Last Sunday I fulfilled my Sunday obligation at a Traditional Latin Mass. The gospel for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost is the calling of Simon, as he was then known, to his true vocation: a fisher of men. It’s a compelling story. It no doubt has many and varied lessons, but I would like to focus on those that relate to detachment from the world to better embrace the Kingdom of God.
In the story we see the primary evangelical counsel that supports detachment: obedience. And Simon’s response to our Lord’s requests show us why Jesus picked him as the foundation of His Church: Simon was already surprisingly holy.
Although I have no idea about Simon’s past, I suspect he grew up in a fisherman’s household. Fish oil probably ran in his veins. He and his partners knew their work — they were professionals.
Simon and his coworkers are dog tired after a fruitless night on the job, looking to tidy up and get home for some sleep. Along comes Jesus with a crowd and asks (actually He demands) to use one of the boats for a podium. Good grief! But Simon, who must have already recognized the holy authority of Christ, acquiesces.
Then Christ really pushes His luck. A carpenter (who maybe dabbled at fishing in His spare time) tells a professional fisherman to head back out into a lake devoid of fish and drop the nets. If Christ had been anyone else, Simon would’ve no doubt suggested a long walk down a short pier. As it was he protested that he knew better than to do such a silly thing, but would do it on Jesus’ say-so.
Two tiresome acts of obedience in one morning. But the result is life-changing. Because a professional knows a miracle when he sees one. And Simon knows that as much as he worked to be faithful to God, he’s now in over his head and it scares him.
And then we come to the most incredible part of the whole story: detachment from all that has defined Simon’s life up to this point to follow God as completely as possible.
These professional fishermen have just taken a haul of fish so immense that the boats are in danger of being swamped. When was the last time that happened? Probably never. The profit on that one outing could have carried them for a whole season, or more. It would be a day never to be forgotten, but it was. At the command of Jesus, Simon just walks away from the most significant event of his professional life.
It seems unlikely that God is asking very many of us to do likewise, but I think it behooves each of us to contemplate whether we are capable of such obedience. The detachment required for such obedience is the goal of our earthly lives. (It is more than a little ironic that we often don’t figure that out until we have already formed a large number of attachments.)
As I knelt at the altar rail to receive God, I used those few seconds before the priest reached me to imagine myself bereft of all that I have. Would I still be faithful? Before I could answer myself, the priest arrived. It remains a useful thought experiment. What or who are we most fond of in this life? What would life be like for us without it or them? Would we rail against God or follow Him in obedience?