Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting Out Into The Deep
August 8, 2012
In his pastoral plan for the Third Christian Millennium, Blessed John Paul II denominated “Put into the Deep” as the motto for the Church for the next thousand years.
Like St. Peter at the seashore in Galilee, even if we’re fatigued, even if we think we won’t catch fish in deep water in daylight when normally fish are caught in shallow water at nighttime, we’re called, with trust in Christ’s words, to launch anew into the depths and lower our nets for a catch.
This motto is a summons to a New Evangelization, to a bold new attempt to cooperate with the Lord in bringing Him and His saving Gospel to others.
It is a courageous act of faith that, even when human wisdom and other factors portend a failure, as did the Carpenter’s advice to the professional fisherman on the Galilean Sea, we, like Peter, don’t hesitate to put our trust in a higher wisdom and at the Lord’s command lower our nets.
That’s why, back in 2004, when I first began writing for The Anchor, I chose this imperative of the Master as the title of a new column, hoping that, together with John Paul II, all of us in the Diocese of Fall River, thinking with the Church, would act audaciously with the whole mystical body in casting out the nets.
I’ve always been struck by the fact that our diocese boasts by far the largest commercial fishing port in the United States and I think that New Bedford’s excellence should be a particular inspiration for us as we ponder the command Christ has given St. Peter and us. If the faithful of the Diocese of Fall River were to work as hard in fishing for friends and family, neighbors and colleagues as New Bedford commercial fishermen work to catch flounder, haddock, tuna and cod, we could easily become the top “Christian fishing port” as well.
Anyone driving by New Bedford Harbor sees hundreds of boats regularly launching out and — despite all types of obstacles from onerous government regulations —returning with catches far bigger than Peter’s on the Sea of Galilee. In my time as a pastor in the Whaling City, I met hundreds of gutsy, gritty fishermen who gave new meaning to the expression “hard workers.” They’d head out for long trips to the deep waters of the Atlantic, laboring not only through grueling shifts but also in difficult and often dangerous conditions brought out by storms and seasons. They would invariably return from their expeditions exhausted from many days of back-breaking work. Anyone who has ever watched “The Deadliest Catch” on the Discovery Channel would easily understand why.
When Jesus calls us to be fishers of men, He’s calling us to a similar type of courage and tenacity. Jesus isn’t summoning us to the spiritual equivalent of taking a small motorboat out on a placid pond on a crisp, sunny day, with a rod in one hand and a beer in the other, mildly hoping that some fish decide to bite. The mission He has given us is not meant to be a recreational sport or hobby! He’s calling us to the type of commitment we see in the pescadores of New Bedford.
That’s what this column is about. It’s an opportunity to feature those who put out into the deep in living and spreading the faith, like saints old and new, canonized or hidden. It’s about inspiring figures who seek to live with heroic virtue. It’s about the challenge given to all of us by those who do.
I’m very grateful to Father Richard Wilson, the new executive editor of The Anchor, for his invitation to resume this column, which I wrote from 2004-2005 and from 2007-2010. It’s always been a joy for me to write these articles, because they allow me to describe the “good news” that is active, alive and incarnated in so many men and women, boys and girls, near and far, present and past.
The future Pope Benedict said back in 1985, “The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb.”
I’ll have a chance next week to focus on the importance of the art the Church has generated, but mainly this column will continue to be dedicated to the saints in the broad sense, those inspiring personalities who give witness to the joy of the faith lived to the full.
“Every crisis the Church faces is a crisis of saints,” St. Josemaria Escrivà once said, and Church history has proven him correct. The greatest bait, the greatest nets, we have in carrying out the Lord’s command to fish for others is the luminous example of God radiating through those in true communion of love and life with Him.
“Today, for the faith to grow,” Cardinal Ratzinger said in Rimini in 2002, “we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.” Notice the capital “B.” This insight is crucial with regard to the upcoming events of the Year of Faith and the Synod on the New Evangelization and the Transmission of the Faith, both of which will take place in October.
The future pope was saying that it’s through our and others’ encounter with the holiness of the saints that we come into contact with the most beautiful reality of all, God Who is holy, holy, holy. Mother Teresa, with all her wrinkles, Damien de Veuster with his leprous sores, and John XXIII with his rotund physique attract more by the perennial supernatural beauty of their holy lives than supermodels with all their natural beauty, make-up and air-brushing. And it’s through contact with the beauty of God in this way that we grow in faith and become instruments of God to help the faith grow in others.
So let’s get down to work and together throw The Anchor into the deepest and most beautiful water of all.