Bishop Joseph Perry: Men’s Spirituality

The prophet Isaiah said it first in the days of the Old Testament, before St. Peter ever did in the New Testament.

“Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

The prophet Isaiah’s religious experience was also a theophany, in which the prophet perceives God on his heavenly throne. God’s majesty and transcendence overwhelm the prophet. He had a vision of a high throne and the hem of a garment that fills the Temple that evoked God’s universal kingship and splendor.

In this vision the seraphim archangels minister to God, praising God’s holiness and the glory that fills the earth. The seraphim angels also prepare the prophet for his mission. In response to Isaiah’s claims that he himself is unworthy, in his words, “a man of unclean lips living amidst a people of unclean lips,” a seraph places a burning coal on Isaiah’s lips, thus purifying him. Isaiah is now prepared to carry God’s message to the people since, as the passage says, his “guilt has been taken away” and his “sin is blotted out.”

Isaiah’s vocational call contrasts the majesty of God, holy, glorious and mighty with the human ordinariness of Isaiah who must be prepared to bear God’s message. Angels purify Isaiah so that he can prophecy for God.

Most of us do not experience visions and theophanies that overwhelm us with God’s might and transcendence. Most of us experience God in the mundane experiences of daily life, in the ordinary reality of conversing with our wives, engaging our children, of going to our places of employment, hanging out with friends, in the ups and downs of family life, walking the dog, seeing a movie, riding the subway or participating in a family reunion.

The ordinary work and leisure of everyday life are where God tends to reach out to meet us. God comes to us where we are, as we are.

Jesus met his first disciples at their places of work. When Simon, Andrew, James and John first meet Jesus in the gospels they were not overwhelmed by a vision but were fixed on their work. In fact, Jesus interrupted their work and the men may have found that a bit annoying. They were not expecting angels let alone a theophany; they were washing and mending their nets after a fruitless night of fishing.

Jesus, however, began to preach from Simon Peter’s boat using it as a pulpit for the day, a powerful image I dare say for God’s presence in the ordinariness of human life. Not in the Temple or a synagogue, where Jesus could also be found but in the boat of a few working men is where the encounter with the incarnate God took place.

After Jesus finished speaking to the crowd He turned to the work at hand, the work of fishing for a living. Indeed, a lot of fish had to be caught because Roman taxes laid against the fishing trade were heavy. And Simon Peter worried about this constantly – being able to pay his taxes.

Jesus teases Simon to “put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon was reluctant to start the process again, especially when they had caught nothing the night before. But when he did put the nets back into the water the catch of fish was almost immediate; the nets straining with the bounty. There were so many fish that the nets began to break. They called for help to their companions, James and John. The boats were beginning to sink because of the weight of the catch.

It is in response to the sudden and overwhelming catch of fish that Simon Peter is suddenly overtaken by his sense of the presence of God in his fishing boat in the seemingly ordinary person of Jesus. Like Isaiah in God’s Temple, Simon’s sense of unworthiness in the presence of God overwhelms him. He trembles as “He fell down to his knees before Jesus, saying, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!’” As if to say, ‘I am not worthy of what you have provided for me this day!’

A profound recognition of God incarnate took place not while Jesus was transfigured or enthroned in majesty but in the casting and drawing up of their fishing nets. In response to the miraculous catch, Simon recognizes God with him. For Peter and the other fishermen, the encounter was a call to a new adventure. “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will be catching men!” And the gospel tells us, they left their jobs and everything and committed their lives to Him!

God met Peter and God meets us where we are. Like Isaiah Peter initially felt unworthy, unready and unprepared for the encounter and for his new work but God sees us and wants us for who we are and where we are. God will purify us, prepare us for our tasks and make us ready to do our work, however ordinary or exalted this work might be that we’re doing. But our ordinariness will always be a part of who we are, not a place absent from God but where God meets us every day.

II

It’s a matter of finding God in the ordinariness of your life. It’s a matter of letting Christ enter the boat of your life and allowing Him to do some wonderful things for you despite how worthy or unworthy you deem yourself.It’s a matter of keeping focus gentleman, taking the lead over yourself with your life and leading your family if you are a family man. These are not easy times to be a religiously focused man. Some people snicker and make jokes of religion and piety. Some are skeptical about God and his church. Some are put off by the observation that religion doesn’t make you rich in material things. Some believe they can get along in life quite well without this religion thing.

People make the decision easily to attend a football or soccer game rather than attend Sunday Mass. People do this and sleep comfortably the same night thinking they can get up the next morning by their own strength. The sweep of the popular culture out there to live life with little or no reference to God or the Church is immensely attractive. It is an undertow that carries men and their families away from the grace of the Gospel and the sacraments.

Are you interested in saving your wife and your family? Are you interested in your own salvation?

I know a man who insists that every Sunday evening his family sits down and has dinner together. Nothing, absolutely nothing can interfere with that family-time. The teenagers in the family are welcome to bring a friend to dinner, but everything else must give way to the family being together at table for once in the course of a week. The chaotic schedules that bear down upon each of the family members makes coming together next to impossible on other days of the week. But this husband and father considers the Sabbath sacred for his family and underscores each one’s participation.

This same family man, once dinner is finished, leaves the dishes to the teenagers and takes his wife for a half-hour walk outside, just the two of them, to talk and share among themselves.

III

Most of us benefit from a “Plan of Life” that helps us live as a Christian man carrying forth what it is that God has ordained us to do. Living life haphazardly, bouncing from one thing to the next, one chore to the next, whatever-happens-happens kind of approach, from one surprise to the next, from one tragedy to the next, is not a careful way to live as a Christian. A Christian man takes each and every item of his life and analyzes it prayerfully in order to discover what God means for him and where God is leading him.

Our religion is a preoccupation that permeates everything we are and do, that infuses the thoughts we think, the choices we make, the sufferings we suffer and the joys we take delight in. The message of the Lord found in the gospels is the very constitution of our lives.

Therefore, it asks for certain steps taken on our part by way of a structured religious life, to make sure that we are responding to the Lord when he tells us to put out into the deep, to make sure that we have the spiritual armor to combat the onslaughts of despair and temptation and secularism that pushes God away from our lives, to make sure that we, like Peter, can fall to our knees and recognize God’s powerful presence in our homes and families. As Joshua, Moses’ deputy, is quoted as saying in the Old Testament:

“If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve…
as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord!”

 

In a Catholic man’s plan of life, it helps to include:

  1. Some regular prayer with your wife and in the home together – this can be done with use of a prayer book, or the rosary or spontaneous prayerful words from you or your wife.
  2. Making sure Sunday Mass is a non-negotiable with your wife and your children – before sports or other things that amount to entertaining yourselves. We must entertain God first.
  3. Making sure there are Catholic symbols in the home: a crucifix at a minimum, some statue or sacred picture or art that reminds you and visitors to your home what in your life is important. When I visit homes the first thing I look for is some sign or signs of people’s faith. Some people have no visible indications in their households of what they believe in. Reading solid Catholic literature is important in order to keep abreast of news and issues in our church – this can be done through requisite magazines by Catholic publishers or through Catholic outlets’ journalism through the internet. We can always make recommendations about wholesome Catholic literature when asked. There is a variety of Catholic reading material, from the average to the scholarly.
  4. How about an occasional attendance at weekday mass or ten minutes in Eucharistic adoration at a parish chapel nearby?
  5. How about family time marked off in the course of the week where you and your wife and children can spend time together and punctuate the beauty of what God has given you? If you don’t take charge of your family, some thing or someone else will.

Start out small with a plan – something to keep the graces showering upon yourselves. Don’t be afraid men to get on your knees before God and thank Him for the privileges of faith and insight. Don’t be afraid to shepherd your family in the ways of the Lord. Don’t be afraid to put out into the deep and lower your nets, for a catch.

It is not sufficient to merely utter that we are sinful men and rest there. Too many of us relish in the notion that we are sinful men. The Lord would like our friendship, our worship, our conversion of life and our loyalty to Him.

 

Homily of Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry for the CMCS Bishop Perry Catholic Men’s Conference Chicago on April 2, 2016.  St. Ailbe Church, Chicago, Illinois.

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Author: Catholic Men Chicago Southland

Catholic Men Chicago Southland (CMCS) fosters Catholic Men in personal holiness to make Jesus Christ the center of our daily lives, and sponsor of the Bishop Perry Catholic Chicago Men's Forum. CMCS is Catholic Apostolate of Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry of Chicago. Executive Director, Frank J. Casella Vision: To Nurture Catholic Men's Spirituality in the Chicago Southland