The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 138:1-5, 7-8
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 15:1-11
Gospel: According to St. Luke 5:1-11
I cannot hear the phrase “do not be afraid” without thinking of St. John Paul II. It was at the beginning of my sophomore year in college when a young cardinal from Poland became pope, and I remember exactly where I was on the day of his election, October 16, 1978. I was sitting in the study lounge of Grace Hall trying to translate some of Plato’s Republic when a friend rushed in to tell us “Habemus Papam!” – “We have a pope!” In his opening message Pope John Paul II spoke in Italian and so we were left to wait for a translation in the next day’s South Bend Tribune. Ironically, he mentioned that he was afraid to accept the nomination to the papacy, but that he answered the call out of obedience to Jesus and with trust in Mary.
John Paul spent the rest of his pontificate, the third longest in the history of the Church at almost 26 and a half years, telling the world “do not be afraid.” In that message he was repeating words that our Lord spoke almost two thousand years before. It is a message that comes through in John Paul’s encyclicals; in his writings – like the book Crossing the Threshold of Faith; and even on the CD Abba Pater. I have very little of what can be called ‘religious music’ in my collection, but years ago I played a hunch and bought Abba Pater, which presents music that has been composed as accompaniment to the words of John Paul and spoken by the pope himself.
The second piece on the album is “Cristo E Liberaziones,” “Christ Is Freedom.” In it John Paul quotes from today’s gospel – “Do not be afraid.” He then says something very interesting that is not from the gospel account: “Do not be satisfied with mediocrity.” This quote comes from a 1999 address to the young people of Europe at Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the burial site of the Apostle James the Great and destination of those on the Camino de Santiago.
Further on in his talk he exhorts these young pilgrims to be renewed in Christ:
Do not be afraid to be holy! Have the courage and humility to present yourselves to the world determined to be holy, since full, true freedom is born from holiness. This aspiration will help you discover genuine love, untainted by selfish and alienating permissiveness; it will make you grow in humanity through study and work…it will transform you from being 'slaves' of power, pleasure, money or a career, to being free young persons, 'masters' of your own life, ever ready to serve your needy brothers and sisters in the image of Christ the servant, to bear witness to the Gospel of love.
In his own way John Paul is saying the same thing to these young people as Jesus did when He said to Simon Peter, “Put out into deep water.” John Paul is encouraging young people to live lives of great depth, to turn their backs on the shallowness of lives that focus on power, pleasure, money and career. He is offering them a share in the Good News of the love that Christ brings into the world. He is urging them to be ‘fishers of men’ by their lives, lives that are not afraid to be holy.
The message of John Paul, based on that of Jesus, is not just for the young and not just for late 20th century Europeans. This is a universal message for all people, in all places, and in all times. When anyone is willing to get into a boat with Jesus and is told to row out to deep water the experience can be a bit frightening – no more so for us than it had to have been for that small group of Galilean fishermen. But in this, as in all things, if we follow in the footsteps of St. John Paul by being obedient to Jesus and trusting in Mary, then we have no reason to ever be afraid.