There is a message here for all of us.

Below is an excerpt from the Holy Father’s homily Wednesday night at a vespers service for religious, clergy, seminarians and pastoral workers in Portugal. The Gospel from Luke included the familiar story of Jesus telling the fishermen to “put out into the deep.”


The fishers are getting out of the boat to wash their nets.  Jesus sees this and stops. Shortly before, he had inaugurated his preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth, but his townsfolk had chased him out of the city and even sought to kill him (cf. Lk 4:28-30). He then left the sacred precincts and began to preach the word among the people, on the streets where the men and women of his time lived and worked each day. Christ wanted to bring God’s closeness into the very places and situations in which people live, work and hope, sometimes clinging to their past failures and their shortcomings, precisely like those fishermen who had laboured throughout the night and caught nothing. Jesus looks sympathetically upon Simon and his companions who, tired and disappointed, were routinely washing their nets, resigned to the fact that they would return home empty-handed.

There are moments in our ecclesial journey when we can feel a similar weariness, when we seem to be holding only empty nets. Weariness. Someone once said, “I am afraid when good people grow weary”. At those times when we think we are holding only empty nets. It is not uncommon to feel that way in countries of ancient Christian tradition, buffeted by social and cultural changes and increasingly marked by secularism, indifference to God and growing detachment from the practice of the faith. Here lies the peril of a creeping worldliness. It is often accentuated by the disappointment or the anger with which some people view the Church, at times due to our poor witness and the scandals that have marred her face and call us to a humble, ongoing purification, starting with the anguished cry of the victims, who must always be accepted and listened to. Whenever we feel discouraged (and here each of us can think of times when we felt discouraged), we may feel tempted to leave the boat and become entangled in the nets of resignation and pessimism.  Instead, let us trust that Jesus continues to take us by the hand, lifting up his beloved Bride. Let us bring our struggles and our tears to the Lord, in order then to respond to pastoral and spiritual needs, together, with open hearts and finding new ways to follow him. When we feel discouraged, whether consciously or not, we “retire”, we step back from apostolic zeal, begin to lose it and to become “functionaries of the sacristy”. How sad it is when a person who consecrated his or her life to God becomes a “functionary”, nothing more than an administrator. Sad indeed.

As soon as the apostles get out of the boat to wash their nets, Jesus gets into the boat and calls them to lower their nets once more. At moments of discouragement, when we want to “retire”, let us allow Jesus to get into the boat again, with the excitement of the beginnings, an excitement that must be regained, reborn and relived. He comes to us amid our feelings of solitude and our crises, in order to help us begin anew. The spirituality of new beginnings. Do not be afraid of this. For that is how life is: we fail and we start over, we grow weary and we find renewed joy. We put our hands into the hands of Jesus. Today too he stands at the shore of our lives, to revive our hope and to say to us, as he did to Simon and the others: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4). And when we lose excitement, we find a thousand justifications not to lower the nets, and particularly that sullen resignation that is like a worm eating into the soul. Brothers and sisters, we are surely living in difficult times, we know that, but the Lord is asking this Church: “Do you want to leave the boat and plunge into disappointment, or will you let me enter and allow the newness of my words once more to take the helm? He is asking you, priests, consecrated men and women, bishops: Do you want only to preserve the past which lies behind you, or do you want once again to lower the nets with enthusiasm for the catch?” That is what the Lord is asking us: to revive our “restless” enthusiasm for the spread of the Gospel.

When we become creatures of habit and grow bored, and the mission becomes a “job”, it is time to open our hearts to that second call of Jesus, for he never stops calling us. He calls us to make us set out; he calls us to remake us. Do not be afraid of this second call of Jesus. It is no illusion: he keeps knocking on our door. And we can say that we experience a “good” restlessness when we let ourselves be enticed by this second call of Jesus. A good restlessness, which the immensity of the ocean holds out to you, dear Portuguese friends: an impulse to set out from the shore, not to conquer the world – or simply to fish for bacalos – but to make the world exult in the comforting joy of the Gospel. Here we can think of the words of one of your great missionaries, Father António Vieira, known as “Paiaçu”, “great Father”. He once said that God gave you a small land for your birth but by making you gaze at the ocean, he gave you an entire world for which to die: “To be born, a small land; to die, the whole world; to be born in Portugal, to die, the whole world” (A. VIEIRA, Homilies, vol. III, t. VII, Porto, 1959, p. 69). To lower the nets anew and to embrace the whole world with the hope brought by the Gospel: that is what we are called to do! This is not the time to stop, and give up, to drag the boat to shore or to look back. We must not take flight from the present out of fear, or take refuge in forms and practices of the past. Now is the God-given time of grace to sail boldly into the sea of evangelization and of mission.

He concluded:

Dear brothers and sisters: to all of you, laity, religious, priests and bishops, to one and all I say, do not be afraid, let down the nets. Do not go about hurling accusations – telling people, “this is a sin” or “this is not a sin”. Let everyone come, we can talk later, but first they should hear the invitation of Jesus; repentance comes later, closeness to Jesus comes later. Please, do not turn the Church into a customs house: there the righteous, peoples whose lives are in order, those properly married, can enter, while everyone else remains outside. No. That is not the Church. Righteous and sinners, good and bad: everyone, everyone, everyone. And then, may the Lord help us to straighten things out… everyone!

I thank you most cordially, brothers and sisters, for listening to me, which must have been boring! I thank you for all that you do, and for your example, above all your hidden example and your perseverance in getting up each day to begin anew or to continue what you began. Thank you for all that you do! I entrust you to Our Lady of Fatima, to the safekeeping of the angel of Portugal and to the protection of your great saints. Here in Lisbon, I think especially of Saint Anthony (whom the Paduans stole from you), a tireless apostle, inspired preacher and faithful disciple of the Gospel, attentive to the ills of society and filled with compassion for the poor. May Saint Anthony intercede for you and obtain for you the joy of a new “miraculous catch of fish”. Then you can tell me about it.

Read the whole homily.