Western culture is de-Christianized. Only the Church can carry out the needed evangelical work the West needs to avoid complete moral collapse. She is the Body of the Risen Christ, called to carry on His redemptive mission and continue His presence on this earth as a universal sign and sacrament. She is the missionary agent and - in the words of the fathers of the second Vatican Council - the seed and beginning of the kingdom of God. We must all cultivate a missionary spirit.We are all invited to put out into the deep and lower our nets for a catch. We are called to live our baptismal vocation, completely given over to the work of the Lord, in the heart of the Church, for the sake of the world. The New Evangelization is meant to bring about an authentic renewal of the Church so that she can then undertake a new missionary outreach to the whole world. Only a Church fully alive in the Lord and filled with His Spirit can carry out such an evangelical mission.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Our Gospel today is taken from St. Luke. It is a call to everyone of us to lower our nets for a catch; to fish for men and women and bring them into the boat of the Church:
"While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
"After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch." Simon said in reply, "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets." When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
"When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, "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". (LK. 5:1-11)
Most of us do not derive our livelihood from fishing these days. However, the principles which this encounter with Jesus reveals speak to the heart of the Christian vocation and mission. Saint John Paul II reminded us of this insight in an apostolic letter he wrote entitled At the Beginning of the New Millennium. He began with a reflection on this very Gospel passage:
"At the beginning of the new millennium, and at the close of the Great Jubilee during which we celebrated the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus and a new stage of the Church's journey begins, our hearts ring out with the words of Jesus when one day, after speaking to the crowds from Simon's boat, he invited the Apostle to "put out into the deep" for a catch: "Duc in altum" (Lk 5:4).
"Peter and his first companions trusted Christ's words, and cast the nets."When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish" (Lk 5:6). Duc in altum! These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb 13:8).
The New Evangelization
These words reflect the dynamic living faith and indomitable missionary spirit which characterized the life and ministry of Saint John Paul II. He coined the phrase New Evangelization. Among the many writings and speeches throughout his pontificate wherein he used the phrase was his 1990 Encyclical Letter entitled Mission of the Redeemer which affirmed the permanent validity of the missionary nature of the Christian Church.
He wrote, "God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples".
He lived this mission until his final passing to the Father. His living faith was displayed to the whole world, confirming the great truth of the Gospel which he proclaimed and incarnated in a life of conformity to Jesus Christ.
His successor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, continued this call us to New Evangelization and regularly reminded us that this time in which we live as a new missionary age of the Church.
In his very first homily as Pope he also reflected on this Gospel passage.
"Peter's call to be a shepherd...comes after the account of a miraculous catch of fish... There too, the disciples had caught nothing the entire night; there too, Jesus had invited Simon once more to put out into the deep. And Simon, who was not yet called Peter, gave the wonderful reply: "Master, at your word I will let down the nets."
"And then came the conferral of his mission: "Do not be afraid. Henceforth you will be catching men" (Lk 5:1-11). Today too the Church and the successors of the Apostles are told to put out into the deep sea of history and to let down the nets, so as to win men and women over to the Gospel - to God, to Christ, to true life."
Church and Culture
Western culture is de-Christianized. Only the Church can carry out the needed evangelical work the West needs to avoid complete moral collapse. She is the Body of the Risen Christ, called to carry on His redemptive mission and continue His presence on this earth as a universal sign and sacrament. She is the missionary agent and - in the words of the fathers of the second Vatican Council - the seed and beginning of the kingdom of God. We must all cultivate a missionary spirit.We are all invited to put out into the deep and lower our nets for a catch.
The Catholic Church needs conversion at every level. She needs this new evangelization. Many Catholic Christians do not even know what their Church actually teaches. They have embraced what some have called a "cafeteria Catholicism"- choosing what parts of the faith they will follow. In some cases, a practical atheism is spreading, demonstrated by those who claim the title Christian and profess the ancient Christian Creed at Mass, but fail to live it during the rest of the week.
The Church is God's plan for every culture and for the entire world. The early Fathers called her the "world reconciled". We who bear the name Christian were reborn in Baptism as through a second womb and entrusted to the Church as mother. We now live our life in the Church. We may leave our buildings after we gather for Liturgy and Prayer but we never leave our communion with the Lord and, in Him, with one another for the sake of the world.
The Church has been weakened from within and is under attack from without. We cannot abandon the Church to the wolves within or without. The promise of the Master is still true "The gates of hell will not prevail" (Matt. 16:18). There is no "plan B" through which Jesus Christ will save this world. The Church is His Plan! She has undergone much purification throughout her two thousand years. Her hull may be battered but she is still the Ark of Salvation.
Saint Cyprian ( A.D. 258) proclaimed "He who has turned his back on the Church of Christ shall not come to the rewards of Christ; he is an alien, a worldling, an enemy. You cannot have God for your Father if you have not the Church for your mother." (On The Unity of the Catholic Church)
Church history demonstrates that seasons of purification are often followed by times of restoration and triumph for the Church. I believe it will be so in our day - in spite of what some may say. The Catholic Church is not a mere human institution. If it were, it would have shipwrecked long ago.
The Church is that Ark, the boat, presided over by the Lord. He is at the helm steering His redemptive course through time and providing the means of grace we all need to be set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2) in order to become new creations.(2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus says to those of us who have joined His family through our Baptism what he said to those frightened followers "Put Out Into the Deep, and lower your nets for a catch".
The contemporary culture has thrown off almost every remnant of Christian influence. It has embraced a new paganism. There is nothing progressive about the claims of the self styled progressives of this age. They spout the sophistry of an age that purports to be enlightened when it is stumbling in darkness, drunk on its own excesses and folly.
The embrace of license over liberty, death over life and the use and abuse of the goods of the earth over stewardship are all fueled by a counterfeit notion of freedom as a raw power over others and the delusion that freedom implies some feigned right to choose what is wrong. Such a freedom is a counterfeit and leads to what Jesus (John 8:34) and St Paul (Romans 6:20) rightly called the slavery of sin.
The rejection of even the existence of objective truth in an age deceived by a dictatorship of relativism has given rise to a practical atheism. It is not new. It is Eden's error rewritten. Our age rejected God and His plan for the human race. Contemporary humankind, like Cain, now wanders aimlessly in a land of Nod, East of Eden.
The United States of America consistently polls as one of the most religious of the Nations of the West but has little evidence of the influence of religious faith in its daily life. The moral philosopher Alasdair Macintyre once said that "the creed of the English is that there is no God but it is wise to pray to him from time to time." Let's be honest, this is now the creed of the whole of Western culture.
"Religion" is acceptable as long as it is kept "private". Christianity can never be "kept private". It must be given away in love. The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is profoundly public. Christian faith may be personal but it is not private. It proclaims a God who loves the world that He created so much that He wrote the universal laws governing all men and women into the fabric of a natural law.
The God who fashioned us out of the earth breathed his Life into us, making us in His Image. He invites us us to grow into His likeness. The epicenter of His Image within us is our capacity for freedom, our ability to choose. He now invites us to choose what is right and true. Christians insist some choices that are universally wrong and that there is an objective truth for all men and women, all cultures and all times. The new pagans find this offensive. However, its reassertion by a renewed Church, and its demonstration in our lives, will set freedom free.
Cultures formerly infused with a Christian culture, are now post-Christian and need to be "re- evangelized." We who live in America know firsthand the sadness of the loss of this Christian influence. Only a holy, vibrant faith filled Christian Church can bring this culture of death, use and darkness to a new conversion and transformation.
Put Out Into the Deep (Luke 5:4)
All of the faithful, men and women, lay, clergy and religious - ALL of the faithful - are members of the Body of Christ. In September of 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us that we are all "Co-Responsible" for the Church. That means we are responsible for participating in the work needed in the Church and by the Church. We all need to view ourselves as missionaries.
The mission of the Church is not reserved for a group of professionals, whether they be clergy or the growing "professional" lay faithful who seem to be multiplying in our ranks. Rather, it is the task incumbent on all of the Christian faithful.
Pope Francis continues the call to, "Put Out Into the Deep and Lower our nets for a Catch" we hear from Jesus in the Gospel text on which we are reflecting. In Francis, we have a missionary Pope like few in history. He has done nothing but evangelize from the moment he stepped out onto that balcony at St Peters. His words and his actions have set the tone for such a missionary age.He invites us to now participate, to put out into the deep and lower our nets for a catch.
We are called to live our baptismal vocation, completely given over to the work of the Lord, in the heart of the Church, for the sake of the world. The New Evangelization is meant to bring about an authentic renewal of the Church so that she can then undertake a new missionary outreach to the whole world. Only a Church fully alive in the Lord and filled with His Spirit can carry out such an evangelical mission.
The Church is the Ark, the boat, presided over by the Lord. The Lord Himself is at the helm, steering His redemptive course through time. The Lord of the harvest is calling workers for the New Evangelization and the new missionary age. He is sending us out on mission, fishing for men, women and Nations. He will work His saving and redemptive mission in and through us, because we are members of His Mystical Body, the Church.
I have said many times that I believe we are at the beginning of what will become a great resurgence in the Catholic Church. It can be seen even now, if we look with the eyes of living faith. Yes, even in these turbulent waters, the fish are ready and we are called to live in the boat of the Church and cast out the net to bring them all in. The Church is the home of the whole human race.
The beautiful, fresh and spirit filled message of Pope Francis continues the trajectory of his predecessors. His humility and manner is just what is needed to foment and inspire the new missionary age. Just when her opponents are ready to count the Catholic Church out, the sleeping giant is rising.
All Christians need to put out into the deep and lower our nets for a catch. All Christians are called to Evangelize. All Christians are missionaries.
Deacon Keith Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and six grandchildren, He serves as the Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Stephen, Martyr Parish in Chesapeake, VA. He is also a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate.
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