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Online Retreat: “Called and Sent” - Day One

This is the first installment in a five-part online retreat on vocation. Each of the five sections will include a reflection on a Scripture passage and some recommendations for personal prayer and reflection. We will look at five biblical stories of call in order to examine various dimensions of vocation. This retreat is offered to everyone who wishes to enter into the mystery of their own vocation in life a little more deeply. Those who are considering a call to lay ministry, religious life, or priesthood may find it particularly pertinent to their questions and concerns. The retreat can be made over a period of five days or, if one’s schedule does not permit that, over a longer time span. 

Fr. Robin Ryan, cp

Read Luke 5: 1-11

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The account of the call of Peter in the Gospel of Luke is rich in meaning and symbolism. Even though James and John – two important disciples – are also present in this scene, Luke focuses the reader’s attention on the person of Peter. The story looks forward to Peter’s role as a leader and spokesperson of the disciples and to his mission as a proclaimer of the good news of Jesus Christ and “netter of people.” 

Notice that Jesus enters into the life of Peter in the midst of the ordinary events of daily life. Peter and his associates are washing their nets after a very bad night of fishing. Jesus asks to borrow one of their two boats in order to teach the crowds that had gathered along the lakeside. In his presentation at the Catholics on Call young adult conference, Scripture scholar Donald Senior pointed out that there are a number of small coves in this area of the Sea of Galilee. They form a natural amphitheater in which Jesus could easily have addressed the crowd that was pressing in on him. This is a scene that is easy to picture in one’s imagination. 

After his teaching, Jesus tells Peter and the others to “put out into deep water” for a catch of fish. These fishermen must have laughed under their breaths when they heard these words. This teacher, who is not a fisherman by trade, is telling them (the “experts” on fishing) how to catch fish when they are well aware that there are no fish to be caught! Peter, however, takes Jesus at his word. By so doing, these frustrated fishermen are rewarded with a huge – and almost disastrous -- catch of fish. Futility has given way to abundance. 

Peter immediately recognizes that he is in the presence of something that is beyond the ordinary. He has encountered the Holy. And so he addresses Jesus as “Lord.” He recognizes the presence of God in this moment. This experience makes him acutely aware of his own unworthiness. Peter is uncomfortable and is tempted to draw back in fear: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” He does not feel that what he is experiencing should be happening to him. 

The Lord, however, does not turn away from Peter and the others, or overwhelm them with his power, of make them grovel in their unworthiness. He speaks the words that are found so often in biblical stories of call: “Be not afraid.” The presence of God in Jesus does not make people shrink back in fear but gives them new life and empowers them to respond to the call. 

The response of Peter and his friends is a wholehearted one: “When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.” As New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson says, in the Gospel of Luke the way in which one disposes over his or her possessions is symbolic of one’s personal response to Jesus. Peter’s willingness to leave everything behind and follow the Lord is indicative of his radical choice to follow Jesus in a life of discipleship. 

In our own lives, too, the Lord comes to meet us where we are, right in the midst of our “ordinary” activities and concerns. Sometimes he does this is a very subtle, almost imperceptible manner, while at other times we encounter him in a more powerful and memorable way. When we sense his presence in our lives, we, too, may be tempted to draw back in fear because we are acutely aware of our own weakness, limitation, and sinfulness. We, like Peter, may want to say: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful person.” We may realize, too, that the call of the Lord involves some risk. It can be frightening to hear Christ saying to us, “Put out into deep water.” Yet if we listen to him with trust, we find that he does not turn away from us, or overpower us, or leave us overcome by our own unworthiness. Rather, he remains faithfully at our side. And he says to us over and over again, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid, for I am the one who is calling you and empowering you. He offers us new life and gives us the strength to serve him, in whatever way he may be calling us to do that. 

For those who are considering a call to service as a lay ecclesial minister, religious or priest, Luke’s account of the call of Peter has particular relevance. We begin to sense the call to such a vocation right in the midst of our ordinary lives. That is where the Lord Jesus comes to meet us. In my own life I began to hear faint echoes of this call during my first two years of college. When we think about such a choice, our first reaction is often one of fear. We may be afraid because of any number of factors: our feelings of unworthiness; our concerns about what friends or family members may think of us; the conflicts and struggles that have been part of the life of the Church, especially in recent years; the formation that will be required; etc. The presence of Christ, however, has a way of giving us peace and strength, even in the face of our natural apprehensions. The call to a life of service in the Church does indeed demand a certain amount of risk and sacrifice. We are asked to leave some things behind in order to follow the Lord and serve his people. But it is his grace that enables us to make those choices and, when we do, we discover an inner freedom that is life-giving. 

I encourage you to pray with this Scripture passage and, as you do, I offer the following suggestions for your reflection: 

- Take some time to recall moments in your life in which you have encountered Christ in a memorable way. What impact did those experiences have on you? 

- Speak to the Lord about the fears that you are grappling with in your life right now. What are the fears that may prevent you from being the person the Lord wants you to be? 

- Listen as the Lord Jesus says to you, “Be not afraid.” Allow those words to resonate with you and ask for the peace that you need to hear and respond to the Lord’s call. 

- Ask Christ to show you what it is in your life (possessions, attitudes, fears, prejudices, destructive relationships, etc.) that you may need to leave behind in order follow him more closely.

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