Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.
This past week, as I was reflecting on this Sunday’s Gospel and thinking about what I would write in this reflection, I happened to have a conversation with another member of my religious community, during which he shared a question he recently asked the members of his parish in a daily homily: “How do you respond when someone confronts you about something you’ve done wrong?”
It’s a good question.
He shared three possible responses with his parishioners. “First,” he said, “we can deflate, caving in on ourselves, and say, ‘I’m a horrible person’ … but that’s really more of a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ move to try to get the other person off our back. Second, we can get defensive and angry that someone would try to criticize us. We can even fire back by saying, ‘Yeah, well, I might have done this, but you’ve done that!’ But the third way is to accept the observation or correction, apologize if we need to and move on. This,” he concluded, “is what humility looks like.”
Humility is one of those words we often hear in church but which has become something of a dirty word in our contemporary culture. But as I reflected on what this community member shared, I realized humility is the key to understanding the readings for this Sunday’s Mass.
The word “humble” comes from the Latin word humus, meaning “earth.” So to be humble means to recognize and accept what it is that we’re made of — a mix of gifts and skills, weaknesses and faults. With this comes the reality that we’re made of the same “stuff” as every other person on the planet. None of us is better than anyone else. We’re all gifted and beautiful, faulted and broken in our own ways. And each of us is loved by the God who created and sustains us.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, we find Jesus climbing aboard Peter’s boat after he and his companions had been out fishing all night. When Jesus had finished teaching the crowd from the boat, he asks the fishermen to “put out into the deep” and lower their nets to begin fishing again. Peter and his friends, all experienced fishermen, would have known that it would be a waste of time to try to catch any fish in the hottest part of the day.
And yet Peter trusted Jesus and did as he was told. He set aside his expertise and what he thought was best in a gesture that showed both his trust and his humility. Moreover, when he was confronted with the power of God — represented by the enormous haul of fish — he responded with the devotion and awe that go hand-in-hand with humility: Peter was able to recognize the glory of God at work in and through Jesus, prompting him to declare: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Peter’s humility allowed him to be open to the gift of God’s grace and mercy.
The lesson here is that God doesn’t choose us because of our greatness or even because of our giftedness. God chooses the humble to be his presence in the world. We see this in God’s choice of Isaiah as Prophet (cf. the First Reading), in Paul as the “Apostle of the Gentiles” (cf. the Second Reading) and, of course, in Peter and the other all-too-human apostles as “fishers of men.”
How do you respond when others make observations about you on your behavior or attitudes? Are you able to engage criticism and suggestions in ways that are constructive?
How does the example of Peter in today’s Gospel challenge your understanding of humility?
As we look toward Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent, what are some Lenten “good works” you might take on to help you to be more humble and open to God’s grace?
Words of Wisdom: “Humility is the mother of all virtues: purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.”—Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
This reflection was originally written for Aleteia.org and published on their website on February 6, 2016.