“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
—Luke 5:4

Like many of the kids of my generation, I was a big fan of Sesame Street as a boy. And one of my favorite skits on Sesame Street was one in which Bert and Ernie are sitting in a boat fishing. While they fished, Bert, although he had been fishing very deliberately, became frustrated because he wasn’t catching anything. Ernie, as often happened, added greatly to Bert’s frustration when, instead of doing any real fishing, he simply cried out “Here, fishy, fishy, fishy, fishy,” at which point fish began leaping out of the water and into the boat!

This Sunday’s First Reading and Gospel both have a lot to do with vocations — what it means to hear and answer God’s call. This is something about which Catholics across the United States are very much concerned, as we see so clearly the need for more priests, sisters and faithful married couples. We also need holy deacons and single people dedicated to the Lord. And yet, often our concern for vocations expresses itself almost as if we expected Ernie’s fishing technique to work for us. If we just call out often enough or insistently enough, maybe new vocations will just come to us.

This “Ernie approach” is one of two extremes that are perennial dangers in the Christian life. This is the extreme of quietism, which is the attitude a person has when he just sits back and waits for God to deliver results, perhaps with prayer, but with little real cooperation. Now, prayer for God’s help is essential, but we are also called to cooperate with His grace.

This “Ernie approach” is one of two extremes that are perennial dangers in the Christian life. This is the extreme of quietism, which is the attitude a person has when he just sits back and waits for God to deliver results, perhaps with prayer, but with little real cooperation. Now, prayer for God’s help is essential, but we are also called to cooperate with His grace.

The other extreme is one we see in today’s Gospel: self-reliance, as opposed to reliance upon God. St. Peter seems to express a certain degree of self-reliance when he says, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing.” In other words, he is saying: If I, a master fisherman, haven’t caught anything, what difference will one more cast of the net make? But Peter is called to trust in the power of Jesus. And, to his credit, he does trust, at least enough to cast his net one more time.

In this story, Jesus shows us a model of what it means to strike the middle course between self-reliance and quietism, when He says, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Peter’s skill and effort were not enough, clearly. But neither does Jesus say, “Sit back, guys, relax, and I’ll make all the fish come to you.” Instead, Jesus shows the disciples a better course, in which He empowers them to do the work they have been called to do. And then Jesus makes it clear that He will empower them to do greater things: to “fish” for men and women as His apostles.

Now, the goal in all vocations is to arrive at that whole-hearted “yes” given by the Prophet Isaiah in today’s First Reading, when he says to the Lord: “Here I am. Send me!” Unfortunately, what we actually get all too often today are laughs, disinterest, or a “yes” answer that lasts only a while, until it dissolves in the face of difficulties.

We face a crisis of commitment in our society. Just to take marriage as an example, how many couples, when they said in their wedding vows, “for better and worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health,” seem not to have noticed the words “worse,” “poorer,” and “sickness?”

We need to see that problems like this are not going to be fixed through prayer alone. Again, prayer is the essential first weapon we have to fight the difficulties we face, but God calls us to do more. He wants us to pray in large part so that His power can be active through us. God is more than capable of miracles, but miracles are not the ordinary way God wants to operate in this world. He wants to use us as the instruments of His power, because that is better for us. But it means we need to become active instruments in His hands.

What does this mean with regard to vocations? We have to do our part to build a world in which young people can see the sense and goodness of saying “yes” to God’s call. We need to help young people to have the kind of relationship with God that will allow them to hear His voice in the first place: a relationship characterized by prayer, reception of the sacraments, and charity toward others. We need to help our young people cultivate a friendship with God, in which spending time with God is not seen as a tiresome chore but as a joyful duty, like calling friends on the phone or having dinner together as a family.

We need to help our young people cultivate a friendship with God, in which spending time with God is not seen as a tiresome chore but as a joyful duty, like calling friends on the phone or having dinner together as a family.

Which brings us to another point. If we are not having dinner together as families, or observing all of the other traditional practices that bring families together and make them work as loving communities, then we have another practical and critical way to promote vocations. Anything we can do to get our young people thinking about the welfare of others is important, but this charity needs to begin at home. Leaving room for the obvious exceptions, family needs should clearly and habitually take precedence over the individual activities of children. Learning self-sacrificial love at home is the surest way of helping young people become willing to dedicate their lives to this self-sacrificial love.

Finally, Jesus has a message not only for St. Peter but for all of us this Sunday when he says, “Do not be afraid.” We so easily fear the future, fear failure, and fear abandonment. This fear is surely one of the greatest obstacles to vocations. Here once again we are called to “put out into deep water” by setting an example of reliance upon God and absolute trust in Him. We need to show young people that we are not afraid to sacrifice the easy pleasures of this world for the sake of following God’s call. And we do this, not with the hangdog resignation of people going off to the gallows, but with the confidence of those who have come to know the love of God in their lives. We do it as people who are not afraid to stake everything on God’s plan, knowing that it is the path to real and lasting joy.

Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.