The Gospel reading on July 3rd – the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – was taken from Luke 5:1-11, which reads:
At that time, when the multitudes pressed upon Jesus to hear the word of God, He stood by the lake of Genesareth, And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them and were washing their nets. And going into one of the ships that was Simon’s, He desired him to draw back a little from the land. And sitting, He taught the multitudes out of the ship. Now when he had ceased to speak, He said to Simon: “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a draught.”
And Simon answering said to Him: “Master, we have labored all the night and have taken nothing: but at thy word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a very great multitude of fishes: and their net broke. And they beckoned to their partners that were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came and filled both the ships, so that they were almost sinking.
Which when Simon Peter saw, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was wholly astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken. And so were also James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. And Jesus saith to Simon: “Fear not: from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” And having brought their ships to land, leaving all things, they followed him.
As is obvious to most readers, Peter’s ship is an allegory for the Church of Christ, the Holy Roman Catholic Church. It is through her that Our Lord teaches and baptizes the nations of the world, and it is only by entering her, the solitary means of salvation, that souls, otherwise destined to perish in their sins, are saved.
One may also wonder, however:
What are we to make of the other ship? What of its crew? What of the torn net? And what of the ships being filled to the point of nearly sinking?
Reflecting on these questions, it occurs to me that the other ship might be considered an allegorical reference to the local churches in union with the See of Peter, and its crew – James and John, who are described in the passage as his “partners” – represent the bishops of the world who teach in union with him.
As for the tear in the fisherman’s net, one might see in it a metaphor for error and heresy, through which many souls are lost.
As has happened in the past and is most certainly the case in our day, dangerous doctrines such as these can grow in popularity. They are even spread at times by wayward ministers who – although operating under a mere pretense of ecclesial authority – have themselves taken leave of the Barque of Peter.
In the worst of cases, confusion can abound to the point where the naïve who sincerely wish to embrace the true Faith are endangered.
In times such as these, Peter has occasionally chosen to call upon his “partners” – the bishops throughout the world – to gather with him in ecumenical council in order to set matters aright.
Even so, ultimately, it is Peter – the pope – who has care of the net and its take.
Furthermore, we know that as the end of the age draws near, when the “fullness of the Gentiles” have entered the Church (Romans 11:25), there will be tribulation. It will appear to many as if the Barque is sinking, but she cannot.
Enough for fitting allegories. Now, let’s turn our attention to some fish tales and fables that, unfortunately, have gotten a great deal of traction of late.
It should go without mention – though in our day such is necessary – that there are no Scripture passages that invite, in any way, visions of a day when Peter, along with his partners, will poison the fish that dwell aboard his ship.
And yet, there are those who insist that this is precisely what has, and is, taking place.
In fact, many even go so far as to imagine that Peter’s successor, some six decades ago, gathered his partners in an ecumenical council that, far from setting matters aright amid a crisis of faith, laid hold of a perfectly good net, the take from which had been consistently swelling, and tore it to utter shreds.
If that’s not twisted enough, the fish, they imagine, now have the noble task of mending what Peter has torn, standing ever on guard against him and his partners lest they trick the naïve into ingesting their toxic teachings.
There’s a reason that such scenarios as these have never been pondered by the holy popes, saints and Doctors of the Church; they simply are not possible.
So, which image of the Church of Christ do you believe?