Wunderbarer Fischzug, Workshop of Jacob Jordaens, 1640

Translation of the Epistle for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Brethren: I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us. For the eager longing of creation awaits the revelation of the sons of God. For creation was made subject to vanity – not by its own will but by reason of Him Who made it subject – in hope, because creation itself also will be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God. For we know that all creation groans and travails in pain until now. And not only it, but we ourselves also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit – we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption as sons of God, the redemption of our body, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Continuation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke

At that time, while the crowds were pressing upon Jesus to hear the word of God, He was standing by Lake Genesareth. And He saw two boats moored by the lake, but the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. And getting into one of the boats, the one that was Simon’s, He asked him to put out a little from the land. And sitting down, He began to teach the crowds from the boat. But when He had ceased speaking, He said to Simon, Put out into the deep, and lower your nets for a catch. And Simon answered and said to Him, Master, the whole night through we have toiled and have taken nothing; but at Your word I will lower the net. And when they had done so, they enclosed a great number of fishes, but their net was breaking. And they beckoned to their comrades in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw this, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish they had made; and so were also James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, Do not be afraid; henceforth you shall catch men. And when they had brought their boats to land, they left all and followed Him.

The Saving Words of the Gospel.

“Do not be afraid, henceforth thou shall catch men.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Transcription of Sermon

This beautiful Gospel from Chapter 5 of St. Luke is a lesson in the beginning of a vocation, and the beginning of the path of sanctification, through the three conversions of the interior life. In this one, we see the beginnings of the first conversion in the life of Saint Peter.

I would just call your attention to a couple of words, one that’s used, one that’s not used. For fishing, Luke uses a rare form of the verb ζογρον (zogron), which is interesting because it has a very particular meaning and, therefore, is not often used for fishing. It means to capture alive. So, this is what the Romans would do when they would go to the forest and to the wilderness to take animals alive to bring back to the Colosseum or to zoos. Well, that’s the word used here when Our Lord tells Peter that He’s going to make him a fisher of men who would take men alive as opposed… so, with a net as opposed to with a hook, which takes them dead and that’s a totally different verb ἁλιεύς (halieus) which is the normal verb for fishing. Well, He uses Greek ζογρον to take them alive and, obviously, the Church Fathers make much of this distinction, this particular usage of the word, because they’re not only taking them alive, they’re also taking them to give them… Peter and the apostles… taking men alive to give them new life in Christ.

And indeed, to follow the same pattern of three conversions, which all of tradition recognizes, whether it’s the Eastern Fathers or the Western Fathers, we see them identifying three stages of the interior life, often called the purgative, the illuminative, and the unitive. And there isn’t really a graduation ceremony from one to the next. Rather, the passage from one to the next is a painful experience of conversion, of a deepening conversion.

If we have these three stages of the interior life, purgative, illuminative, and unitive, well, St. Teresa of Ávila helps us to redefine this with a little more clarity in her Interior Castles. A book I recommend, The Interior Castles of St. Teresa of Ávila, your reading assignment for this next week. And in it, we see those three stages then expressed in the seven mansions of Teresa of Ávila. And if that’s not enough, there are nine degrees of prayer.

And the symptomology of… whether you are going to follow the three stages or the seven mansions…the symptomology of where one finds oneself in this spiritual itinerary is going to be determined by two things; degree of prayer and degree of virtue. These are the two, so to say, the two rails of the interior life. And one rail doesn’t go ahead of the other. They always go together. How virtuous I am is going to be determined by the degree of my prayer. How deeply I pray is going to be freed up, or hindered, by my life of virtue.

Now, this is the first conversion of St. Peter. There’s a wonderful tiny little book, somewhat dense, by one of the greatest Thomistic scholars of the last century, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, called the Three Conversions of the Interior Life, the Three Conversions, and it’s a condensation of his two-volume work, the Three Ages of the Interior Life. Well, the first conversion is this scene right here in Luke 5. The next conversion, his passage from purgative into illuminative, it takes place in Matthew 16 at Caesarea Philippi, and then entrance in the union, the mystical life, happens at Pentecost in the life of Peter.

In the early stages of the purgative phase of the interior life, which can be divided into the two first mansions of Teresa of Ávila, in the first mansion, so at the very beginning of the purgative stage, it’s marked by a seeming, somewhat, stability in grace. Not absolute stability necessarily, but a certain stability. There might be falls into sin, and one in mortal sin and one gets up quickly, and the life of virtue then is a little unstable in the early stage in the first mansion. 

She’ll say that the passage, still in the purgative stage, the passage from the first mansion to the second is accompanied by many demonic assaults because the devil is afraid of one’s spiritual progress. She says going from outside of the castle into the first mansion, going from the life of sin into the purgative stage, is met with less demonic resistance than the passage from the first mansion to the second mansion, still in the purgative stage. Why? Because the person is advancing in virtue and prayer and, therefore, with this stability in grace that is learned now in the second mansion towards the end of the purgative stage, this presents a great danger and a threat to the kingdom of darkness because this person’s life is integral. This is a man of prayer, a woman of prayer, of virtue. And what does the prayer look like?

Well at the beginning it’s vocal, all of the things that we learned. Remember I said that there are nine degrees of prayer according to Teresa of Ávila. Well, we all learned vocal prayers, our devotions, as children. The problem is many don’t graduate from first grade in the prayer life. We stay with our devotions, but we don’t advance to mental prayer, mental prayer, which is going to be the deciding factor for progress.

I got tired of telling people how to do mental prayer over and over and over. So, I decided to write a page-and-a-half article that you can find on the internet called “How to Advance in Holiness”. –>CLICK HERE<–. And in that page and a half, it describes what the basic methodology of mental prayer is.

Teresa of Ávila tells us that if there’s no prayer, there’s no salvation. If there’s no mental prayer, there’s no holiness. So mental prayer is really, so to say, the gateway to holiness. Without it, it doesn’t happen. With it, it can. And then, once one engages in regular mental prayer daily, well, the virtue is freed up to be much more docile, obedient to inspirations of grace, and then one learns stability in grace. And with the stability in grace and with the growth and prayer life, Our Lord is going to bless us so much. But this blessing also comes in the form of trials, of conversions, of purification of the external senses, of the internal senses. And so, these conversions imply also some suffering. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s sanctifying.

The passage from the purgative stage to the illuminative stage, as we see in the life of Peter there in Matthew 16, this is marked by a complete absence of mortal sin and not only a regularity in mental prayer as discursive prayer, but also, it’s more affective. And then, there is a certain what Teresa of Ávila calls acquired recollection. The person is starting to live habitually aware that he is under God’s loving gaze and lives that way. Every instance, every moment of the day aware that I’m under the loving gaze of God and I return it.

What a beautiful way to go through the day, aware that I’m under God’s loving gaze. You see this over and over in Scripture when it says Christ looked at them and had compassion. For God to look at us is the same as God to love us. There’s no distinction there. And so, why don’t we return that gaze in a habitual way? That has a very profound purifying effect on our own hearts. It starts to purify our affections. All of those unworthy things that we gave attention to all of a sudden diminish in their importance. They’re relativized. All of our creature loves then are put in their proper place because we love them in Christ and not as competition with Christ. They’re not at odds with this one all-encompassing, all-consuming love for Christ.

John of the Cross can be a little daunting for people who read him for the first time because of all of the self-denial implied, but the self-denial is just a necessary means in order to say yes to Christ. And so, we don’t deny ourselves all goods. Thomas Aquinas says we can’t live without enjoyment. But we have to refer the enjoyment to Christ, the author of joy. And so, the good things that we have we thank Him for, and we use to His glory. And so, it changes the bar.  Rather than saying “is this thing sinful?” – that’s a pretty low bar to direct the questions that we have to ask ourselves through life – rather, the question is, “Does this give you glory? Does this please you?” When that is the bar that I’m attaining, it changes the discourse completely. 

When Our Lord responds to Peter, who tells Him to “leave me” at the beginning of this conversion, “Leave me, I’m a sinful man,” Peter is acting naturally. And Our Lord pulls him out of his own self-absorption. He says, “Don’t look at you, Peter.” But He says, “Do not be afraid. Henceforth thou shalt catch men.” In other words, ‘Take your eyes off yourself. keep your eyes on a world that needs saving. You don’t have the luxury to consider yourself, to wallow in your own misery, or to worry about yourself being such a sinner; rather, follow Me.’ 

And in following Him in our prayer, in our virtue, these things are resolved. How many psychological and spiritual ills do people experience because of an undo consideration of the self. Christ is giving us the solution here to so many of life’s woes by keeping our eyes on Him and giving ourselves to Him. And then the spiritual progress comes, not without effort certainly, but the spiritual progress comes. He does not set us up for failure.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost, Amen. 

— Fr. Ermatinger