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The Catholic Moment: Duc in altum

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

By Father Earl Fernandes

Duc in altum. “Put out into the deep” (Luke 5:4).  Jesus’ words served as the beginning and end of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter Novo Millenio Ineunte, which he wrote to close the Great Jubilee. The Holy Father challenged the whole church to put out into the deep — to be bold in following Christ and bringing Christ to the world.

It’s hard to believe 10 years have passed since the jubilee. I remember making a pilgrimage to Rome that year with a group of young adults, led by Dominican Father James Sullivan and called Generation Christ. From that group, four became priests. Many married, while others live the call to holiness as single persons. Our common bond remains friendship with Christ and love for His church, but there also remains the challenge — to put out into the deep.

In calling for the jubilee year, John Paul II wrote, “Jesus is the genuine newness which surpasses all human expectations and, as such, He remains forever, from age to age. The incarnation of the Son of God and the salvation which He accomplished by His death and resurrection are, therefore, the true criterion for evaluating all that happens in time and every effort to make life more human.”

Well, how are we are we responding to the challenge 10 years removed from the jubilee, according to that criterion?

Far removed from the peace of Bethlehem is the state of our world. If one grace of the jubilee was peace, having contemplated the face of Christ during that year, then rightly we should be disappointed, given the events of Sept. 11, followed by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the continuing conflict in the Holy Land, and now the recent crisis in Korea.

If the great jubilee was to have been a time of forgiveness of debt and restoration of justice, here, too, we find disappointment. The economic disparity between wealthy nations and poor ones grows, as does the unsustainable amount of debt of some nations. Suspect economic practices, devoid of Christian principles, have brought many, even in our country, to ruin.

The work of the Redeemer was to restore and elevate human dignity and to save us from our sins. Does it not seem that human dignity is disregarded today in the many assaults on human life, particularly through abortion, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia? Is not the teaching of Christ, who gave himself for His bride, elevating marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, on marriage and sexuality challenged openly by society?

Again, looking at the church, one might see more shadows than light. The sexual abuse scandal and the lack of an effective response to it seem to be more a reflection of the devil than that of the face of Christ. Sunday Mass attendance continues its rapid decline. Catholic parishes and schools are facing closures and consolidation.

How can we even think of putting out into the deep? It appears we are still on the rocky shores, having caught nothing all night. Perhaps the challenge of putting out into the deep means relying less on ourselves and more upon the One born of the virgin at Bethlehem. It is Christ who helped Peter and the fishermen have a great catch that day.

We are only 10 years into the millennium — still at its dawn. The call of Christ: “Duc in altum” is still fresh. We can turn back, preferring to maintain what we have, without evangelizing, without becoming “fishers of men,” or we can put out into the deep, having caught nothing all day, onto the waves of a “vast ocean” and see what miracle Christ works. The choice is ours. He still calls: “Duc in altum.” How will you respond?

Father Fernandes is an assistant professor of moral theology and dean of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary. 

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