5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Cor. 15:1-11; Gospel of Luke 5:1-11
Face Challenges - Trust in God

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Joseph, Victoria Street – Singapore
on 7 February 2016

There is a true story of Maricel Apatan, a 11-year old Filipino girl who lived in Zamboanga, a city that is on the south of the Philippines. On 25 September, 2000, Maricel went with her uncle to draw water.  Out of nowhere, four men appeared; they forced her uncle to the ground and hacked him on the neck and killed him.  Maricel was terrified and was shocked; more so when she recognised that these men were their neighbours.  As she tried to escape, these men with long knives caught hold of her.  Maricel pleaded with them, “Brothers, please don’t kill me!  Have mercy on me!”  These brutal men would not listen; they slashed her neck.  Maricel fell to the ground and lost consciousness.  After sometime, as Maricel regained her consciousness, she could see the feet of these men around her.  So, she pretended to be dead. 

When they finally left, Maricel struggled to her feet; blood was everywhere; she was then shocked to find that both her hands were being chopped and they were falling off.  Maricel fought for her life and tried to make her way home; along the way she would faint and fall to the ground.  But, when she regained her consciousness, she would battle on.  Finally, Maricel reached home.  Her mother screamed in terror.  She wrapped her 11 year old child with a blanket and carried her and tried to get to the nearest hospital.  However, to get to the hospital, they had first to get to the highway which was 12 km away; this took them four hours.  When they finally arrived at the hospital the doctors thought that Maricel would die.  However, for five hours, they operated on Maricel’s hands which were both chopped off she also needed 25 stitches to stich her deep neck and back gashes that Maricel sustained from being slashed by the long knives.

Being poor, Maricel and her mother did not have any money to pay the Pesos50,000 hospital bill.  However, they managed to contact a distant relative, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, who eventually settled the bill and also helped them bring the murderers to court and were sentenced to imprisonment.  When Maricel and her mother finally went home the next day, which was Maricel’s 12th birthday, they were further shocked to find that their home had been ransacked and burnt.

To make a long story short, Maricel was eventually accepted by the nuns at Regina Rosarii and lived with them.  Some years later, Maricel was accepted into a Manila rehabilitation and training centre for people with disabilities.  There she learnt how to write and do chores.  Maricel was cited as the most industrious, best in computer, and most courteous student.  In 2008, she graduated from a course in Hotel and Restaurant Management.  She even received a Gold medal for Arts and Crafts.  In 2011, she was a fully qualified chef.  Maricel said, “In my disabilities, I am totally dependent on my mother to give me the emotional support.  Trusting in God, I became more determined to strive to have a normal life. I believed I had an important mission in life because I survived the attack.”  

My sisters and brothers in Christ, if a young girl like Maricel who had gone through so much traumas in her life can say that she believed that God has a mission for her that needs to be accomplished, because she survived the brutal attack, and despite having her home burnt to the ground, you and I should draw inspiration from such a testimony and renew our trust in God even more fully today.  This is how today’s Gospel is challenging us to live our faith.

In today’s Gospel event, when Simon Peter accepted Jesus’ request to go out into the sea to fish again, he experienced such a huge catch of fish that their nets began to tear and their two boats were filled to sinking point. Jesus could perform this miracle of the huge catch of fish because Peter was able to overcome his resistances and reluctance to accept Jesus’ request.  And, we can fully understand that Peter was resisting because firstly, he had spent the whole night fishing and had caught nothing.  Secondly, being a professional fisherman he knew very well that, if there were no fish to be caught at night, then all the more the chances of catching any during the day would even be more remote. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, in this Gospel account, the first important point for us believers and followers of Christ is to remember that like Peter, when Jesus presents us with surprises in life and invites us to accept His requests to do certain things and to live our lives in a certain manner, being human, we would understandably resist and become reluctant to do so because our human experiences of painful failed attempts would dissuade us and lead us away from such a path of failures. 

Simon Peter precisely experienced such painful failed attempts, and thus he told Jesus very honestly and respectfully that their whole night of hard labour that yielded no fish.  However, Peter allowed Jesus to turn everything around when he said to Jesus, “But Master, if you say so, I will pay out the nets.”  In other words, Peter was saying to Jesus that in my professional opinion I would totally disagree with you. 

However, in faith I would suspend my judgment and trust that whatever you suggest, You would bring forth a divine blessing that is infinitely beyond my human finite capabilities and narrow perceptions and expectations of life.  In short, Simon Peter is saying to Jesus, “Master, in spite of my painful experiences of failures, I dare to trust You; I dare to believe that Your request would bring forth a miracle in my life and for the good of all peoples.  
My brothers and sisters in Christ, like Simon Peter, if Maricel had given up hope and did not fight on, if Maricel could not see God’s Presence in the midst of her pains and traumas in her life, if Maricel could not see how God has a mission for her in her life, she would have easily given up and died in the fields and never reached her home.  If Maricel’s mother did not carry her beloved 11 child and walked the four hours-12 km to reach the highway, to get to the hospital, Maricel would have died.  In all probability, we believe that Maricel’s mother was able to have such great strength to survive her trials was because she had God for her strength to do the right thing for her dying child. 

When Peter saw the miraculous catch of fish, his humble response in the face of God’s Presence was, “Leave me Lord; I am a sinful man.”  Likewise, in today’s First Reading, when God called Prophet Isaiah, he too complained like Simon Peter of his unworthiness and sinfulness and said, “What a wretched state am I in!  I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.”  In today’s Second Reading, St Paul too adds, “Since I persecuted the Church of God, I hardly deserve the name apostle . . .” 

My sister and brothers in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that all of us, without exception are called by God to make a difference in this world.  This is precisely why God created us.  He created us with a mission.  If we do not know what this mission is, then we are probably not yet living a God-centred life that He wills of us.  This mission need not be big, but most importantly, this mission is about God wanting each of us to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.

As with Simon Peter, Prophet Isaiah and St Paul, in today’s Readings, all of us are unworthy and sinful, yet called by God to make a difference to this world by drawing people closer to God and help build God’s Kingdom while we are on our earth’s journey.  So, will we humanly resist like Simon Peter and yet accept Jesus invitation to Do His Father’s Will?  If we dare to trust God then, like Maricel we too will be able to live a meaningful life in spite of the trials and tribulations that we may face, and truly live the life and mission that GOD WANTS us to live.  Will our response be, “Yes, Lord, if you say so, I will pay out the nets” and become a fisher of men for Your Kingdom . . . whatever this may be that You Will for me.

(Cf. Adapted from: www.propelsteps.wordpress.com; maricel apatan.) .

Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.

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