Monday, July 4th, 2022

‘Duc in altum’: A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Launch out into the deep & let down your nets for a catch (Lk 5). 

It’s obvious that one of the fundamental temptations of the Christian life is to give way under suffering—that is, to fail to persevere. In today’s epistle , St Paul is clear about a number of things. First, that there will be suffering in abundance; it is a thing taken for granted. Yet, second, that the suffering never comparable to the goods waiting for the elect. That is meant to encourage us: the good to come is as nothing compared with the evils we have to endure today.

But St Paul also provides the theological understanding for why these things must be so. As Msgr Knox translates it, “The whole of nature, as we know, groans in common travail all the while.” Every last created thing—from inert the stone at the bottom of the ocean, to the highest angel—is incomplete & waiting. This life is a holding pattern, while we wait for such time as the Father sees fit “for the revelation of the sons of God,” in St Paul’s phrase. 

Of course that phrase is mysterious. But I wonder if at times we forget this necessity of waiting; I wonder whether we expect as a matter of course that things are meant to be well & peaceful. In one sense, it is not unreasonable for us to hope for & ask for peace. We did as much in today’s collect: “Grant that this world may be peaceably ordered by Thee, that Thy Church may joyfully serve you in quiet devotion.” That is a prayer for our times surely, as all the collects have been and are. 

Nevertheless, St Paul clarifies the boundaries of our hope, as it were. All peace is relative peace, because “Created nature has been condemned to frustration; not for some deliberate fault of its own, but for the sake of him who condemned it, with a hope to look forward to.” According to the interpretation of Chrysostom, it was Adam who initiated this condemnation.

But then there is the activity of the New Adam. Note well how our Lord interacts with St Peter in today’s Gospel. After preaching to the multitudes, Christ gives that notable command to St Peter: Duc in altum. For his part, St Peter notes the natural futility of the command, but obeys all the same. What happens, of course, is a catch beyond natural reckoning. Take note of the details. Two ships; Peter in one, Andrew likely in the other—I see an image of the churches of the West & East—both filled to sinking with a catch.  

Two weeks ago, we had Luke 14 at Mass, the parable of “a certain man who gave a great supper.” Remember how he compelled his servants to fill the banquet hall, because all things were reading. Omnia parata sunt. So again this week, another Gospel of quantities: quantities of souls drawn into the kingdom.

I suspect the scene was not lost on St Peter; his reaction suggests as much. Our Lord spent time preaching, that is, preparing souls to receive him. Then he sets out into the sea, where St Peter’s straining arms draw in a miraculous catch. Immediately he realizes a demand is being made upon him, which Our Lord confirms: “Do not fear, henceforth, thou shalt be a fisher of men.” 

You and I cannot fail to understand the scene either. The Church will always continue to catch, no matter the natural futility of it; no matter the groaning of all creation. I would say this to any young man considering the clerical life: the Church will always catch through her priests, so do not be afraid of anything. Yes, put out into the deep. I say the same to all of you: the Church will always catch men. Despite her unfaithful pastors, despite the weakness of her children, despite the persecution of the world, the Church will always catch men. We are fools if we complain about the statistics. The Gospel tells us that the banquet hall will be full; the nets were breaking & the ships sinking. Ours is the uncomfortable duty of waiting & suffering while the process takes place. But be assured, the waters are deep indeed, yet the Church will always be catching men.    

Art Credit: The Miraculous Catch of Fish, 1515, Raphael; Victoria and Albert Museum, Royal Collection.

Homilies & Sermons