daily biblical sermons


SAINT PATRICK, APOSTLE TO IRELAND, PREACHER OF SALVATION THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, the Solemnity of St. Patrick, March 18, 2019
1 Peter 4:7b-11, Luke 5:1-11


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

"But when Simon Peter saw it [the great catch of fish], he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.' For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken ... And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.' And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him" (Luke 5:8-9, 10b-11).


Today, in the Archdiocese of New York, USA, we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Patrick (390-460), the patron of our archdiocese, transferred from yesterday, March 17, which was a Sunday. St. Patrick was born in Britain, but as a teenager was captured by Irish pirates and enslaved in Ireland for six years as a herder of sheep, where he became very religious and felt God telling him to escape. He made his way to the coast and persuaded some sailors to take him on board their ship to Britain, and eventually made his way home. There he studied for the priesthood and return to Ireland as a missionary bishop, where he spent the rest of his life evangelizing, converting, baptizing, ordaining clergy, and setting up both male and female monasteries.


The purpose of Christian mission is to preach salvation by faith in Jesus Christ and call people to genuine repentance for their sins and conversion to Christ, whereby they put their faith in him in order to be declared righteous by God (justified), because of the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. St. Patrick was a highly successful missionary, converting all Ireland to faith in Christ.


In our day, when some are now saying that nobody tries to convert anyone to Christianity anymore, because, as they say, that's out of date, we need to reflect on what St. Patrick did and on basic New Testament Christianity, which was focused on precisely what some today are denying, namely the validity of missionary work as preaching genuine repentance for sins and inviting people to put their faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning death on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins and to be declared righteous by God and made "new men" in Christ, new creatures, a new creation.


Today's gospel is about Jesus borrowing Peter's boat to sit in and preach to the crowds on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. When he finished his sermon, he told Peter, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch" (Luke 5:4). Peter was hesitant to do so, because he had fished all night (the best time to fish) and caught nothing, but he knew Jesus was a man of God, and so obeyed his command and let down his nets. "And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and their nets were breaking" (Luke 5:6). They signaled to their friends in the other boat to help them, and they filled both boats with fish, "so that they began to sink" (Luke 5:7).


Peter was deeply moved by all this and felt unworthy to be in Jesus' presence. "He fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). But Jesus' response was most reassuring to Peter. He told Peter that in spite of his unworthiness, he still wanted him to be his disciple and apostle to preach to others and to bring them the good news of salvation. Jesus said to him, "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men" (Luke 5:10). Peter's reaction to this was total commitment: "And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him" (Luke 5:11).


What does all this mean for us today? First of all, we see that Jesus is calling Peter, giving him a vocational call to become an apostle to catch men instead of fish, to catch them to bring them a richer and fuller life in God. Peter's new job as a fisher of men would be to preach the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to those who do not know him for the forgiveness of their sins and their justification by the atoning merits of Jesus' death on the cross for our sins. Those who put their faith in Christ will be declared and made righteous by God, even though they know themselves to be miserable, guilty, ungodly sinners.


This was Jesus' mission. He came to call sinners, not the righteous, to repentance and new life, so Peter's sense of his own unworthiness and sinfulness before God was no obstacle to Jesus' plan to make Peter his apostle. If Peter accepts Jesus' invitation to follow him, Jesus himself will make him worthy to be a fisher of men.


St. Peter and the other apostles are the model for St. Patrick in Ireland. What they did, St. Patrick would also do, converting all Ireland to faith in Christ and to a new life in him, to salvation from their sins, to become heirs of eternal life, which begins now for those who believe in Christ and is fulfilled after death in heaven with God forever.


The power to transform people by forgiving and justifying them when they repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ is God's, but people like St. Peter and Saint Patrick do the legwork and use their mouths and voices to bring this power of God to people who have never heard of Christ (see sermon by John Piper https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/breaking-nets-sinking-boats-and-saving-men).


What must Peter have felt like as a professional fisherman, when he sees the largest catch of fish of his life at the word of Jesus? He himself tells us that he feels unworthy and sinful, so he tells Jesus to depart from him, that he is not the man that Jesus thinks he is, that he is a sinner, unworthy of being his disciple and apostle, unworthy to go out and preach to others, unworthy to catch others for salvation, forgiveness, and justification.


But then how does Peter feel when Jesus says to him, "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men" (Luke 5:10)? I am sure that he feels wonderful. He trusts Jesus' discernment. He trusts that Jesus knows him better than he knows himself, since he obviously has divine power and knowledge, and yet knowing his unworthiness, ungodliness, and sinfulness, he nonetheless still wants him as his disciple and apostle, to be one of his chief workers in calling others to new life and salvation through faith in him.


Peter must have felt extremely happy, and we can see this by his radical response to Jesus' consoling reaffirmation of him, for when he and his companions "had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him" (Luke 5:11). This is total commitment. These are professional fishermen who abandon their trade and their work tools, their nets and their boats, and their whole way of life, and begin to follow Jesus in his itinerant ministry throughout Palestine, listening to him preach to the multitudes, discussing things with him, and being sent out from time to time to preach the coming of the kingdom of God and the need to be prepared for it by genuinely repenting of your sins and abandoning them.


How many of you have had an experience like this, when you felt unworthy, sinful, guilty, ungodly, useless to God and to his ministry, because you know how unworthy you are and how holy Jesus is, and so you feel discouraged and ready to give up trying to follow him, you feel that you don't make the grade, that you're not the man or the woman for this job?


And then you hear God speaking to you in your heart, perhaps by meditatively reading this very verse, "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men" (Luke 5:10). You hear this word or something similar from God in your heart, reassuring you that you are indeed on the right track in trying to follow Jesus and be his apostle, and that even though you are not perfect, even though you are a sinner, Jesus, who came precisely to call sinners and not the righteous to repentance, is calling you and finds your guilt and unworthiness to be no obstacle to your forgiveness and justification if only you genuinely repent of your sins, put them away, and put your faith in him and in his saving, atoning death on the cross for the sins of the world.


This is God's message to you and me. This was his message to Saint Patrick when he was a slave in Ireland herding sheep. Saint Patrick took this word, planned his escape, made it back home, enrolled in a course of studies to become a priest and a missionary bishop, and then returned to Ireland and spent the rest of his life there among the very people that had abducted and enslaved him. But now he went back to Ireland to preach Christ to them, to convert them from their pagan idols and false gods to the true God, who has revealed himself in Israel, and to his Son Jesus Christ the Savior of the world.


Unworthy as he felt himself to be, God called Saint Patrick and made him worthy by justifying him, that is, by declaring him righteous because of the merits of the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross that made full reparation for all our sins. By putting our faith in Christ, God credits our personal account with his suffering and death on the cross as full payment of the suffering and death that we owe God for our sins, and so declares us ungodly sinners righteous and fit to be his apostles to preach to others this good news of salvation through genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

 

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