The sun was climbing higher in the sky, and Peter was getting more restless by the moment. He had listened to Jesus’ preaching, but he was tired, hungry, and thirsty. What he really wanted was to row Jesus back to shore and head home for some food and rest.
But then out of the blue, Jesus turned to him and said, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).
A catch? Peter thought. You’ve got to be kidding. I’m the fisherman here, not you. I’ve spent years on the water; I know when the fish are biting and when they’re not. Why would you think that I’m going to haul in a catch now?
But Jesus was looking right into his eyes—and, it seemed, right into his soul. There’s something about this man, Peter thought. “Master,” he said, “we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets” (Luke 5:5).
What would you have done if you were Peter? Would you have gone back out onto the sea, even against your better judgment? Following Jesus can be difficult, especially when we think we know better or would rather do it our way. But Peter was able to overcome his objections because Jesus was right there with him in the boat. The grace of his presence moved Peter to obey him.
In this article, we want to ask how we can become more like Peter when he threw out his nets. How can we become more obedient to God in our lives? Through grace, the grace of obedience. Obedience may seem unreachable, but it is first and foremost a grace that any of us can ask for and receive, simply because it comes from Jesus’ presence in our “boat” with us. We may think that our obedience is all our effort, but it’s God’s grace and presence that enable us to say yes to him.
“Put Out into the Deep.” The season of Lent offers us the perfect opportunity to take Jesus’ words to Peter as our own: “Put out into deep water” (Luke 5:4). For these six weeks, God is inviting us to fast, pray, and give alms. He is inviting us to a deeper experience of his love for us, a deeper experience of repentance, and a deeper willingness to surrender our lives more fully to him.
Rowing out into deep water can be scary. It’s easier to stay in the “shallow waters” of our lives, where we feel safe and in control. But staying safe in the shallows won’t get us closer to the Lord. So when Jesus says, “Put out into the deep,” he’s not just giving us a gentle suggestion. He is calling us to a deeper trust because he is not finished with us yet. He is calling us to trust and obey him.
So what might Jesus be asking of you? Here are some possibilities: “Will you seek my presence more deeply in prayer?” “Will you obey me, even if what I am asking of you makes you afraid? Even if you don’t want to do it?” “Will you let go of a resentment you are holding on to or finally break free of that persistent pattern of sin?” “Are you willing to give up some of your time to help a loved one who is hurting?”
All of this can seem beyond us, but God never asks us to do something without giving us the grace to do it. So let’s look at a few ways we can open ourselves to the grace of obedience that he is offering us this Lent.
Step 1: Throw Out Your Nets. There is every indication that Peter was a faithful Jew, but Jesus wanted to take Peter even further. So when he asked Peter to go out to deeper waters, he was asking him to take another step in his journey of faith.
In a similar way, Lent offers you the opportunity to throw out your nets by offering every area of your life to the Lord. And that begins with prayer. It begins when you come to him with an attitude of surrender and ask him what his will is for you. As you spend time with Jesus, he will soften your heart, and his desires will become your desires. Even if he is asking something difficult of you, his presence in your life will make you desire obedience above everything else.
The grace to throw out our nets may begin in prayer, but it flows into the choices we make every day. Think about Jesus. There must have been days when he felt utterly exhausted from all the traveling or preaching or contending with his detractors. But still he pressed on, following his Father’s will. His whole life on earth was one act of obedience after another. He could do the hard things because he spent time every morning in prayer surrendering his own desires to his Father.
Jesus didn’t say or do anything that wasn’t in his Father’s will. This is the grace of obedience, and Jesus wants to give it to you as well. So come to him in prayer and believe that he will give you more of this same grace if you ask.
Step 2: Take on a Repentant Heart. When Peter saw the great catch of fish, “he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man’” (Luke 5:8). Pope Francis had a similar response when an interviewer asked an unexpected question: “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” After pausing for a moment, he replied, “The best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”
Both these stories convey the same lesson: the only proper disposition when we are in the Lord’s presence is one of deep humility. In God’s presence, we see ourselves in a new light. In contrast to his beauty and holiness, we recognize ourselves as sinners, as a people who do not deserve all that God has done for us. Who am I to come before the King of kings and the Lord of lords? we ask ourselves. Like Moses, who removed his sandals before the burning bush, and like St. Paul, who was blinded by the glory of the Lord, we feel undone.
The Scriptures teach us that a repentant disposition pleases Jesus. He commended the tax collector who prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). He praised the woman who anointed his feet with her tears (7:36-50). He told us how the Father welcomes those people who, like the prodigal son, return to him in humility (15:11-32).
Like Peter, when we put out into the deep, we may recognize how short we have fallen. We may discover attitudes, hidden resentments, or patterns of behavior that are harming our relationship with the Lord or others. When this happens, we can take comfort in knowing that God is always ready to welcome us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He is always ready to offer us a greater share in his mercy.
Even if we don’t see anything that we need to confess, it’s still important to keep a disposition of repentance in our hearts. This doesn’t mean beating our breasts or feeling guilty all the time. It means acknowledging the holiness of God and our unworthiness in comparison. It means offering a prayer like this: “Lord, you are so holy and so perfect. And I’m just a sinner. I don’t deserve to be called your son or daughter. Yet I know that your forgiveness and mercy are so much greater than my weakness.”
Jesus loves an attitude like this because it softens our hearts. When we see how merciful and forgiving the Lord is and how much we need him, we allow his grace to take full effect in us.
Step 3: “Do whatever he tells you.” Remember those words of Mary at the wedding in Cana (John 2:5)? This is something we can do each day, even in the things that seem insignificant to us. The call to obedience extends to every part of our lives, every desire of our hearts, and every word from our mouths. It’s a call to try to please the Lord in all our daily decisions and actions, no matter how minor.
But it’s not all about what you have to do. Every time you say yes to God, you are also opening yourself to his grace. Every time you speak kindly to your spouse or hold your temper with your child or share your faith with a coworker, you are cooperating with God—and he is cooperating with you. Even the smallest act of obedience is valuable to him. And when you know that what you do is pleasing to Jesus and his Father, it can also become a delight for you.
So trust that God is with you wherever you are, whether you feel bound by sin or hopelessness or whether you feel close to the Lord. Trust that Jesus would never ask you to obey him if he wasn’t going to be in the boat with you and help you. And even if you have tried for years to change a certain area of your life, don’t give up. Ask for his help, and then move forward in trust that he will give the grace you need to do it.
Return to Me with All Your Heart
An Examination of Conscience for Lent
Centuries ago, the prophet Joel called the people of Israel to return to the Lord through the gift of repentance. “Rend your hearts, not your garments,” he pleaded (Joel 2:13). And when they did, God forgave them, welcomed them back into his presence, and opened the floodgates of his love and protection for them.
God wants to open the floodgates for us this Lent as well. And so he asks us to return to him with all our hearts. He asks us to examine our hearts and bring to Confession anything we find there that keeps us separated from him. He promises that as we do, our guilt will fall away. Even better, we’ll find the peace and confidence that come when we encounter the mercy of God.
How can we prepare for this encounter? There are countless areas we can examine. But in the end, it comes down to the two greatest commandments: to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Below are a few questions that can help you as you examine your conscience. Remember: these are just a few areas to consider. So begin here, but ask the Spirit to help you identify any other areas you may need to bring before the Lord.
Love the Lord with All Your Heart.
• Am I setting aside a regular time to be with the Lord in prayer and attending Sunday Mass?
• Are there ways I am placing selfish concerns above my need to follow Jesus and do his will?
• Are there any ways I fail to see and love Christ in my neighbors—especially in the lonely, the poor, and the needy?
• Have I offended the Lord by using coarse, disrespectful language—directed toward God or other people?
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.
• Am I being generous in spending time with the people around me? Or have I been isolating myself, immersing myself in work or electronic devices instead of human interaction?
• Have I been harboring a grudge or resentment against someone instead of trying to forgive that person?
• Have I engaged in lying, gossip, or slander against another person?
• Have I been pure and chaste in my relationships?
• Is there anyone I have hurt whose forgiveness I need to seek?
Return to the Lord. Confess your sins. His heart is open to you. His arms are open to you. Let him embrace you and fill you with his mercy.