Pastor’s Column February 9-10, 2019
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Our Gospel reading this weekend is one that is near and dear to my heart. It comes from the fifth chapter of St. Luke, verses 1 – 11. I proclaimed that very same Gospel about five and a half years ago, on Thursday, September 5, 2013 during the morning Mass as Parochial Vicar at St. Mary, Mother of Jesus parish in Bensonhurst. The words that begin that passage continue to reverberate in my mind. “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.”
After Mass, I hopped in my car and drove down Ocean Parkway from Avenue P to the Prospect Expressway to the Chancery as I did most every Thursday to my job as Vice-Chancellor for the Diocese. About an hour later I received a surprise visit from Bishop DiMarzio who popped into my office, sat down, and asked me how things were going. I told him how much I enjoyed my assignment at St. Mary’s, how after two years I was settling in and starting to know most of the people, how I had a great Pastor in Monsignor Andrew Vaccari who at one time was Chancellor for the Diocese and was a valuable resource and collaborator for that portion of my assignment, and how the Chancery was so conveniently close to the parish. In short, I said I was very happy.
Then the Bishop really surprised me by asking if I would be willing to become the Pastor at St. Mark and the Administrator at St. Margaret Mary parishes. My reaction was somewhat similar to Simon Peter’s hesitant response to Jesus: “‘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. […] 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.” I told the Bishop I was not sure I was ready. I had been in parish ministry just over two years. I already had a lot on my plate. I was comfortable where I was.
The Bishop reminded me I wasn’t getting any younger (I was 56 at the time), and that he thought I was the right person for that assignment. And I thought back to the homily I had given at Mass that morning when I told the people that God often calls us out of our comfort zones, and that when we put our faith and trust in Him and follow His commands, great things happen. I recalled the words of Jesus to Simon Peter, but with a slight twist, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men in Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach.” So I told the Bishop that if this is what he and the Lord wanted me to do, I was prepared to say yes and accept the new assignment. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Now my drive down Ocean Parkway to the Chancery is a little longer, from Avenue Z through the whole alphabet. But I have been and continue to be so greatly blessed to be your Pastor. But this should come as no surprise. God is the one who made each one of us for a unique role in His great plan of salvation. When we are able to say yes to Him and submit our will to His holy will, when we adopt His plan as our own for our life, when we trust in Him and rely on his grace and mercy, no matter what challenges we face we are richly rewarded. We need to follow the example of Simon Peter, James and John. “When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.”
-- Fr. Bob