In a quiet moment let us revisit the scene.
Peter and his work mates are just so very exhausted — heaving wet nets up and down the depths all night, desperate to catch at least something. They finally give up and bring the nets in for cleaning and storing. The master appears and starts teaching. Like the common people around those parts, so deeply moved by St John the Baptist, they too loved to listen to Jesus. Despite their physical tiredness and disappointment they listen until Jesus decides to conclude. He orders Peter to row out to the deep water and drop the nets.
Now, not only physically exhausted but mentally tired, Peter reminds Jesus: “We’ve been doing that all night, and I tell you, there’s nothing out there!” “But because you say so, we will”. They do so and behold! The catch!!! Peter jumps too, like the rest, excited and suddenly very energetic, and gets the fish on board.
All of a sudden a moment of stillness comes over him. He stands back and sees what is really happening both out there and within himself. This is the moment, the whole point of the account; in the presence of the holiness and lovingkindness of God, he sees how unworthy he is. This is what brings him to his knees.
But Peter must learn by personal inner experience, that the Lord has no intention of departing just because of his sudden awareness of his sinfulness. On the contrary, it is because of this, that Jesus has come among mankind, and seeks out those who are humble enough to receive God’s forgiveness.
Peter is being prepared to take that message to the world. And so mercifully, it is Jesus who has been doing the deep fishing in Peter. And Peter has been caught! Only now can he go and fish within others and catch them for the Lord.
As this event was told and retold in the infant church, those probing for deeper meaning found themselves asking, “What kind of man is this who waits till men are at the final moment of mental and physical exhaustion, who are despondent that their hard work has been a total failure — and then he asks of them either the impossible or the absurd!”
What kind of man is this?
This is the One who looks for such people as these to help him bring in a great harvest and chooses those who, when asked to do the unthinkable, obey at once: because they trust him! Empowered by the Anointed One they will respond in their hearts:
“Fishers of men: that is what we are! Apostles of Jesus Christ: that is what we are!”
Joseph Cardinal Cardijn
St. Peter: pray for us, Amen.