In the 16th century the Spanish mystic John of the Cross wrote a poem which came to be known as the Dark Night of the Soul. It started:
On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings
I went forth without being observed.
The term dark night of the soul came to refer to a spiritual crisis in the journey towards God. Famous Christians have experienced this spiritual plunge into darkness. Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who will soon be made a saint, experienced this crisis for 50 years of her life.
And this is the crisis that Saint Peter is seen to experience in our Gospel reading today. Close your eyes for a minute and imagine the state of mind of Peter and the other disciples after Jesus’ death and departure from their lives. Imagine their bewilderment, disorientation and loneliness. Peter, the fisherman, had given up his job to follow Jesus. Now that Jesus had died, even though he had appeared again, the future for Peter and the other disciples was unclear. The way of Jesus had seemed to come to a dead end.
In this dark state, Peter decides to do what he knows best: to go out fishing on a boat. But even this proves futile. Peter’s desperate plight is captured by the words:
“that night they caught nothing”.
Perhaps you can reflect on when you have reached a desperate state, when the certainties of life have disappeared, and even your faith is in doubt. I recently experienced this when I was treated badly by someone in the church (not in this community). His behaviour seemed to make a mockery of what our church stands for. So does our reading today offer comfort to you and me?
The turning point in our Gospel passage comes with the sentence that follows the night of catching nothing. We are told that “When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore”. Jesus stood at the start of a new day, on firm ground. But the disciples did not at first recognise him. Jesus then called out with tender care for their ordinary needs “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” When they answered no, Jesus told them to do the unexpected and cast out their nets on the other side of the boat. When a huge catch resulted, the disciples then recognised Jesus. What followed is a scene of beautiful simplicity, as Jesus invited Peter and his other dear friends to a simple breakfast of fish and bread cooked on a charcoal fire on the beach. What was the result? We see from our first reading, that Peter and the other disciples were in time inspired by their Lord Jesus to leave their dark night of the soul and lead a new church in His name.
What does this tell us in our own lives? We are assured that, however dark our night, Jesus will be waiting for us, inviting us to share a new day. And he will appear in our lives in ways that we may not at first recognise, and in the simplest and most ordinary of our activities.
And I think back to the day after I received my bewildering and hurtful treatment. I experienced the joy of being with my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter visiting from overseas. What we shared were the simplest of pleasures. I recall two of the highlights. As I mowed the lawn, my son-in-law tapped me on the shoulder to tell me that it was time for him to take over. Later my granddaughter let me take her into the sea, and I shared in her delight on the seashore. These were the simple ways in which our Lord lifted up my spirits again and gave me hope. And a week later I am here with you good people and our dear, delightful Father Seejo: your faith and goodness also inspire me to walk the true path of Jesus.
Dark nights will come again to you and to me, as they came to Peter. But we have the hope that our Lord will cause his light to shine through the darkness. And let us have the insight to recognise the angels that he sends our way.