Preached at St. Kilian Parish on February 10, 2019 at the 12:00pm and 5:00pm Masses
A young man was having trouble driving through a bad snow storm, until he remembered what his father told him, that if he ever had trouble driving in snow, he should just pull off and wait for a snow plow and then follow it, so he pulled off the road and waited. In a short while a snow plow drove by and so the young man pulled out and followed it. After an hour of driving around, the snow plow driver was fed up and got out of his truck to ask why he was being followed. The young man explained what his father had told him about what to do if he had trouble driving in snow. “OK,” replied the snow plow driver, “I’m done with the Walmart parking lot now, but if you want you can follow me to Target.” “Sure,” the young man replied, “but after that, could you swing by the Hallmark store? It’s Valentine’s Day and I need to pick up a card for my wife.”
Like that man in the snow, today’s gospel is about being a follower. I must confess that I myself am not very good at being a follower. Since I have been assigned to St. Kilian, I do a lot of following. I travel Route 228 all the way from Route 8 to get here, which is single lane with no passing. I’m always following someone. There used to be small two-lane sections that allowed passing, but they turned them into construction zones. So very often as I make my way to Mass, I am usually in a long line of vehicles following behind some child of God who is driving at a pace much slower than I, or anybody other driver for that matter, would have selected. But when I go to Holy Sepulcher, Route 8 is a four-lane highway. I don’t have to follow anyone if I don’t want to, and I get to do my own thing and go my own speed.
Many people find it tough being a follower, I know, they’ve passed me on Route 8 and 228. We have trouble following people in line at the store, waiting for seating at a restaurant, ordering tickets online for Hamilton, exiting the parking lot after Mass. We want to be first. When you are a follower, you are not first. We want to be leaders, not followers. I work at PNC and when a new project starts, many people ask to be the project leader, but nobody says, “Make me the project follower.” Colleges and universities have programs and schools of leadership, but not one of them show you how to be a good follower. We are not trained to be good followers. But if you want to be a good follower, you only need to learn from the example of the disciples in today’s gospel.
The disciples lived in the moment. They gathered enough water for each day and ate that days’ catch of fish. They didn’t have a faucet or a refrigerator that allowed them to have a backup supply of food and water. The just worried about the day at hand. Our conveniences make it possible for us to worry about what’s next in our day: deadlines, meetings, appointments, practices, homework, and what’s next in our lives: graduation, college, career, starting a family, and if you’re like me, you think about retirement – a lot. It’s hard to live in the moment, especially if you have a phone. Often you see friends or family together at a restaurant or at the mall, wherever, and everyone is staring at their phones, nobody is enjoying the moment together. If the Lord offers us an invitation to go fishing with him, we might be too busy to go, or if we do go, too preoccupied to enjoy the moment. Our Lord wants us to simply be in the moment, because he is taking care of the future.
Sometimes we dwell on the past. We may think with nostalgia about a time we felt things were better – like when we were younger and had hair! – or maybe we think back to a time that we made a bad decision or committed a grave sin and can’t get over it. In today’s gospel, after the miraculous catch of fish, Peter falls at Jesus’ feet and confesses his sinfulness and our Lord simply says, “Do not be afraid.” We don’t need to worry about the past, because once we confess something, our Lord has forgotten it, and whatever happened in our past the Lord has used to help prepare us for today. As the Lord tells the disciples, “From now on you will be catching men.” Their past prepared them for a future they never imagined.
After speaking to the crowds, Jesus asked Peter to go out into deep water and lower his nets to catch fish. This was after a long night of fishing in which the apostles had caught nothing, and they had already begun cleaning their nets to go home for the day. There are many times in our lives when the Lord is nudging us to trust him, to make a difficult decision, to follow him down a certain path, maybe even a very difficult path, and often at a time we feel is inconvenient. When those times come, we must trust the Lord, even when it seems it will lead to nothing or is going nowhere, like we’re stuck in a parking lot somewhere. We need to have the faith to lower our nets for the large catch the Lord has in store for us, even when it seems impossible or crazy. Being a follower of Jesus, we should respond like the disciples, “At your command I will lower the nets.”
After the miraculous catch of fish, the apostles were probably thinking, “Holy mackerel!” or perhaps “Holy carp!” or “Holy tilapia!” (the actual types of fish in the Sea of Galilee, or the Lake of Gennesaret as Luke refers it). Their ship had come in – or their two boats had come in – and they were so heavy with fish that they were in danger of sinking. They were set to make a fortune. Yet the gospel says, “When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.” They left the fish, their boats, their newly made fortune, and the life they had chosen for themselves to follow Jesus to the new life he had prepared for them. They were people of faith, completely trusting their future to the Lord.
The apostles in today’s gospel were not followers of Jesus until this event took place. They became followers. We can become better followers of Jesus by following the disciples’ example: living in the moment and following the Lord wherever he is leading us, just like the man following behind the snow plow. Whatever roads we travel in life, if we follow our Lord with complete trust and faith, not going our own way, he will clear the roads in front of us, our lives will be transformed, and miraculous things begin to happen. And if we lower our nets when he commands us, he will lead us to the ultimate catch – everlasting life in heaven!
Rejoice and be glad!