It’s a long time since my days on the swimming team in college, but there’s one remark from then which has stayed with me ever since. At the end of a long practice session, I looked up at the coach standing at the pool’s edge and asked, “What now?” His answer, “One more lap!”
That memory comes back when reading St. Luke’s story of Jesus and Peter side by side in the lakeside boat. Peter is exhausted from fishing all the long night and catching nothing but water. I can imagine his consternation when Jesus challenges him to head out one more time. Likely shaking his head, Peter nonetheless gives his “ok, one more!” And after that, the overflowing, boat-swamping catch.
Peter’s exasperation raises the issue of present day struggles with faith. While trying to live it, we nonetheless experience discouragement that’s both personal and communal. Yet taking Peter’s cue, we head out again. How might his dilemma be showing itself in our times?
One place is discouragement in prayer — not just “I didn’t get what I’ve been asking for,” but moreso not even having a sense that there’s anyone close by, anyone listening.
A second weight for many these days is the absence of other worshippers. This is the serious fall off in Church attendance which seems if anything to be getting worse, especially among younger people. Whether from the clergy abuse scandal or the disaffection with institutions, especially the religious one, there’s much less reinforcement for Church-going from neighbors, friends and even family. Practicing the faith carries much less social standing than it once did.
A third factor is not just the disinterest but even the derision of things religious by those who would label it as old fashioned and superstitious.
Here we return to the downtrodden Apostle sitting in the boat. Though convinced the fish aren’t running, he heeds Jesus’ request to head out and drop down his nets once again. He swims that one more lap.
His example and that of disheartened believers through the centuries speaks to us today. Living in an age when God seems to be less and less on society’s mind, we again hear Jesus’ call to put out into the deep. This is the Lord’s request to lower our nets, drop them into those deeper places both inside ourselves and in the world around us where God’s voice sounds through, where our faith finds its anchoring place. And don’t we hear Vincent echoing this as he advises one of his priests, “God allows us to give rise to the practice of two beautiful virtues: Perseverance, which leads us to attain the goal, and constancy, which helps us to overcome difficulties.” (Volume: 4. p. 36-37. To Guillaume Comaire)
Jesus is the one who brings in the miraculous catch, but it’s Peter’s against-the-grain decision to make that final attempt which allows the miracle to happen. In the face of discouragement from both prayer experience and cultural pressures, we believers by our own perseverance and steady attendance can persist in that same choice. This is the resolve to head out one more time (“one more lap”) in trust that the Lord of the bountiful harvest will follow through and continue to bless us – with His presence and unfailing strength.