Day after day it was the same thing; the same sea, the same nets, the same boat, the same back-breaking chores with the same guys. Day after day it was wind, water, fish, sore muscles, tired bodies. They’d grown up watching their father and their grandfather, maybe their great-grandfather and uncles do the same thing every day – .watching their future playing out before them.
Cast the net, pull it in. Cast the net, pull it in. If you were not casting the net, then you were sitting in the boat mending the nets or on the dock preparing the bait. Maybe that’s where we get the expression: either fish or cut bait – but don’t just sit there and do nothing.
We may not fish for a living but we do know about preparing bait, mending and casting nets. Some days it seems like nothing changes. We get tempted not to expect anything to change. This is the reality; it’s is just the way it is and the way it’s going to be.
But then we hear Jesus’ invitation: “Follow me!” It’s an invitation to a new life. It’s a knock a side of the head – an eye-opener. When Jesus said, “I will make you fish for people,” he was describing the transformation of our own lives, not simply a promise of new vocations.
This invitation is to an inner journey, a journey into the deepest part of our being. It’s not about planning and organizing, making lists, or packing camping gear or backpacks or suitcases. It’s not a vacation invitation. It’s not about gathering stuff, it’s about leaving things behind. The Scripture says: “Immediately upon hearing Jesus’ invitation they left their nets behind and followed him.” Imagine the look of puzzlement on Zebedee’s face at finding himself alone in the boat. They didn’t simply leave what they were doing; they left their father and the tools of their livelihood: their boat and their nets.
That’s the hard part for most of us. We’re pretty good at accumulating things and clinging to relationships but maybe not so good at letting go. More often than not our spiritual growth involves some kind of letting go. We never get anywhere new as long as we’re unwilling to leave where we are. We accept Jesus’ invitation to follow, not by packing up, but by letting go.
So, what are the nets that entangle us? What are the little boats that contain our life? What do we need to let go of and leave behind so that we might follow Jesus?
People who enjoy fishing are patient people. They cast their line into the water then wait and wait for a fish to swim by and take the bait. A plain hook alone does not interest most fish. And, some fish are picky about what will tempt them. There must be something on the hook that attracts the fish’s attention and whet’s their taste.
If you ask a person who likes to fish what is the best bait to use, they’re usually eager to tell you what works best to attract the attention of a fish. What they use for bait often depends upon what type of fish they are trying to catch. Sometimes it is the color of the lure on the line that attracts a fish. Sometimes is it actual bait. Sometimes it’s not food at all. It can be a “fly,” a lure fashioned out of thread and small feathers to look like a real fly or another type of insect.
Jesus told his disciples that he would teach them how to “fish for people.” He showed all of us that the way to do that is to have God’s love in our own lives, evident between us and to share it with others.
A variety of motives influence people to exchange their old lives for new ones. What commitments convince Vocation Seekers that it’s worth leaving behind life as they know it? Most of us know from our own and each other’s vocation stories, it’s the relationships we witness and experience within a community much more so than ministries that prompt new-comers to “test the waters.”
We, our community, can put all full energy into the production all kinds of “lures” and “bait” …retreats and workshops, attractive vocation materials, holy cards, videos, websites and other social media … but that’s only part of what Jesus meant when he promised to teach us how to fish for people. And, remember if we’re fishing from our boat each one has to do her assigned task of mending the nets, casting the line or preparing bait … no slackers allowed. And, all of us have to row in sync lest we tangle oars or go in perpetual circles. Look to Jesus – how did He fish? He taught, He gave witness, He invited, He did not disappoint, He was (and is) faithful to His word.
Knowing all that, what witness do we need to be constantly giving? What do we need to leave behind (individually and communally) to convince an observer that our community is worth a further look? What is the bait, the lure that will prompt more questions, extended visits, developing relationships and finally prompt the Seeker to have the daring to say “This is where I feel God is calling me; I’m willing to leave all behind for the sake of Jesus’ call, with these Sisters (whom I now call my own) here at Holy Name.”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress