Today we stand on the threshold of Ash Wednesday. Just another Lent or Lent unlike any other? Rather than wait until the official first day of lent, I put before you this weekend what has been more than just another set of liturgical readings from the Old and New Testament.
My retreat “prompter” mentioned that the American Convert-Catholic author from North Carolina was once asked how she went about starting her various writings. Her answer is surprising. Perhaps she understood better than most the significance of “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Her reply to the was was a single word, a simple word: “stare.” Yes, stare. She said that she had to stare at the subject of her writings. So, I invite you to imagine the scene below and stare at it with your mind's eyes.
As we are about to step from the days of Ordinary Time into the Season of Lent, nothing could be more helpful than the image above. It is the scene from St. Luke’s gospel when Jesus meets Peter for the first time. Peter’s brother, his partner in the fishing business had been following after John the Baptist. John had encouraged his followers to catch up with the young preacher from Nazareth, Jesus, son of Mary, whose sandals John felt unworthy to touch. Andrew became very interested in the words and style of Jesus. When Jesus was starting to preach to a crowd at the seashore, Peter was there with his brother. Seeing the crowd, Jesus knew Peter was there and could use one of his fishing boats as a stage to pull away from the shore and become visible to the large crowd. It was in Peter’s boat that you might say that our Roman Catholic Church was planted. Jesus preached and when he finished, he must have spoke with Peter about the size of the catch for the day. There were no fish. It had been a fruitless venture.
Jesus then tells Peter to put out into the deep once again and in a particular area. Peter seemed willing to trust this preacher’s advice, probably because Andrew was so taken by Jesus’ preaching. We know the rest of this part of the story. Shortly after nets were thrown out, the fishermen realized they had one of the biggest hauls of fish they had ever captured.
It was then that the Jesus-Peter relationship was established. Peter knelt down before Jesus he was so astonished by the sizable catch. Clearly this preacher was no ordinary dispenser of Yahweh’s messages. Peter told Jesus to leave him because he, Peter, was “a sinful man.” It was then that Peter heard words that I would imagine he never forgot:
Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.
“When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.”
Today, at this moment, as you read these words, you are very much like Peter and the other fishermen in the boat. With me you are being extended and invitation. Jesus is saying to us “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” as he said to Peter. Today Jesus is inviting us to toss our nets out into the Season of Lent. There is waiting for you and me something extraordinary if we but leave “everything” and follow Jesus. He is inviting us to enter into a season when we look at ourselves in light of the gift of Jesus‘ passion and death for our salvation.
In the days ahead any sacrifice we may determine to make seemingly will have very little impact if we do not accept Jesus‘ invitation like Peter: he went to his knees in humble recognition of Jesus‘ extraordinary gift. Peter was given a memorable catch of fish and later an untold number of followers for Jesus. Jesus now is offering the extraordinary gift of his love and his suffering so that the Father would forgive us whatever sins we have stored in the closets of our lives. If there is any gift I ask of Jesus for you and me it is this: that we can say of ourselves, “I know that Jesus loves me with a love beyond description. I want this season of Lent to be the time when I am able to open my heart to Jesus as never before."
You may want to use the responsorial psalm from today's liturgy as a closing prayer to your prayer.
In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple
and give thanks to your name.
Because of your kindness and your truth;
for you have made great above all things
your name and your promise.
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.
All the kings of the earth shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
when they hear the words of your mouth;
and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD:
“Great is the glory of the LORD.”
Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.