Today is the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
By Fr. Francis Xaveir Weninger, 1877
“Master, at Thy word I will let down the net.”–Luke 5.
Those who have the happiness of being children of the Church of God, and of being instructed in the teachings of faith, know that their lives end not in this world, but that they shall live in heaven as in their home, and that there they will be glorified according as they shall have acquired merits in this life for eternity.
The child of the Church, who bears this in mind, is anxious to know what is necessary that his works may really produce the effect of acquiring and increasing these merits for heaven, and what it is that gives them value before the judgment-seat of Christ. Today’s Gospel will inform him on this matter. In it St. Peter says: “Master, we have labored all the night, and have taken nothing; but at Thy word I will let down the net.”
He did so, and, when he drew it up, it was over loaded with fishes. It is a mistake to think that we are not placed in such circumstances as to be able to enrich ourselves with treasures for heaven after the manner of the saints. Whatever be our position, whatever the persons with whom we have to live, numberless opportunities are offered us to this end by our daily duties, if only we perform them as the saints did theirs, and as the words of St. Peter teach us to perform them.
Let us, therefore, consider well the lesson contained in the words: “At Thy word I will let down the net.” Mary, Mother of the Divine Word, thou, who by thy virtuous deeds hast surpassed all men, Mirror of Justice, obtain for us the grace from God to serve Him meritoriously, and thus to increase our glory! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
If our life is to produce abundant fruit for heaven, we must work, not from temporal motives merely, but from such as were: revealed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. We must work, not in our own name, not from worldly considerations, but as the Word of God commands us, in the most holy name of Jesus.
To understand this more fully, we need only to reflect for a moment on the meaning of this sacred name, and of whom and of what it reminds us. The name “Jesus” means “Salvation,” and to do our work in this name is to have, after God, no other end in view in all our actions than our eternal salvation. “For what doth it avail a man,” says Christ, “if he gains the world and loses his soul?”
We can obtain our salvation only, when, in all that we do, we have no other intention, no other aim, no other rule of conduct, than to fulfill the most holy will of God as far as we can learn it by the light of faith. St. Peter fished in the darkness of night, but with out success; so, also, the works of those are of no value for eternity who walk in the darkness ot infidelity or of heresy, or who live in mortal sin, deprived of the light of sanctifying grace.
Unfortunately, it is only too often the case that we are not in the state of grace while working, that we do not labor with the right intentions, and in the required manner. In order to avoid this, we should, at break of day, unite our intentions with those of our Saviour in words like these: “Lord, as Thou wilt, and for Thy sake only; O Jesus, only to glorify Thee, and to follow Thy holy example in the exercise of all the virtues for which this day may afford me opportunities.”
But that we may really have these intentions, we must, with all humility and confidence, seek aid from our Lord Himself; we must acknowledge and confess before Him: Lord, I am weak, and dare hardly hope to be able to overcome, by myself, the temptations and hinderances that Satan will place in my way. But I cast out the net of my work at Thy word, and in Thy name. In Thee I put my trust.
How mighty, O Lord, is Thy name! All great and noble deeds that were done these eighteen hundred years in Thy name, and are related in the history of Thy Church, or in the lives of Thy saints, give testimony, of its power. But if these were able to do such things, why shall not I as well, who enjoy the same happiness with them of belonging to the true Church? Art Thou not the same Jesus yesterday, today, and forever? Was Thy word: “All that you ask the Father in My name will be given you,” not spoken to me also? And is not Thy consoling promise given to me also: “Behold I shall remain with you until the end of the world?”
In this Thy holy name all sources of divine grace are opened to me, especially that of union with Thee in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Thy presence in the boat enlivened the confidence of St. Peter. Thou, O Lord, the same Jesus, art present also in my heart as often as I receive Thee in Holy Communion, and Thou art continually with me in Thy tabernacles. Trusting, therefore, in Thee, I cast out the net of my daily work at Thy word, and in Thy name.
If we act in this manner, my brethren, we shall obtain strength for our work, strength against all temptations, strength to overcome the difficulties which Satan may spread on our path. Our support lies principally in our union with Jesus in the inner life? by communion with Him in prayer, by our eagerness and fidelity in visiting Him in the Most Holy Sacrament, and by frequently and worthily approaching the Holy Table, which especially enkindies, increases and nourishes the fire of divine love in our hearts.
Blessed are we if we have done these things, if we know from experience the meaning of those words of St. Paul: “The love of Christ urges me.” For, as David says: “A fire has been kindled in my meditation.” At Thy word, and in Thy name, O Lord, out of love to Thee, I cast out the net of my daily work. We shall, then, not rest satisfied with only doing that which me must, according to right and duty, in order to save our souls; but we shall endeavor to increase our eternal happiness by fervor in the exercise of all virtues, and by causing others to imitate our example, with the same fervor, to save and sanctify their souls.
If, therefore, while we work, while we strive to perform our duties, we acquire but little merit for heaven, what is the cause of it? It is the want of a good intention, the want of zeal and solicitude to do as the name and the example of Jesus admonish us to do. It is the want of confidence in Him, and of union with Him through prayer and Holy Communion. In a word, it is the want of love for Jesus.
How important, therefore, is the admonition to make our lives such that they will be to us no deception, but a source of merit for the kingdom of Retribution, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen!
“And they beckoned to them that they should come and help them.”–Luke 5.
In today’s Gospel we are told that St. Peter, and those with him, called on those in the other ship to assist them in the labor of drawing out the net full of fishes. How of what was this fishing typical? It was, according to the word of Christ, but an image of that great work which is to bring all mankind within the one true fold. This our Lord clearly pointed out to the Apostles, when He said: “I will make you fishers ol men.” And it was for this very purpose that He sent them forth to convert the world, and so assigned their tasks, that His bishops and priests might continue their work to the end of time. The succession to that grand mission has never been interrupted in the Church, and it never will be until the world shall have passed away.
But is this work reserved to the bishops and priests alone? Are they the only ones obliged to labor for the salvation of souls? Not at all. It is a duty in cumbent on all. Each and every child of the Church is laid under this obligation, for to each and every one are addressed these earnest words: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And, in consequence of this command, all Christians are bound to do their share in the good work of converting souls, inasmuch as these other words are addressed to them likewise: “What ye wish that men should do unto you, do ye also to them.”
We all know how true this is in the temporal order. And if we desire so eagerly to be assisted by our neighbor in what merely pertains to this present life, how much more so should we not do the same in what regards the life to come, and be ready to assist him in eyery possible way! To this end let us consider today the many potent reasons which should urge us to labor for the salvation of souls. Mary, Queen of the Apostles, obtain for us, that we, like the first Christians, may be animated by the holiest zeal! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
The first reason which should lead us to kindle and nourish in our hearts this holy zeal is love of God. And why so? It is because the soul is the image of God. From all eternity did the great Lord of all think of it. He created it for Himself, enabling it, by the fulfillment of His holy will, to glorify Him on earth, and thus to be united to Him in life eternal.
God then, no doubt, wishes, with all earnestness, that every soul may stand the test to which her freedom is subjected in the trials of this life. What an inducement, for every one that loves God, to strive with might and main that every soul do in reality prove true, and glorify God in time and in eternity! From this we see that he who loves God heartily, is most anxious to have all around him sharers with himself in loving, serving and praising the Father of all. But he knows full well that this will not come to pass unless they are, like himself, children of the Church, and enlightened by the same faith.
And hence his one great desire is to have others know and serve God, since he is aware that not to know and serve God is to know and serve Satan. He who is not a child of our heavenly Father, is a child and follower of the evil spirit; and, as such, his reward in the life to come will be eternal perdition. Alas! that there should be any so foolish!
The second great reason which we have to cultivate religious zeal is love of Christ. Why did He come upon the earth? It was to save souls. “The Son of man came to seek that which was lost,” says our Lord Himself. The history of His stay among men tells us how He did this. His whole? life was sacrificed to this one object, and an ignominious death gave a last proof of how much He valued human souls. Can we wonder, then, that Christ is most anxious to see; His many sufferings bear fruit? Will we: be callous to His wishes? He deigns to ask for our help in the saving of souls! Is not this enough to win from us our best efforts? Let us not refuse so loving a Lord, but do our best to augment the number of the blessed of heaven, thus giving new glory to Christ for all eternity. Just consider what it is for men to be unbelievers, or unreligious, or the slaves of mortal sin! St. Paul assures us that they continually crucify Jesus in their hearts. Then, again, see what harm they do. They scandalize others; and, by doing the devil’s work, increase the number of the damned! Is not this sad? “Lord, give me souls, souls,” was the constant cry of St. Francis Xavier. It should be ours also.
A third great reason is love of Mary, the mother of divine grace, who stood at the foot of the cross suffering as no one of the children of men had ever suffered, or will ever suffer. Her sacrifice was none other than the offering of her Son to the Eternal Father. She knew the divine desire of Jesus to save souls, and hesitated not to satisfy that desire as far as it lay in her power to do so. Should not the example of our dear heavenly Mother move us, her children, to lend our aid in bringing about so happy a result as the salvation of men? By doing so, we shall prove ourselves her devoted children, and grateful for the numberless blessings which she has obtained for us from her divine Son.
And if, besides all this, we bear in mind the love which should be ours for the angels and saints, we can not fail to increase in our souls this same religious zeal. For it is plain that the greater the number of the blessed in heaven, the greater will be the joy and exultation of all. Hence it belongs to us to increase that number by leading sinners into the right path, and by keeping ourselves pure and holy in the sight of God. We are brothers of the saints. What they have done, we should endeavor to do also; and as they labored while on earth to gain souls to Christ, we should not be backward in imitating their glorious example.
Besides the reasons given, are there not others that come nearer home to us reasons which spring from the consideration of our own real interests? Love of self should urge each of us to labor at the gaining of souls to Christ. And why so? Simply because we will thus gain a great reward in the life to come. St. Chrysostom, alluding to the merit which is secured by works of religious charity, says that: “A work of spiritual charity, done for the salvation of souls, has a higher value in the eyes of God, than if a man were, at one and the same time, to feed the hungry, nurse the sick, and befriend the fatherless, in every part of the world.” The Holy Ghost assures us of the same thing by the mouth of the prophet Daniel: “They who instruct many unto justice shall shine as stars for all eternity.”
Do we desire to save our own souls? Let us labor to save others, and we shall succeed in saving our souls also; for he “who saves the soul of another,” say the Holy Spirit, “has saved his own.”
And this should not seem strange to us. For if Christ, speaking of the corporal works of mercy, assures us that He will say to those who practise them, come and take possession of the kingdom prepared for you, how much more so will He not have reason to address the same words to those who perform the spiritual works of mercy? May we not say that for such there will be a heaven within a heaven, where they will partake of the fullness of joy in company with those whom they have saved? Nay more, will not their joy be the overflowing joy of souls inundated by the wine of gladness poured out on them? Our Lord and His blessed Mother will never forget what they did to help them in winning souls to God.
Let us frequently consider these motives; and let us earnestly beg that a truly apostolic zeal, born of the love of God, of Jesus, of Mary, and of all the saints, as well as of the real interests of our own souls, may come and take possession of our hearts, and cause us to labor much for the spiritual welfare of the neighbor! Amen!
Today’s Gospel reminds not only the servants of the sanctuary of the duty to exercise religious zeal, but also every truly loyal child of the Church. The words: “From henceforth thou shalt catch men, are addressed through the commandment of brotherly love to every one who, enlightened by faith, knows that there is but one name, but one Church, in which and through which we can be saved.
This commandment and this knowledge obliges every child of the Church to do all that lies in his power that every person may attain to the knowledge of this only true Church, and to strive that those who are children of the same, may live according to the dictates of their faith. Unfortunate, indeed, is the lot of those who, with the light of the true faith shining down on them, walk not in the ways of truth and virtue. For, the divine graces which they, as children of the Church, received, but misused, become millstones, that will drag them into the abyss of perdition, and the greater these graces were, the deeper down will they be dragged.
It may, perhaps, be asked: How can any Christian, even though he be not a priest, save souls, catch men for the kingdom of God? What net is at hand for every one to fish for souls. Mary, Mother, teach us, thy children, to take care of others, that, being thine, we may all serve God, fulfill His holy will, and enter into His kingdom! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
“At Thy word, Master, I will let down the net,” said St. Peter, hoping that his fishing would prove successful, and every child of the Catholic Church may say this with him. The question now is, of what must the net consist, in order that the fishing be possible or successful? I will point out, today, the threads of which this net is knitted.
The first condition necessary to cause others to acknowledge the truth and divinity of faith, or to make them live in accordance with the dictates of faith, is our own example. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your works and praise your Father who is in heaven,” Christ Himself exhorts us.
One might quote, in reference to this, the words of the ancient Roman poet, who says: “If thou wishest me to grieve, thou must first weep thyself.” Thus also: If thou wilt that I shall lead a Catholic life, then live thou like a Catholic, and prove the divinity of thy faith by thy life distinguished by its virtues from that of all other people.
We read in the life of the seraphic St. Francis, that he, one day, invited one of the lay brothers to go cut with him. “Come, we will preach,” said he. They went through the whole city in their poor habits, with their eyes cast down in deep meditation, and returned thus to the monastery. When they arrived there, the lay brother said, with much astonishment, to the saint: “Father, didst thou not say we were going out to preach?” “Yes,” replied the saint, “and we have done it. Behold, the people who saw us in our poor habits knew that, formerly, we lived in the world and were wealthy, that we left all for the love of God; this sight was a powerful sermon to tear their hearts from attachment to the goods and riches of this world.”
Would to God that every father and mother, every youth and maiden, lived the holy life our faith demands of the children of the Church! Thus the first Christians lived, and their virtuous life attracted the attention of the heathens. These first admired the lives of the Christians, then examined their creed, became convinced and converted.
Oh, how many irreligious and unbelieving men in our day, especially here in America, and to a greater or less degree everywhere, would do the same, if all children of the Church lived as holy faith teaches them to live! If all the Catholics here in America lived a holy life in accordance with their duty as children of the Church all America would soon be Catholic. And among Catholics themselves, how many souls would be saved! how the net would be filled with human souls, if, in every family, man, wife and children sanctified each other by word and example!
But, on the other hand, how much evil is done in a family by the bad example of one single person! Beside neglecting prayer himself, cursing and blaspheming instead, he prevents the other members of the family from praying with devotion, and also gives them occasion for impatience and anger. The same may be said of negligence in hearing Holy Mass, in receiving the Sacraments, in attending divine service generally. His example only too often even prevents the conversion to the Church of the irreligious and unbelieving.” Such a sinner resembles a sword-fish, that destroys the net.
The second condition, the second thread for the apostolic fishing-net, useful likewise for laymen, is called instruction, instruction in matters of faith; not to be satisfied with learning the Catechism only so far as to be admitted to Holy Communion, but to be instructed, each and every one, as thoroughly as, according to Holy Writ and the sermons of the holy fathers, the first Christians were.
How very deficient are the children of the Church in this regard! And yet how easily might the defect be supplied, and every one be sufficiently instructed, since the press, many schools, books of instruction, and controversial writings, offer numberless opportunities for information! It is the duty of parents to introduce them into their families.
The effect of this care on the part of parents would be that the growing generation, and people of maturer years, too, would not only remain firm in their faith, but would be able to instruct others, and give an account of every article of the faith.
The third thread of the apostolic fishing-net, is the care to make those professing another faith acquainted with these instructive books. In every Catholic would place a book of this kind into the hands of an unbeliever or follower of a false creed, our holy religion would be better known, and man brought into the bosom of the Church.
But Catholics are very negligent in this matter, while Protestants give it all their attention. Seductive pamphlets, and books against the Catholic faith, are distributed by the hundred thousands; millions of dollars are spent on their publication, and they are offered to every one who cares to read! Unfortunately, in this regard, also, is verified the assurance and lament of our Lord : ” The children of darkness are wiser in their generation than the children of light.”
Finally, the last thread of the apostolic fishing-net is prayer, to which we must resort that God’s arm may second our endeavors, for to lay the foundation of faith and effect a conversion is the work of divine grace; and the means God gave us to obtain grace is “prayer.”
The greatest inducement to cast out our net in the name of the Lord, in spite of discouragements and difficulties, is the remembrance of the terrible account we must render if any soul has, through our negligence, gone to eternal perdition. Woe to us, if this be the case! Therefore, let us cast out our net to catch souls, that we may secure our own salvation! Amen! (1)
By Fr. Raphael Frassinetti, 1900
Gospel. Luke v. 1-11. At that time, when the multitude pressed upon Jesus to hear the word of God, He stood by the lake of Genesareth. And He saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And going into one of the ships that was Simon’s, He desired him to draw back a little from the land. And sitting, He taught the multitudes out of the ship. Now when He had ceased to speak, He said to Simon: Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said to Him: Master, we have labored all the night, and have taken nothing: but at Thy word I will let down the net. And when they had done this, they enclosed a very great multitude of fishes, and their net broke. And they beckoned to their partners that were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came and filled both the ships, so that they were almost sinking: which, when Simon Peter saw, he fell down at Jesus’s knees, saying: Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was wholly astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken. And so were also James and John the sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. And Jesus saith to Simon: Fear not: from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And having brought their ships to land, leaving all things, they followed Him.
Our Lord was so kind to all, and worked so many miracles, that His fame traveled far and wide; from all quarters of Judea the people sought Him and crowded about Him in immense and ever-increasing numbers. His words bore with them so much grace, that they melted every heart, even the hardest. He was “full of grace and truth.” Consider, my dear children, the anxiety of that crowd to hear the word of God; they follow Him along the shores of the lake, through the desert, and through the country. They leave their trades, their daily avocations; they forget even the necessary food for the body, their rest, their sleep. Tell me, my dear young people, do we find this same love for the word of God among the young people of today? Instead, we find disgust for a sermon, and our young folk staying away from church because a sermon is to be preached. In vain do parents and teachers advise them. How blind they are not to see the necessity of listening to the word of God! But let us hope that you, my children, are not of that number; that you will listen with attention and keep the words you hear in your heart, where they will be the food of your souls.
As soon as Our Lord had finished His discourse, He bid St. Peter row out into the lake and let down his net. Peter gave answer: “Master, we have labored all the night, and have taken nothing, but at Thy word I will let down the net.” We must admire the prompt obedience of Peter in thus casting the net. Everything had been put away after a fruitless night’s labor; but now, at Our Lord’s command, he obeys. Do you obey with the same promptitude? We disobey our superiors in little things as well as in great. They tell us to avoid certain company which is the occasion of sin to us; that we should go to church and to the Sacraments. Do you, my good young people, always take heed of these instructions? I am afraid that you go where you like, and do as you please; there is no one whom you hold in sufficient respect to take a command from him. These are serious matters. It has now almost come to it, that a father and mother have to obey their children; this is not only a serious matter, but disorderly in the eyes of God. Let us see what Deuteronomy says of disobedient sons and daughters: They are to be taken outside the gates and stoned. This severity of the Old Testament no longer exists, though the State makes laws for disobedient minors, locking them up till they are of age. Still that severity of the Old Testament is a figure of God’s judgment for disobedience. Be obedient, then, my young friends, and docile to your parents and superiors. There is no more beautiful and attractive sight than to see an obedient son or daughter, respectful in every way to his or her parents; such obedience will bring down a blessing from almighty God, according to the promises made in the Old Testament.
I would like to say a word about the answer Peter made to Jesus, “Master, we have labored all the night and have taken nothing.” These words can be put into our mouth in many instances; all our life we have worked, but what have we for it? The days of our life are gliding by uselessly, we have labored in vain. O! let us awake at the command of Our Lord and do something; let us not pass our time in sleep or in labor that is all fatigue and no gain. We do everything for the body; we feed and care for it, clothe and wash it, give it exercise to keep it supple, and this body is soon to end and be carried to the grave; but what do we do for the well-being of our soul? We do but little, as if we were not spiritual beings.
Oh, when the misguided people who have been so busy through life, come to the hour of their death, then they will see the truth of the words: “We have labored all the night and have taken nothing.” A certain worldly man, who was not a bad Christian, was on his death-bed; certain acts of his gave him great concern; the confessor was at hand and tried to inspire him with confidence in the mercy of God, for the action which he bewailed so much was after all a small matter. “Ah! “replied the dying man, ” dear Father, wait until you have the blessed candle in your hand, and the hour of your death near; then you will not say these things are small matters; then every defect in your life will assume a great magnitude.” Many things that now appear to us as fun and frolic will then seem to us mortal sins. Those lustful glances, those bad confessions in which, out of shame, you refrained from telling all your sins; those communions made in a state of doubtful conscience, will then rise before you and you will not be able to silence the interior voice by persuading yourself that those matters are of little moment. Oh! if we only worked half as hard to save our souls as others do to damn them, we would become saints. “They have fatigued themselves in doing evil.”
Look how you have abused the precious graces which God has given you! What will you think of those lost opportunities? You were brought up well, and put on the path to heaven. You often heard the word of God, and received the Sacraments. With all these advantages you should have become a saint. But remember, my dear young people, if you understand at the hour of your death the evil you have done, it is a great grace, for with the help of the Sacraments it will lead you to conversion. It often happens that even at the hour of death you do not recognize your wickedness; only when you die, and are judged, will you see, alas, too late! that you have led an evil life. Did not this happen to the rich man of whom Our Lord speaks? While he lived, as the Gospel describes, he had the enjoyment of wealth to its fullest extent; he dressed in the height of fashion, had a luxurious table and pleasures of every kind; but he was buried in hell, and when he opened his eyes he saw the poor Lazarus, whom he had despised, in Abraham’s bosom. What an awakening to reason, and to a recognition of his duties! You who are still in life can repair the evil you have done, and accomplish something to merit heaven; perhaps God may yet give you many days to labor for eternal life.
Our divine Redeemer saw the astonishment of Peter when that great mass of fish was caught. Peter knew it was a miracle, and a miracle wrought as a reward for his obedience, and, recognizing his unworthiness, he cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” He thought himself unworthy to be received into the company of Him whom he acknowledged to be his God. But Our Lord infused a new life into him, gave him a new calling, forgave all the past, and corrected it by His holy grace. “Fear not,” said Jesus, “from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” How can we, too, my young people, become fishers of men? We can do it by good example among our companions. In the past we may have ruined many a soul by the wickedness of our life; we may have drawn them gradually into a life of sin. What dreadful evil have we done! How hard it will be to make up for it, for, while we are converted, have we not perhaps this sorrow before our eyes that the evil we have started is still growing in those whom we have perverted? Let us, then, still try to do something practical to endeavor to bring back those we have led astray; let us pray for them, seek them, and speak to them. Let us follow Our Saviour as did St. Peter, who followed Jesus after he had been called and remained faithful in his vocation. “Come, follow Me.” (2)
Image: Crop of The Miraculous Draught of Fishes: Artist: Raphael, circa: 1515 (4)