06 September 2012
Fishers of Men
Thursday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time
Gospel Reading: Lk 5,1-11
In the Gospel passage today, we hear the story of the call of Peter as narrated by Luke. Here the call is best summed up by the words of Jesus: "Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men".
There is something down-to-earth beautiful with the analogy of the disciple of Christ as a fisherman or fisher of men. The craft of fishing has many parallels to the mission of evangelization.
1. Fishing takes a lot of patience.
Any serious fisher - whether as a livelihood or recreation - would tell you that is not a craft for the impatient. Fishing involves a lot of waiting, as well as learning where to find and lure in fish. And learning to be a good fisher takes time and patience.
No one becomes a good disciple of Christ overnight. Thus, God does not expect from us immediate perfection but openness to growth. Patience is required as we strive to practice the virtues and deepen our knowledge of the faith. And then as we grow from being evangelized to becoming evangelizers, we need to be patient with others as well. Each one has its own pace of growth.
2. Fishing involves creativity.
Fisherfolks use baits, lures and nets, and various strategies to catch fish. Sports fishers even use different types and designs of lures and baits for different varieties of fish. Add to this the collaboration of fisherfolks who work as a team to haul their catch for the day.
Evangelization involves creativity as well. I remember an advice by our professor in pastoral theology: "your homilies, your message, should not only be nutritious, they should also be delicious." It is not only the content of our teaching that matters, but also how we deliver it. How many times have we heard many people get turned off not so much by how difficult the teachings of the Church are, but the manner by which some Christians deliver those teachings? In this regard, I remember a saying often attributed to Pope John Paul II: "Faith must be proposed, it must not be imposed."
Thus, as with fishing, it is not only the good intention that matters, it is also how through our witnessing people may come to be edified with the Christian message, not turned off by it.
3. Fishing requires us to trust in the Lord.
Inasmuch as fishing is a human endeavor, it is also subject to many uncertainties and circumstances beyond human control. Even as fisherfolks need to grow in the skills of fishing and study patterns of seasons, the weather, fish migration, their behavior, and the likes, they also recognize that their success largely depends on the generosity of the God who provides.
In the mission of being fishers of men, the fundamental principle that we need to grasp is that the salvation of men and women is primarily God's work. We are but His collaborators. We work for Him and with Him, and find joy and meaning in our labor of love. Sometimes there may be some tough questions to answer, sometimes the view ahead may be unclear, sometimes, as in the experience of Peter and friends, we may labor for a time and end up without any catch to show. It is during times like these that our faith is both tested and perfected. We have faith that the God who calls us will also provide the fruit of our labor and the means to sustain it.
And then when we are able to catch men and women, the Lord Himself will turn them into yet another generation of fishers of men.
One last story...
A young man felt the vocation to become a monk and spiritual leader to many, and responded to it. He went to a monastery for years to be formed and trained. Eventually he became a monk and slowly built a reputation as a wise and holy one. Now, twenty years have passed since his initial response, and he couldn't but feel somehow disappointed with the way his ministry turned out. For through the years he was able to gather and form only a few who were seeking for a deeper way of life.
One afternoon, the monk was walking along the beach when he chanced upon a young boy throwing something into the sea. When he got closer, he saw that the boy was picking and throwing starfish into the sea. "What are you doing?", he asked. "I am saving these starfish by throwing them back to the sea", came the reply. He pressed further: "But there may be hundreds or a thousand of them scattered all over the beach, you can't save all of them. How does it matter to you?" The boy picked one starfish from the sand and threw it to the sea, and then told him: "For that one, yes, it would matter much to him that he was saved."
We need not go very far, or seek a wider audience (although we could already do that too, given the wide range of media available in our time) in order to become fishers of men. The people around us, those close to us, those who know us - they are the men and women to fish for God. Let us pray that they may find us worthy of the calling that the Lord has entrusted to us.