Emptiness – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 5:1-11, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

empty boat

Don’t you find it strange that right after a huge catch of fish, Peter suddenly falls on his knees before Jesus and makes a confession: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”? You know, sisters and brothers, in almost all the retreatants I have accompanied all these years, as well as in my own retreats, I have long noticed that deep contrition for sins happens after we realize how blessed we are by God, rather than before. I think that’s the genius of Ignatius. Unlike many retreats today that begin by having retreatants write their sins on a piece of paper, then burning them at the altar, Ignatius begins the Spiritual Exercises by leading his retreatants to a place of deep gratitude. There the retreatants stay until the Spirit overwhelms them with profound appreciation for the blessings in their lives. Only from that place of gratitude do the retreatants very spontaneously transition to heartfelt, sorrowful contrition. No writing down of sins, no burning at the altar, no theatrical monologue from the retreat master to coax guilty tears from otherwise dry eyes – none of that; only ddep contrition from a place of gratitude. But this shouldn’t surprise us because the same thing happens to us in our everyday relationships. If you notice, mas matindi ang ating hiya at pagsisisi kapag ang nasaktan nating tao ay ‘yung naging napakabuti sa atin, napahaba ng pisi sa atin, napakalaki ng pagtiwala sa atin. So, on second thought, we shouldn’t find it too strange that deep contrition bends Peter’s knees after huge blessings overwhelm his boats. It is only after God’s abundance overcomes Peter that he grasps how empty he has been of GOd. Maybe this is a good lesson to keep in mind: deep gratitude helps deep repentance. People who are constantly grateful over blessings are often more readily repentant over their faults. The opposite is also true: hirap humarap sa sariling pagkukulang ang inggrato. Deep gratitude makes us deeply repentant.

Bishop Pablo David once told us this story. When he was doing Scripture studies in Israel, their professor took them one day to Lake Galilee where a small boat was waiting on the shore.  The professor got into the boat and paddled a few yards out, leaving his students on the shore,  Then, from the boat, the professor faced them and started talking. Not yelling or shouting, but talking, in regular volume. Bishop David said the class was amazed at how clearly they could hear their professor. So Jesus apparently knew his physics! Or at least, he intuited it well. Sound travels very well over water because sound waves are bent down and bounce along the water surface as they travel forward. But I realized something else the Bishop didn’t mention. The professors’ voice sounded all the clearer because it must have been amplified right at the outset by the wooden material of the boat. But for the wooden boat to have acted as amplifier, it must have been empty. A filled boat would not have been as good a sounding board as an empty one.

We are more familiar with this than we realize, sisters and brothers. Whether in politics or education or church, the most inspiring people for us are those who “preach from their emptiness.” One who preaches from emptiness is unafraid to admit his mistakes, who is the last person to suggest or say that he or she is a good person, because he or she is well aware of their own sins, and who dodges honor and praise because he or she knows that others are more deserving. Notice, however, that people who preach form their emptiness are more charismatic than politicians, wiser than intellectuals, and holier than ecclesiastics. Crowds of people were drawn to Jesus because they had never heard any rabbi or Pharisee say something like “foxes have lairs, birds of the sky have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head,” or say “the son of man did not come to be served but to serve,” or say “are you going to leave me too?” When the Lord preached from his emptiness, people’s hearts felt like they were filled to bursting.

On that day when Peter was called to be a fisher of people, he felt how empty he had been only when he realized how lavish God was with his blessing. In his gratitude, he felt most repentant. But not to worry, because, when it was Peter’s turn to preach the Good News from his emptiness, his empty boat – then he was heard loud and clear. Then had he the widest room for all kinds of people to come swimming in and filling his once-empty net to bursting!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Veronica Villegas says:

    Thank you so much, Fr. Arnel, for your insightful homily! Yes, gratitude must come before contrition. That’s the reason why I always squirm when some people place the prayer of light before thanksgiving in the Examen. But then isn’t there something else that precedes gratitude? Isn’t it that gratitude and then contrition come from a place of love – from that AHA, breathtaking discovery of how deeply madly God loves me? And in that place of love as well, doesn’t one become emboldened to face and accept and somehow be secure in one’s utter emptiness?


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