sinfulness. God’s care and concern for us in our sinfulness is part and parcel of our vocation.