Yesterday I attended the funeral of my aunt at the parish of my youth, St. Peter’s in Defiance, Iowa. As soon as I entered the church for the wake service on Tuesday evening, I came to the realization that the culture today in this parish is very different from what it was in the 50’s and 60’s. Inside the church, it was like a social hall. While the Blessed Sacrament was in the front of the church (but off to the side instead of front and center), the atmosphere was hardly the same as what I remembered. There was no sign or reverence that the people were aware that this was the House of God and that His body, blood, soul and divinity were present. I was drawn in and became part of this culture while at the same time being aware of the sanctuary lamp that was burning there next to the tabernacle. It saddened me, but having experienced something similar much earlier in my life at a Catholic church in California, I submitted to the fact that this kind of thing is commonplace in Catholic churches throughout the country today and uttered a prayer of sorrow to my Lord.
The parish is named after St. Peter, who is a main character in today’s Gospel at Mass. This Gospel story is the story of the miracle that was Simon Peter’s calling to be an apostle. After having a very disappointing day as a fisherman, Simon had given up and was washing his fishing nets when Jesus and the crowds following Him appeared on the scene (Mat 5, 1-11). Simon had apparently experienced Jesus’ charisma and power a few days earlier when He cured Simon’s mother-in-law of a “severe fever.” (See Mat 4: 38-39). Jesus told Simon to get back in the boat, go out into the deep water, and lower the nets again for a catch. Despite laboring the entire day and catching nothing, Simon, perhaps remembering the miracle cure of his mother-in-law, did as Jesus asked and subsequently caught so many fish that his net was tearing. Simon responded with the now-famous quote: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus then said “Do not be afraid; from now on you will become fishers of men.”
For those of you who share my sadness at seeing our churches becoming social halls, I now pray that you ask the Lord not to depart from Him because of this sinfulness, but that you take the Lord’s words seriously and that you have no fear to become fishers of the men and women in your parish. My suggestion is for you to kneel before the tabernacle in your church before or after Sunday Mass and pray, calling people’s attention to the Lord’s presence. Your public display of your deep faith will be an inspiration and you will become a fisher of men (and women) right along with St. Peter.
The photo is of the statue of St. Peter in the Cor Mariae Schoenstatt shrine near Crete, Nebraska. Notice the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven in his left hand.