The Penitent Saint Peter (detail) by Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1645)
Carlos Caso-Rosendi

Recently, I had a conversation with three smart Catholic friends and part of that conversation revolved around Saint Peter. It was a good opportunity to plug my next book, the long announced They Asked For A Sign — Meaning And Destiny Of Peter The Fisherman. Fortunately, that informal conversation was recorded in two parts (due to some connection issues) and you can watch both videos in the YouTube Channel, The Garden Shed. It was Paul Priest who introduced a very interesting point about the life of Saint Peter, a point that should have been central to my long promised book but I somehow missed:  Peter was already a leader of a small group of fishermen that included at least three of the Apostles of Christ: Andrew, and the Zebedee brothers, John and James.

After this introduction and before going any further, I want to thank those who contributed with prayers and financial help so that this blog can continue existing. July is the most expensive month of the year. That is when the various annually paid services are due such as antivirus, VPN, hosting, various URL registrations that add a pretty penny to the regular monthly bills. Thanks to the generosity of about half a dozen friends, I was able to meet those compromises and add a bit to the security of the site. I ask all of you for your prayers and to those who can afford it for a regular small (or large!) contribution. Your help is a gift to all those who read this blog. Please join me in praying for the intentions of all those who helped, God bless them.

Parables made of something more than words

I think it was Arthur Schopenhauer (which I mistyped ‘Goethe’ when I wrote this piece in the morning fog. Thank you, kind reader for the correction) who advanced the idea of the The World as Will and Representation. In fact, one of his great works Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, is called that way. Of course Schopenhauer’s ideas are not connected to the life of Saint Peter but I would like to rescue from that title the intuition that Logos seems to constantly communicate in parables. A parable is a model or representation of something unfamiliar presented or reduced to familiar terms: “The Kingdom of the Heavens is like a mustard seed …” and the Logos Incarnate did exactly that: He spoke in parables all the time.

“I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old…” (Psalms 78:2)

and later in the New Testament we find this witness:

All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:34-35)

But if we dig a little deeper, we find some other kind of parable. This well known part of the Old Testament will give you an idea. Read Psalm 19:1-5: …

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

Hidden in the meaning of this Psalm is the idea that the heavens above (Saint Jerome translates that as ‘dome’) represents the glory of God, declaring knowledge without actually speaking. The visible universe is therefore, a great parable meant to show the glory, the beauty and power of the Almighty Creator who made us all. Simply meditate for a few minutes in the size of space as we know it now, the uncountable numbers of stars revealed by our telescopes, and then try to calculate the energy required to keep the nuclear furnaces that have made those trillions of stars shine since the beginning of creation. That should give you an idea of the power and wisdom of God, our God. That is certainly the idea that inspired the psalmist to write Psalm 104:1-4 …

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make messengers like the wind,
and your ministers like a flame of fire.

It should not surprise anyone to find that the whole of human history is a giant parable meant for the instruction of the human race, isn’t it? Now imagine the mind of Logos (if that is even possible) at a time previous to His incarnation. In Spanish we used to call Him by a most beautiful combination of words: “El Verbo Encarnado”  meaning more or less, “The Word Made Flesh.” I present to you the idea that the redemption of mankind is an extension of the creative work of Logos. The Douay-Rheims Bible puts it this way: “Jesus answered them: My Father worketh until now; and I work.” (John 5:17)

Could we guess that the Logos Incarnate prepared the New Israel, his Church in a way similar to the creation of that blessed woman who was going to be the instrument of his incarnation? Again, the Douay-Rheims Bible presents that idea in this way: “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast protected me from my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13) and here, after this long preamble, we make the connection to Paul Priest’s brilliant intuition: that Peter was already the leader of the fishermen when Jesus meets him for the first time by the shores of Sea of Galilee. Read Luke 5:1-4 …

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’

Those two boats are there for a reason. From eternity, the Logos had somehow disposed things so those two boats would be there. One way to decode this visual parable is to see the boats as representing one the old religious system, and Simon’s boat representing the New Israel, the Church. There we find the Church is its elemental form. Like the ovule that waits to be impregnated with life. And Life Himself comes aboard! So He can speak  and be heard by the crowd, Jesus asks Peter to put a little way from the shore. In that way, the crowd does not press on Rabbi Jesus and the calm water can be used as a natural amplifying device.

The scene is reminiscent of Genesis: God’s Spirit hovering over the water before the beginning of Creation: the New Creation is afoot. The words reach the crowd but we know they reached at least one heart: Simon’s. We do not know for sure what was Jesus’ sermon that morning but we know it was like the first morning of Creation when God began to make things using only words. With that in mind, please read verses 5 through 11.

Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;  and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

In the beginning of Creation we are told that all was chaos and the Spirit of God hovered over the deep. Light was not created yet. Simon informs Jesus that the fishermen have worked all night for naught. Simon and his men work at night when it is hard for the fish to detect the silhouette of the boat floating overhead. The night hours are the natural ally of the fishermen. A reminder of how the old Mosaic Law confronted the reality of sin in its own terms: an “eye for an eye …” until the body plunges into darkness. The Old Law combats fire with fire, death with death. But the New Law of the Gospel is here to put an end to the infancy of Israel. The time has come to grow up and conquer the world. The great universal destiny of Israel is here: “For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” (Isaiah 56:7) Here is when light enters the New Creation as announced by the prophet Isaiah: “The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen.” (Isaiah 9:2, Douay-Rheims) And the very creator of light commands Simon and his men: “Take us into the deep!”

Simon did as he was told but he let Rabbi Jesus know that they had worked all night without success. The parable that Jesus is writing on history is clear: the reality of sin is impossible to overcome without his help. The darkness of sin does not profit a man as it turns out to be sterile, fruitless like Simon’s work that night. But the events are working inside Simon’s heart. He must have wondered: “Who is this man? He speaks things that can only be true, no deception, all clarity. He seems to be talking about me but I can see others may be feeling the same. How does he know me? Why did he climb aboard my boat?” With thoughts and questions like that in his heart, he dropped the nets. As soon as they were at depth they felt the pull of a huge number of fish. The boats filled with precious cargo, the impossible has just happened. Perhaps Simon remembered the prophecy of Ezekiel 47:10 about the Age of the Messiah, when even the Dead Sea will produce abundant fishing:

“Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds — like the fish of the Great Sea.”

Simon does the math: “I thought this man could be the Messiah, and now I know He is!”

There, in front of his men, he kneels before Jesus. All the darkness of his brutal, primitive struggle to survive in that unforgiving land fills his heart with sorrowful repentance. Not daring to look at the Rabbi eye to eye, Simon says: ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’  Simon calls Jesus “Lord” as if echoing the words that God will place in his lips three years later by the shores of Caesarea Philippi: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

The response is pure light: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people alive.” Because the Logos knew that moment from the beginning of creation. It simply makes sense: the parable was uttered without a single word. The Earth wandered in space and the Moon called the high and the low tide century after century even before mankind existed. The beach waited for Jesus and Simon to meet, for light to surprise darkness in the heart of the fisherman. Finally, with his destiny sealed, Simon is there, happily caught in Jesus’ net, ready to go to the depths of our humanity and redeem the world.