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Homily for February 6, 2022 – The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fr. Stephen Muller, OCSO

The 5th Friday in Ordinary Time

(Is 6:1-2a, 3-8, 1Cor 15:1-11, Lk 5:1-11)

I know very little about sailing but I often think of the image of letting the Holy Spirit fill one’s sails. I think a lot of us can choose to leave our sail furled and paddle or row instead.

There must be a real thrill to sailing because many people are very passionate about it. I recently read an article online about a guy named Dustin Reynolds who was the first double amputee to sail around the world. It took him seven years and he had many adventures. He lives in Hawaii and in 2008 he got hit on his motorcycle by a drunk driver. He lost his left arm and leg. I admire the way he didn’t fall into the role of “victim” but got out and lived life to the full despite his injuries.

Anyway, I guess the basics are that you’re on the water in a boat, and the boat has a mast, a sail, and a rudder for steering. If the sail is spread out, the wind can catch it, and then all you have to do is steer. If you don’t want the wind to fill the sail or sails then you roll them up and tie them. Sometimes there is no wind. As we remember from St. Paul’s adventures, sometimes there is too much wind!

In the Hebrew language, the word RUAH conveniently has three meanings: breath, wind, and spirit. So, traces of God’s Spirit – or the Holy Spirit – can be found even in the Old Testament. When we think of allowing God to fill our sails it just kind of fits to allocate that to the Holy Spirit.

Allowing God to fill our sails involves teamwork. He is not going to force himself on us against our will. The wind is there available but we can choose to ignore it and rely on our own resources instead. Paddling or rowing is so much more arduous and slower. And of course, there is always the choice to do nothing and not move in life or just drift. Putting up our sails can be kind of scary and unsettling. You never know where the Holy Spirit might take you or require of you. This is where the image breaks down a bit because in sailing you have the rudder and you’re in control of where you’re going, but in the spiritual realm, it’s better to allow the Wind to take you where it wants. I guess real life is a combination of having your hand on the rudder but also being sensitive to where the Holy Spirit would like to lead you. Yes, it’s teamwork – but more God than us. We do the work of putting up the sails and steering but it’s the wind that is powering the vessel.

The above image of sailing again came to my mind as I pondered over today’s gospel reading. Peter could have remained a very insignificant fisherman in Galilee and been soon forgotten after his death. Instead, he allowed God to use him and now, 2,000 years later, he is still known throughout the world and has been the inspiration for so many.

I marvel at how charismatic Jesus must have been. The people were captivated, mesmerized, by his preaching and teaching. They flocked to him. They followed him around. They abandoned whatever other things they were doing. He was so magnetic that they pressed in to get closer to him. They didn’t want to miss a word. The crush of a crowd can be dangerous. Jesus deftly hit on a solution with Peter’s boat. It was perfect. His voice bounced and amplified off the water. The crowds were sloping gradually upwards on the banks like an amphitheater. Everyone could see him. Jesus could sit down and not get weary and speak longer, but still be seen. Maybe the crowds were sitting too.

Then, afterwards, Jesus, never outdone in generosity, and wanting to repay Peter for being able to use his boat as a pulpit, tells him to put out into deeper water and let down their nets. It’s when God is in our sails that things happen. Left to their own devices Peter and his companions caught nothing that night. At Jesus’ request, they could have objected and said it was the wrong time of day to catch fish. In fact, he did put up some resistance. I think nighttime was the most likely time to catch fish, not the middle of the day. But Peter obeyed instead of stubbornly insisting that this was his trade and he knew more about fishing than Jesus did.

And the results were astounding. So much so that Peter is blown away. “Depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.” God can use a humble person. If Peter’s attitude would have been that of entitlement – like, “Dang! Aren’t I a good fisherman, Jesus? You are really lucky to have me on your team!” – then Jesus would have passed him over.

Jesus’ response was, “Peter, you’re not dreaming big enough. Your current dreams and plans for your life are just about catching these paltry fish. My dreams for you are so much bigger. If you abandon yourself to my plans for you, you could be catching immortal souls instead – tons of them! This large catch of fish today will come to seem like nothing. Your dreams are too shallow, Peter. Put out into the deep.”

God meets us where we are – in our profession, in what we do best – and makes use of it to catch souls. Of ourselves, we cannot hope for much results. Our dreams are small. With God in our sails, the sky is the limit.