1 Peter 3. 8-15a Luke 5:1-11
Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing;
nevertheless, at your word I will let down the net.
And when they had done this,
they enclosed a great multitude of fishes. [Lk 5:5-6]
In the last two Sundays we’ve been looking passions of the rational aspect of our soul – pride and vainglory. Do you remember the spiritual disciples that are antidotes for these vices? (prayer and the inward turn)
Today, we look at dejection, a passion of the spirited/irascible aspect of our that can lead us astray but also what it is like when it is rightly ordered by God in the service of love.
What is the spirited, also called the irascible, aspect of the soul?
Think of the exuberance of a child growing up in a loving home, of the way they express joy – they light up at simple things – they are ready to run! This is spiritedness. But if children are repeatedly disappointed of the promises made to them, or, even more tragically, those who suffer abuse – always cowering, walking on eggshells waiting for the next blow – they live a severely diminished life. Think of the young employee just entering the work force full of ideas about how things could be done. But if every new idea is rejected and all that innovativeness is stamped out, or ideas are stolen and not acknowledged, the person can become dejected. Or think of the couple who started out marriage with such hopes and dreams but have worn each other down over time through fighting and hurting each other.
What we would like, is to uncover this spiritedness, any energy that has been buried in us, to use for our own ascension into the kingdom of God and to release that energy to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbour as ourself.
Dejection is part of the experience described in modern psychology’s definition of depression. Dejection is one of the temptations, the battles, we can all expect to struggle with at some point in the Christian life. Dejection is revealed in our lives primarily by sadness or grief accompanied by a withdrawing – both physically, for example, not attending church or social gatherings, and emotionally, no longer engaging with others when we are in their presence, but withdrawing into ourselves. It may also be revealed in our becoming bitter and resentful. It is an unhealthy response to a fear.
In the gospel account today of the call of Peter, James and John we see two causes of dejection and a sudden recovery of spiritedness.
Peter says, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”
A night with no fish, is discouraging. But imagine years of pursuing what is really not satisfying, it will bring us grief and we will see our energy waning. If this happens we have to ask ourselves if what we are toiling for is really what we want? Our souls have been created with such possibilities – the heavenly mingled with the earthly – and we should be satisfied with nothing less. Jesus promises us more than we can imagine. If our current work, the work itself, or the people we work with, or the way we are undertaking it, is the cause of our dejection, it is time to begin asking seriously and repeatedly in prayer and in self-reflection until we have an answer – what is it I am being called to do? What will release my spiritedness, the spiritedness I have known earlier in my life and that is now so buried?
Another reason for dejection, identified by the desert Fathers, that is shown in the same Gospel story – it is the most serious form of dejection, which can lead to despair.
When Peter sees the miracle of the sudden catch of fish, the manifestation of godly power, he sees suddenly at the same time his own unworthiness and falls before Jesus and cries out - Depart from me for I am a sinful man.
If we, in our looking inward, have discovered some grave sin – our temptation may be to flee from God instead of drawing nearer to the One who can save us. This passion of dejection can also lead us to isolation from other people as we think we cannot share our hearts with them. If it is our sin that is causing us to be dejected, a life-giving response is to confess it openly before God, and it may help to do that with a priest or pastor or mature Christian, as a witness, that we may be assured of the perfect forgiveness offered by Christ from the Cross and be given wise counsel in our struggles. We can recover our spiritedness, the past need not bind us in the present or diminish our future possibilities.
To both of these concerns of Peter (and no doubt they were shared by James and John), a life without transcendence and feelings of unworthiness, Jesus says just a few words that releases them:
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” [Lk 5:10-11]
Do you see their reaction? There is a sudden great burst of energy, of new life, when Peter, James and John hear Jesus’ words. First they scramble to get the fish, then they forget about their whole fishing profession, something has been released in them, the things holding them back from a wholehearted following of Jesus. When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. They were drawn away from their work to something new: to catch men, to become leaders in the Church that Jesus came to establish.
We see in this calling the importance of the Church in Jesus’ plans. It is the first thing Jesus calls these disciples to, after calling them to follow him – to build up the Church. It is also the last thing Jesus speaks of with Peter in his resurrection appearances, reminding him of his call to feed my sheep and to follow me. [Jn 21] Jesus is calling every one of us to join the Church and to build it up.
Joining the Church is a core spiritual discipline. And it is a particular antidote, to dejection, the unhelpful response we can have to withdraw from others. The Church is much more than this, but it is antidote to dejection. In the Church we begin to understand the joy of worshipping God, with others. Here we find mutual encouragement and the strengthening in our faith, the building up of our courage. Here we enjoy new and deeper friendships based on a common love of the highest things. Here we come to know God’s perfect forgiveness, our hope is continually renewed, our spirits are lifted. In the Church we learn how to read the Bible. The Church is the place of the sacramental life and that opens us to a sacramental vision of the whole of Creation (more on this later in Trinity season). You can practice this spiritual discipline of Church very easily, simply by showing up.
Peter points to another reason we may become dejected. If we have been hurt by others, we can be afraid to be hurt again, or our anger towards them can be frustrated and buried, leaving us bitter and resentful.
In today’s Epistle – Peter is talking to whatever church congregation is reading this letter:
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart and a humble mind.
Peter reminds the readers to have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, and to be tender hearted because it seems it is not always the case in the church community he is addressing.
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. …
Even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. [1 Peter 3:8-15]
The Church is a body of Christians of varying degrees of maturity – some will be less mature than you, though they’ve been here for years, some will be more mature and an inspiration and an encouragement to continue to grow. Do not be put off by hypocrisy, do not be put off by the odd mean spirited comment – no one in the Church is perfect yet and some are actual weeds in the midst of the wheat [Mt 13:24-43], but in the Church is where we deepen our union with the One who is perfect.
If the hurt we have experienced from another early in life had caused us to feel deep shame, psychological and spiritual help is available to have greater clarity around who is responsible—it is never the child—and to experience healing through the bearing of that shame before another and before God.
So why do we have this passion of dejection, that leads us to feel sad and to withdraw, and what is the right ordering of it?
We should grieve at some things if our hearts are right. This passion of dejection is there to alert us physically to a spiritual issue that we may not, strangely enough, have grasped yet with our mind. It seems our emotional life is sometimes more attuned than our conscious mind to an unhealthy situation we are in. So when we find ourselves sad and wanting to withdraw it is an invitation to discover the source of our sadness and so to be able to address it.
If it is pointing to a problem in our work, or in a relationship – that’s a good thing to wake us up to seek a more healthy situation.
If it is sin we are ashamed of – our grief, our fear of condemnation, can lead us to repentance – it is called godly grief by the Church Fathers.
If it is deep shame about something in our past – we can seek out God’s help and the help of others to work through it.
Dejection is not something to skip over, or cover over, but rather it is a well from which we can draw deep insight.
We are now in summer, many will be going on holidays soon, we will have time on these warmer summer days and nights for self reflection. In that time of being apart, times of quiet, let’s look into our hearts to see if there is some grief there – it may be pointing to a fear that is holding us back, and if it is unidentified, it has a power over us that it shouldn’t.
Jesus wants to release us today from any grief stemming from our fears.
Be encouraged by Jesus’ example of love in the face his enemies.
If we are held back by fear of condemnation, we remember now His perfect forgiveness offered as we re-present in the liturgy his death upon the Cross and resurrection.
And let us be encouraged, by His expressed desire to engage each one of us in our true vocation…
Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2