Today I would like to share a personal experience with you, which is connected to this Gospel. Seven years ago (2012) I had reached a crisis point in my priesthood. I had been finding it more and more difficult to work as a priest in Ireland, as it had become very anti-Catholic, very hostile. Some priests weathered this better than others, but it was having a very negative effect on me. I wasn’t sure I could continue, even though I wanted to.
I asked my bishop if I could spend some time with the Dominican Fathers, and the he agreed. Their charism is more about preaching and teaching, which I have always felt called to. But after a year with them I still did not feel at home. I was praying a lot asking the Lord to guide me. I wasn’t sure if I had reached the end of the line, although I was convinced I had been called to be a priest.
It was around that time that I had an opportunity to visit a friend of mine in Naples, Florida, named Kelly Curry. He had been a Baptist minister and I had gotten to know him when I was working in Ireland, where he had a ministry. He had always been a tremendous support to me as a Catholic priest, which is not what you might expect. While I was there and in distress, we prayed together and he was also convinced that God was calling me to continue working as a priest.
One weekend I decided to go to the Saturday evening mass in the local church and then on Sunday to a Baptist service with him, more out of respect for him than anything else. Up to that point he had often come to mass with me.
The Gospel that day was today’s Gospel: ‘Put out into the deep for a catch.’ When the minister began to preach, what he said really spoke to my heart and Kelly said the same thing afterwards. The gist of what he said was this: “The disciples were professional fishermen. They knew their trade. Then this charismatic preacher, having finished speaking to the people, asks them to ‘put out into the deep’ and cast their nets again. As professionals they knew there were no fish that day. They had fished all night and the day was not the best time to fish. But so as not to offend the preacher, they reluctantly cast the nets. You can hear the hesitation in Peter’s voice, ‘We worked hard all night…but if you say so…’ Then the miracle takes place. They cast the nets and suddenly all the lines go tight and they literally catch a miraculous amount of fish. When Peter realizes what has happened he is afraid, because he realizes he is in the presence of someone great, or other-worldly. He reacts by saying, ‘Leave me Lord I am a sinful man’. Let me hide from you because I am just an ordinary sinner. But Jesus’ words are words of reassurance. ‘Do not be afraid.’”
The minister went on to say, “What the Lord was showing them was that He is in charge. He is master of the land and sky, the earth and the sea. He controls everything. They felt their work had been fruitless, a waste of time, but then Jesus shows them that He can bear fruit out of apparent failure. When everything seems to have come to an end, He can open new doors, totally unexpected doors. The miraculous catch was probably more than they had ever caught in their lives. What was Jesus saying to them except that He is the one who can make any work or situation bear fruit, even when it appears to be a failure. It doesn’t depend on our ability, rather on us being open to him.”
I really felt the Lord was saying to me, “Murchadh, you think your work has been fruitless, that you have come to the end of the line. Now you must trust me because I will make things happen that you could not have foreseen.”
Kelly and I were both amazed at what the preacher had said, as it seemed to be speaking specifically to me. I was greatly encouraged by these words. Shortly after that I began to wonder could I work in Florida, as the Church there seemed to be so much more up-beat and positive. As it happened Kelly knew one of the priests of the diocese. So I made an appointment to see him and I explained my predicament to him. He suggested I apply to the bishop and so I did. Long story short, both bishops agreed and here I am. When I thought everything was coming to an end, the Lord opened new doors that I did not even know were there. This also reminded me of the fact that the work I do is the Lord’s work, not mine. If it bears fruit—the miraculous catch—then it is because of him. My job is to try and be faithful and continue to listen to him. Why does God keep it all hidden from us until the last moment, because it strengthens our faith.
Now apply this to your own experience, to your own life. How many times have you come to what seems to be the end of the line. Things haven’t worked out and there seems to be no way forward? This is where the Lord asks us to pray and trust. He can do anything and open doors where we didn’t even think there were doors. With God there are always new possibilities and when we feel afraid of God because of our inadequacies, remember Peter’s reaction to Jesus: ‘Leave me Lord I am a sinful man.’ We want to run and hide, but remember Jesus’ response to him: ‘Do not be afraid.’