In today’s Gospel, Peter, James, and John had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Our Lord instructs them to “put out into the deep” and, after some balking–after all, these fishermen think they know their trade better than this carpenter–they cast their nets back into the water and caught a tremendous amount of fish.
Then Peter falls on His knees before the Lord and says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
At first, St. Peter’s statement seems strange. It’s like telling a doctor, “Get away from me, I’m sick.”
But, upon closer scrutiny, we realize there’s something about an encounter with the divine that exposes our utter unworthinessness even to come into God’s presence. Yet, like St. Peter, we must overcome this natural impulse, knowing that God loved us so much that He sent His Son to save us.
This mystery of God’s terrifying yet ultimately reassuring and salvific presence is beautifully presented in paragraph 208 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I’ll quote it in full here:
“Faced with God’s fascinating and mysterious presence, man discovers his own insignificance. Before the burning bush, Moses takes off his sandals and veils his face in the presence of God’s holiness (cf. Ex. 3:5-6). Before the glory of the thrice-holy God, Isaiah cries out: ‘Woe is me! I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips’ (Is. 6:5). Before the divine signs wrought by Jesus, Peter exclaims: ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Lk. 5:8). But because God is holy, he can forgive the man who realizes that he is a sinner before him: ‘I will not execute my fierce anger . . . for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst’ (Hos. 11:9). The apostle John says likewise: ‘We shall . . . reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything’ (1 Jn. 3:19-20).”
Our Lord did not abandon St. Peter in his sins, but rather called him to be a “fisher of men” and the rock on which He would build His Church. With their fear overcome by the Lord’s reassurance, Peter and the others resolved to leave everything and follow Him.
Rather than force the Lord out of our lives through our own feelings of unworthiness, or perhaps because we don’t have time for Him or we don’t want to leave behind our sins, let us acknowledge our absolute need for God and His grace, and implore Him to stay with us.
The weekday Gospels will be taken from the Gospel of Luke until we begin the liturgical year anew this Advent. For those who wish to meditate further on the Gospel of Luke, I strongly recommend Mission of the Messiah by Dr. Tim Gray. This commentary/study is available at www.emmausroad.org. CUF members (www.cuf.org) receive a 10% discount on this and other Emmaus Road titles.