When you check out a movie or a restaurant or a hotel on the internet, you’ll often find it rated by a number of stars—three star, four star, or whatever.
I’m thinking of rating my homilies by the number of cups of coffee they took to write—one cup, two cup etc. This morning’s homily gets at least three cups—because I didn’t know where to start.
I wanted to talk about St. Peter, of course. I just got back from praying at his tomb in Rome and from hearing his successor, Pope Benedict, so St. Peter seemed a logical place to start.
But what Jesus says to Peter, “from now on you will be catching people,” made me think about the tremendous work of evangelization that is happening in our parish, so I wanted to speak about the amazing response to our Alpha Course, and to promote the Shy Catholic course that’s coming up next week—practical training to help us become fishers of people.
And of course what Peter says to Jesus, “go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” turned my thoughts to Lent, coming up this Wednesday, and to the penitence that’s part and parcel of it.
With all that’s going on in today’s Gospel and in our lives, I really had trouble kick-starting this homily.
Then all of a sudden, I zoomed in on one word: nets.
The story opens with the disciples washing their nets. Jesus tells them to cast out their nets. And dramatically those nets are filled with fish. It’s easy to leave the nets in the background, but what if we take a closer look?
Obviously, for fishermen, a net is a tool of the trade. It must be kept clean and dry, and mended when necessary. So I think we might very well step back and take a look at what the nets might mean at the beginning of this story.
Could they not represent our preoccupation with making a living? Don’t we sometimes get “caught up” in the net of work? Perhaps those disciples were paying no attention to Jesus or to the eager crowd as they went about their job.
Of course that’s only one kind of net from which we might need to untangle ourselves as Lent begins. What about basketball nets, and soccer nets, and hockey nets? What about Sportsnet?
Sports plays an important place in developing human qualities, especially in the young, and in maintaining good health for all ages. But if we get caught in the net, so involved that there is no time or energy for God on Sunday, we may need to take a look at how we or our children approach these activities. And Lent is an ideal time for that.
The dictionary includes this meaning for net: “a means of catching or securing someone or something.” We use this definition when we say “the criminal slipped through the net.” Is there a net that’s tripping us up in our walk with Christ?
Various bad habits and addictions can hold us back from the spiritual, emotional and physical freedom God wants us to have. But to move towards freedom we need to get our feet out of the net that’s snaring us; Lent offers an opportunity for self-assessment and sacrifice that’s often a good first step.
And of course let’s not forget the internet! That net challenges modern Christians as perhaps never before, providing enormous spiritual and intellectual resources right beside terrible temptations and trials.
Some people have been snared by that net, others are simply preoccupied by it. All Christians should use Lent to ask whether they are spending time on the net that makes them forget Jesus or the needs of others.
Used properly, most of these nets—obligations and work and home, our legitimate recreational activities, even the internet—have a place in God’s plan for us. But when they trip us up, or hold us captive, it’s time to listen more closely to what Jesus says to Peter: “Put out into the deep water” so that our Christian life does not become shallow.
What does it mean to put out into the deep? Pope Benedict gives an excellent answer in his message for Lent this year, which might be summed up in two words—get moving!
Here is what the Holy Father says: “Lent invites us, through the traditional practices of the Christian life, to nourish our faith by careful and extended listening to the word of God and by receiving the sacraments, and at the same time to grow in charity and in love for God and neighbour, not least through the specific practices of fasting, penance and almsgiving.”
From this menu—reading and praying with Scripture, receiving the sacraments, especially confession, works of charity and especially the ancient disciplines of fasting, penance and almsgiving—each of us should choose concrete means of letting down our nets for an abundant catch of spiritual growth this Lent.
To conclude in an even more concrete way, I invite everyone in the parish—young and old—to consider how next Sunday’s Shy Catholic Conference can fit in with your Lenten plan, and help you to learn more about how you can be a fisher of people among your family, friends and co-workers.