Fishers of Men and Fish
18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen.
19 And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’
20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.
22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. (Matthew 4: 18-22)
This reading is always very nostalgic for any priest because it is the Lord calling his first priests, in fact, his first bishops of the Church. He is calling them out of the work of the world and setting them aside for a special mission and purpose, that is for gathering all of the people into God’s holy Church that he might rescue us, pull us out of the dangerous sea and get us to the place that he has prepared for us. The bark of Peter is that ship that takes us unto our heavenly home. So that is a wonderful thing.
And I was praying about this Gospel this week, I have to admit that, although I do not generally have attention deficit disorder, I do when I pray, because as I am praying and thinking about the Gospel, I would love to be caught up in the glories of heaven. But in my prayer, when thinking I was called to be a fisher of men, the only thing I could think of was the movie Finding Nemo. Which fish would I be? Because even though I am called to be a fisher of men, at one and the same time, I am also called to be a fish. We are all called to be fish! And I was not exactly thrilled about that idea. I do not like fish. I do not want to be a fish. And thinking about being caught in a net—I did not like that imagery. I was struggling with that.
Of course, all analogies have their limits. None are perfect. However, I do think that realization of being caught in the net of Christ is a good image. While I was grappling with it, I realized two things: one is that if I was going to be a fish, I would be one of those puff fish with the spikes that expand so that, if someone is trying to eat you, they cannot.
That realization was not important but this one is. I was thinking that this beauty of being caught, the beauty of being within the net of the Lord, is probably the most counter cultural understanding of the faith.
We who so desire to be free, we who so desire to be the arbitrators of our own destiny, we who wish to follow our own path and do things our way, would actually desire to be caught in a net,
to give up the mastery of our own lives and and give mastery to Christ. It seems very much unlike us at first because we think of this mastery in terms of the world.
When we give up our freedom and give it to someone else, we can be abused. And we see that time and time again. Throughout the history of man, people abuse their mastery over others.
But the difference between that mastery and ultimately what God is calling us to is that, when we are caught in this net, our master becomes the one who knows us better than anyone else, who knows the very workings of our hearts, who made us, who loves us beyond all other things that are desirable. He wants the best for us. So, in other words, who else would we want to lead us? Ultimately there is the realization that we would rather be a slave to Christ then be free in the world. For in that slavery to Christ we find our truest freedom.
But at the same time, the reality is that the net is not all-encompassing. As all fishermen know, there is always the fish that got
away. We do not have to be caught. We do not have to let ourselves be caught. We as fish have the ability to swim deeper. And, as you know, in deep water, you can go deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper, and it is darker and darker and darker and the dangers increase, but you are, in a sense, free in the ways of the world. The danger is that if you stay in these deep waters eventually you do not even see the light because you are so used to the darkness. That is the nature of fish. Some fish like to be in the dark and that is because they are used to it. Think of the Lord of the Rings, of Gollum, that little weird gray guy. “The sun! It hurts us.”
How often do we find goodness painful? How often do we, when we leave someone who has radically surrendered themselves to God, how often do we call those people the goody two shoes? Or we say, “That is just someone who is really into it. They are a little bit on the edge.” In reality, they have embraced that goodness, they have come out into the sun. And we who are so used to dwelling in the shadow of sin, sometimes we cannot take that sun, not all at once. But we know we need it. And so this is the invitation that God is making to us--to repent and to believe in the Gospel, to turn away from sin, to come towards the light, to recognize that ultimately we are destined to give ourselves to God in a radical way, to allow our lives to be led in that way that might label us the crazy ones, the fish that want to be in the net. We desire it.
And people might think that you are crazy, that you are giving up your freedom in the ways of the world. No! We are gaining so much more than we are giving up because here is a reality, if I can take this analogy a little farther. Those of us who are the fish caught in the
net-- we are not going to your local seafood restaurant. We are not going to be in a butter cream sauce. The Lord is taking us fish, you who are caught in the net, to the aquarium that is prepared for us. He is going to take us, not to enslave us, not to fry us up, but to a place where we will be safe, where we have everything that we need. We will have creation as it ought to have been, free of all danger.
And so our first step is to repent, to allow the fisherman to catch us, to allow ourselves to dwell in the net and not leap out. Everyone who is sitting here at Mass hearing me preach is in the net. My words are holding you captive now. I am giving this homily in church. You can’t get out! Do not leave Mass early! Why are you in this net? Are you caught in this net because you want to be here? Did you jump into the net or are you here because your parents woke you up and dragged you out of your bed with various threats and got you into the car to come here? Are you here simply because you know you are supposed to be, but you would rather be out there? Where are you in your relationship with God?
If you want to be in a better place, a happier place, then hear the words of God and follow. Repent. Believe in the Gospel. Do not believe in only a part of the Gospel. Do not believe in the Gospel as it suits you. Do not believe in the Gospel whenever it is nice or easy, but actually believe in the Gospel and change your life. Start small.
Start with confession. People say, “Well, Father, you are preaching about confession all the time.” Well, yes! Because on those Saturdays when I sitting in the box, I am only all alone. I want to see more people! People think that you can measure the health of a parish if no one is coming to confession because that means everyone is a saint! No! As priests, we measure the health of the parish by how many people are struggling to repent and believe in the Gospel, how many people are struggling to put aside sin, to swim out of the darkness into the net and into the light, even though it is hard. How many people are struggling, for it is in struggling that we will be perfected. So there is nothing more devastating to a priest than to sit in the confessional bored out of our minds. Because essentially that means that our fish are happy in the dangers of the world and do not even desire the light. So pack me full on Saturday. Give me what I deserve. You want to be busy, Father? We’ll show you. You’ll be hearing confessions until you go to bed! Praise God!
And so, repent. Let us begin that journey. We are a world that has turned away from God. Let us listen to the words of the Lord and repent and stave off the evil that awaits us if we remain in the darkness.
Father Jacob Meyer, Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents
Reprinted from the Confraternity of Penitents Blog