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The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C
There is the old saying that faith is not taught but is something that can be caught. Today’s gospel story (Luke 5: 1-11) is about catching fish. Some people catch fish to sell or feed their families. Others catch fish for sport and then throw the fish back to the water.
The gospel was written in Greek and the word “zogrein,” which means catching, conveys the idea of giving people life and then helping them to stay alive. Jesus said to Simon Peter, who was a fisherman, that he and others would be catching people — to give them life.
Most religions have doctrines and rules that are meant to guide us through life’s labyrinths. But even though we responsibly teach those commandments in our schools and faith formation programs they cannot make us live in a certain way. How is the gift of faith put into practice?
Inspirational speaker and theologian, Judy Landrieu Klein, wrote: Catholicism has been “caught” for two thousand years … through the habits of a living Church that hands on its living faith via time-honored practices that grow organically and culturally throughout history.
“Catching” is a method for evangelization — sharing the good news of the gospel. This does not mean converting people to Catholicism. It does mean finding ways to change lives, to celebrate God’s love, and to serve others as Jesus did. 
When the elite men of Israel rejected Isaiah’s call to practice social justice (6:1-2a, 3-8) the prophet felt he was doomed. God asked: Well whom shall I send to make things better? Isaiah heard the angels sing out “the earth is full of God’s glory!” Isaiah, his lips burning with a new desire to serve, answered God: “Here I am send me!”
Simon Peter also felt he was not up to the task. He objected to Jesus. I am not sure I can do what you are asking me to do. Paul, admitted the same thing years before this gospel “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle.” (1 Corinthians 15: 1-11)
Evangelical Lutheran pastor Amy Ziettlow offers some assurance: “As we ponder our own lives of discipleship, we may resonate with Simon [Peter] in questioning our ability to follow Christ and serve … Let us take heart that Christ is with us [and] will equip us with what we need.”
We need a lot of help these days because many fish are swimming away and cannot be caught by dogmatic decrees. However, by our example we can encourage others to catch on to a lifestyle built around the social gospel. The world is broken; people are falling through the cracks; they are looking for lifelines. Can religion respond to their hunger for help?
The research tells us Christian denominations in the United States are showing signs of wear and tear. The Evangelical and Pentecostal churches that thrived in recent decades are experiencing dwindling memberships.
Some surveys reveal that more people call themselves spiritual but not religious. The numbers of those who claim no religious affiliation are growing. About 33% of Americans say they do not pray at all. No matter what the reason the fish are swimming away.
Although the pandemic surely has had something to do with lower in-person attendance at weekly worship it cannot be entirely blamed. While 21% of U.S. adults call themselves Catholic the overall exodus from organized religions has been a slow but steady phenomenon. This is true especially in countries that were fundamentally founded on bible based teachings and powerful charismatic religious pioneers.
Many Christians today are disillusioned with their clergy. Some people anguish over the pedophile scandal. Others feel left out, disenfranchised, because of archaic rules and an exclusive patriarchal hierarchy. Still others are troubled by polarizations within their own congregations. All religions including ours are need of major adjustments in order to survive and continue to serve those in need.
God asked Isaiah for help. Jesus called ordinary people to follow him. We have been summoned to carry on that mission. We go deeper into the sea, to toss the nets of our faith wider and farther to catch new fish and seek out the ones that swam away. Our strategy is to steady our boats, to fill our nets with people who have been hurt not only by religion but who suffer because of dictatorial regimes around the world.
As our nets fill to breaking, so do our hearts burst open to those sisters and brothers brought to us by the compassion and love of Christ. When we practice what we preach the life and mission of Jesus fills our nets — and our lives — with abundance, new hope, and resilience.
1. See Go Make Disciples: A National Plan & Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the US. USCCB, Washington, DC, 2002