SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  1 COR 3:18-23; LK 5:1-11 ]We are constantly challenged to think out of the box; to dare to do things differently.  It is not good enough to maintain the status quo, even if we are doing well. This is true for evangelization and our pastoral ministry as well. But doing things differently involves taking risks, which many of us are averse to, because we lack creativity, or courage, or worse still, because of complacency or inertia. So we maintain the same old routine, the same old approaches, flogging the same old team, and playing by the same old rules. And of course we get disheartened, because we seem to be working a lot harder, day and night, and yet we seem to be getting nowhere. As if this is not bad enough, we pour cold water on the initiatives of those who try to do things differently, or introduce new programmes in an effort to revitalize our parishes or those groups under our charge. This explains why we are not growing, if not lagging behind.

The gospel tells us that we must, like St Peter, be willing to put out into the deep.  This is the advice of Jesus.  We are to take risks.  St Peter was invited to do just that.  He was asked to go beyond discipleship, to be an apostle.  It is within this context that today’s gospel speaks of Peter’s call to be Christ’s apostle in the proclamation of the kingdom.

What is it that truly prevents us from taking risks?  The primary obstacle is pride.  St Peter thought he knew all there was to know about fishing. And he thought that he had tried everything already, and there was no fish, so how could he accept that Jesus knew any more than he did.  Indeed, oftentimes we refuse to open our minds to learning from others, because we think we know best.  Pride makes us self-sufficient and leads us to think highly of ourselves. Without humility, we cannot learn from others.  But as St Paul says, “Make no mistake about it: if any one of you who thinks of himself as wise, in the ordinary sense of the word, then he must learn to be a fool before he really can be wise.  Why? Because the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.  As scripture says: “The Lord knows wise men’s thoughts: he knows how useless they are: or again: God is not convinced by the arguments of the wise.”

This was the same problem facing the Christians in Corinth.  They were clinging to Paul, Apollos and some leaders. As a result, the community became sectarian, each group seeing the others as competitors rather than collaborators.  Yet, Paul made it clear that they were not to be idolized because all that they had came from God.  They were mere servants and instruments for the Lord. There is nothing to boast about except the grace of God.  St Paul says, “So there is nothing to boast about in anything human: Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life and death, the present and the future, are all your servants; but you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.”

However, pride can also be manifested in the fear of failure.  We do not want to make mistakes.  We like to play safe and not get into trouble, especially with our superiors.  Too much is at stake.  Superiors are also partly to be blamed when subordinates do not take initiatives.  Our subordinates might perceive that we do not wish to rock the boat or change the status quo.  We are not open to new ways of doing things.  For this reason, we produce mediocre leaders and subservient subordinates, without any creativity or zeal.

However, it was faith that saved Peter.  He put out into the deep and the miracle of the fish happened.  It was so overwhelming an experience.  We are told that “… he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners.”  We too are called to trust in the Lord and take the risk. We are called to surrender our lives to Him so that He can work miracles in our lives. Faith is to believe in the impossible.  Faith is to trust in the inspiration of God.  Only when we surrender, can God work miracles in us.

How can this faith be nurtured?  Let us take a look at Peter. We are told that he was exposed to the ministry and person of Jesus.  He had witnessed how Jesus healed his mother-in-law and many who were sick.  But observation is not sufficient.  He was not yet ready to be more than a disciple of Jesus.  He saw the miracles, but was not converted from within, because it was not his personal conversion.

However in today’s incident, although Peter seemed to be disinterested when Jesus was preaching to the crowd, in truth, he was not simply hearing the teaching of Jesus.  He was contemplating all that Jesus said and did.  Whilst listening to Jesus’ preaching, he must have been recollecting all the things that Jesus had said and how He acted in His relationship with sinners, the poor and how He healed the sick.  He must have been contemplating deeply the message of Jesus for him as well. He was no traditionalist.  He was breaking the rules and the customs. He was not a slave to convention, but would reinterpret the practices and teachings more radically.  We too are called to contemplate how Jesus was always acting and thinking out of the box.  We must understand how Jesus was able to challenge the norms of His time.  He must have drawn courage from His faith in His Father.

This reflection prepared Peter for the miraculous catch.  By listening to the teaching of Jesus, Peter gradually gained faith in Jesus.  Indeed, the miracle happened because of Peter’s act of faith.  Through faith, Peter came to a profound experience of God and subsequently discovered himself, his pride and sinfulness.  Before Jesus, he recognized the divinity of Christ in Jesus.  Thus, “when Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me Lord; I am a sinful man.’“  In that personal experience, which came from contemplation and wonder, he found and experienced the presence of God.  It was beyond his imagination that God would take him personally and speak to him in such a personal way.

With that conversion, he was called to proclaim Jesus to the world.  He was ready to take risks in being His apostle, knowing that it would not be his strength but the power of God.  From that experience, he knew the Lord would work through him.  He knew nothing is impossible for God to work.  From that moment, “Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’  Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.”

We too, if we are to be true apostles of Christ and ready to take the risk of proclaiming the gospel in and out of season, without fear and with boldness, then we must encounter Jesus in a personal manner. We need to pray for a conversion experience, which entails a rediscovery of the mercy and love of God in Jesus for us, bringing about our personal transformation in the way we look at life.  It is this surprising advent of God’s grace into our lives that empowers us to proclaim the gospel as such – Good News – in a new, creative and dynamic manner.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore