Fourth Sunday After Pentecost The Gospel Luc.5.v.1 Saturday Meditation: A Plaine Path-way To Heaven Thomas Hill 1634
GOSPEL Luke 5. 1-11
At that time, when the multitude pressed upon Jesus to hear the word of God, He stood by the lake of Genesareth. And He saw two ships standing by the lake; but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets; and going up 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 laboured 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 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.
The natural method of proceeding in all manner of arts & sciences either good or bad, is from little things to great, from imperfect to perfect, and so from great or perfect to greater, or more perfect, and so by degrees of more and more till we arrive & come to the height or top of perfection: & to exemplify in that which is bad, that the good may the better appear thereby, a Proverb we have,that a child if he have a natural inclination to steal (as some have) being let alone, he will begin with a pin, then with a point, after with a penny, and then with a shilling, and from thence to a pound and so forth; and according to such a progression, do we proceed in that which is good, and is the only good method to proceed therein: so doth God proceed in all his creatures bringing them to perfection by degrees,so did he introduce his law into the world.
First,he left us to the Law of nature, an imperfect state in comparison of a more perfect, then he gave us a positive law written, the Law of the old Testament,more perfect;after that the Law of the new Testament which we call the Law of grace, because it contained an infinite favour, and grace of God, to give us such a comfortable and saving Law, and to do it by such an honorable means, as to promulgate it by the mouth of his only begotten son made man,and he to die for our redemption,and reconciliation to his Father; and then after this,if we live obediently and thankfully therein,he will bring us to a state of glory in heaven so perfect, that nothing can be desired more.
So doth Christ here proceed with St Peter in matter of obedience,he first biddeth him out forth his ship a little from the shore, & finding he obedient in that, he biddeth him launch forth into the deep, and cast forth his net, which though it were broken, & he very weary with laboring all the night before, and catching nothing, and little likelihood to do any other now; yet Christ finding him obedient, rewarded him well for it as aforesaid: whereby we may learn in all our spiritual exercises of prayer, fasting, watching and other obedience's, & mortification's, not to launch forth into the deep at first,but to put forth a little from the shore, and so by little & little to launch forth into the deep of perfection, least attempting to begin where we should end, we end before we begin,and be not able to go forward, as many out of timorous & indiscreet zeal use to do; and this is the reason why in religious houses Superiors use to exercise their Novices, or beginners at first, in some small corporal mortification's,and obedience's, and so by degrees in greater and greater, putting forth alittle further and further from the shore,before they admit them to launch forth into the deep of contemplation; and when they admit them to that, to do it likewise by degrees,and ascents, yet so, as they never give over corporal mortification's and obedience's, though they ascend never so high, knowing by long experience and practice, that these two are individual compassion's, and coadjutors one to another, and the higher they ascend to contemplation, the more to exercise themselves in corporal mortification's, that at last they do not so much mortify their bodies,& all the members and senses thereof,as kill and crucify themselves with Christ to the world, as St Paul said he did, for all he was rapt into the third heaven, and so they may prove good Contemplative men, and without that they go preposterously to work, and so it will prove they deceive themselves and others ; & we may say unto them with the words of the Prophet David, It is in vain for you to rise (to contemplation) before it be day (in your hearts by corporal mortification:) you must rise (to contemplation) after you have sit down, and eaten the bread of sorrow, and corpal mortification.
For though St. Paul sayth, Corporal exercises avail little, but piety avails to all things, he meaneth corporal exercises alone without piety,but being joined and associated with piety, it increased and sustained the same, or rather conserved it in its very subsistence and being, in so much that St. Paul after he had been once rapt into the third heaven, & seen such strange things as was not lawful to utter, and oftentimes no doubt in mental contemplation,yet for all that he never gave over corporal mortification, writing to the Corinthians ,that he chastised still his body & kept it subjection, least preaching to others, he himself became reprobate.
Without continual Mortification,we fish for Contemplation as St Peter did for fishes in the night, and we may fish all the night long and catch nothing, as he did.
If we will catch the fish of contemplation and spiritual conversation, and communications with God & his Saints, if we will have our conservation in heaven, as St. Paul said, he had his, we must cast forth our net in the word of God, as St.Peter did, that is to say, we must begin, and continue in corporal mortification of praying, fasting, watching, haircloth, and other austerities,as all religious persons by the instinct of Gods grace and long experience have found out,and in that manner as they do; no novelty is now to be found out, which is not already found.
Hereunto we must join that humility that St Peter here used, we must fall down at the feet of Jesus as he did, and think ourselves so unworthily to catch as many fishes of his manifold benefits, and especially that great and precious fish of his body, for the food of our souls ,in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar that we could find in our hearts,in humility, to say unto God with St.Peter, O Lord, depart from me a sinner, and with the humble and devout Centurion:O Lord, I am not worthy thou dost enter into my poor Cottage, but only say the word and my soul shall be safe.
Lastly concerning obedience,St Peter giveth us so good an occasion by his prompt obedience in launching forth into the deep at one word of Christ, notwithstanding he had labored all the night before and caught nothing, that Saint Thomas of Aquinas the Prince of Divines, the clear Lamp of Gods Church, and glory of the Dominican Order disputing, whether works of Obedience or voluntary devotion were of more merit, concludeth for works of obedience, especially under obedience of a religious vow, and explicateth his assertion by this example; That as he that should present a man with the fruit ofa tree alone, doth not present so great a gift as if he gave him the tree and all: so he that giveth unto God not only his works which are the fruits of his will,but his will also, which is the tree, by the bond of obedience, giveth more then if he gave his works only by voluntary devotion, keeping the tree of his will and choice free himself: and of other obedience, those which are most contrary to our sense and reason, as here St.Peters was, there being no likelihood to catch any thing but only in the word of Christ,are of most merit,and therefore Christ did not so much reward him with such a great draught of fishes, that was but an earnest penny of a greater reward: the reward was to be made a fisher of men, and the head of all fishers of men, the head of the Church, and to catch,three thousand souls at one Sermon.
A goodly lesson for prompt obedience of all subjects to their Superiors, though they see not the reason why,of children to their parents,servants to their masters and especially of Religious persons, who should say to their Superiors with the Prophet David, not so much in words as in promptitude of will, I am ready,and not so much as once troubled, to do your Command,without curious searching into the reason thereof.