The Feast of St Gregory the Great on September 3 brings with it a wonderful Gospel reading. The account of the ‘great catch’ at the beginning of chapter five of St Luke’s Gospel is a powerful image of the evangelising Church. Jesus sits in Simon Peter’s boat in order to be seen and heard by the crowds on the shore. He then tells the fisherman to put out his nets once more, even though they had been fishing all night and caught nothing.
“But if you say so…” This is what distinguishes the simple fisherman who will become Peter: he leaves room for the divine initiative, even though human reasoning might tell him that something is impossible. The times he forgets to do this are recorded in painful detail: Peter sinking as he tries to walk on water, Peter receiving the terrible rebuke “Get thee behind me Satan!” when he tries to argue Our Lord out of walking into the nets of his enemies. Not to mention the denial of his master, just before cockcrow, in the dark dawn of Good Friday. All these bits of unflattering biography remind us that the first pope was a fallible man whose authority is drawn from Christ, not from his own resources. He himself must have wished us to know this, or these Gospel accounts would not have survived.
Perhaps the most important thing to take away from the best exemplars of papal holiness, such as St Gregory, is that command of Christ’s after he has finished preaching. Whatever storms assail the barque of Simon Peter, the sight of those nets full to bursting point with fish was surely intended by Our Lord to remind us of the one thing necessary: “Duc in altum!” Put out into the deep.
Leonie Caldecott is the editor of MAGNIFICAT UK and Ireland
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