During the lovely month of February in South Bend, those of us who don’t have access to a condo in Florida and a way to get there can frequently find ourselves falling into a rut. Sleep, study, eat, repeat. Try to stay warm. Look for occasional sunlight sightings. Those of us who live off campus would add the following to this routine: Shovel. Hack at ice. Repeat.
I shouldn’t whine about South Bend; it’s too easy a target, and besides, you can grind along in a rut anywhere, regardless of the weather. In this Sunday’s gospel, Simon Peter has perhaps fallen into a rut of his own – and he fished each day on the beautiful Lake of Gennesaret in the greenest, most temperate region in Galilee, even in all of Israel. He may not have even noticed how pretty it was anymore. Fish, clean nets, sleep, repeat. Then, of course, Jesus came along to shake things up a bit.
A colleague of mine with whom I worked years ago in Brooklyn, New York, played softball on one of the many very competitive teams organized into leagues throughout the boroughs of New York City. He played center field and would always, always run in to try and catch a ball on the fly rather than hang back and play it on the bounce, even if he had to dive for it, even if his odds of actually catching it were small, even if it could end up careening over his head. When I asked if he found this strategy a little risky, he would always respond, “You gotta dare to be great.” Today, you can find that motivational phrase, and variations of it, on coffee mugs, t-shirts, key chains and web sites: “Dare to be yourself.” “Dare to do as many things as you dream of.” “Never be afraid to dare.” “Dare to err and to dream.”
OK, so they sound extra-cheesy all lined up next to each other. How about this on a bumper sticker? “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” If it doesn’t grab you, that’s all right; it didn’t do much for Simon Peter either. He protested as politely as he could, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” Simon’s response, the first-century version of “whatever,” indicates that he’s not daring to be great; he’s not experiencing the thrill of risk-taking; he’s not ready to step out of his comfortable habits. He follows Jesus’ request only because in all likelihood, something about Jesus intrigued Simon. He may have rolled his eyes as he got back in the boat, but he did as he was told.
And suddenly, into those empty nets, into that routine that had become, well … routine, came staggering amounts of fish. Imagine the nets tearing; frantic, frenzied fish writhing and jumping; experienced, veteran fishermen all but panicking; boats so filled with fish they nearly sank. Simon hadn’t really made any radical changes to his life (though that will come next). He simply did what he had always done; he fished, but now newly attuned to Christ’s presence in his life.
And then, ironically, after perhaps his best single day ever in the fishing business, Simon brought the boats to the shore, and he, James and John left everything and followed Jesus.
You may think you’ve got this Notre Dame thing down pat. You’ve been here just over one, three, five, seven (or more) semesters and you know how to approach everything from papers to parties, from early-morning classes to late-night studying. Simon had fished that lake a hundred times and thought he knew all he needed to know about it, yet with one short proposition Jesus opened his mind to see the same lake with brand new vision, and he was astonished.
Thomas Merton wrote that every moment and each event of our lives plants something in our souls, but that most of these tiny new seeds of life simply die because we, with our lack of awareness, cannot receive them.
When was the last time you “put out into deep water?”
We may not need to change a thing about our lives except our visions of them, or we may find that our new vision demands change. Either way, why would we want simply to toil away in familiar routines for no better reason than the fact that this time of year lends itself to a numbing of our senses? Christ speaks to us each day in the midst of the very routines of our lives, just as he spoke to Simon after a long night’s work. If we, by our genuine desire for a greater awareness of God, allow each moment to plant a seed in our hearts, we ought to prepare to be astonished.
This week’s Faithpoint column was written by Kate Barrett, Director of the Emmaus Program in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.