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 companions. 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 – imaging their future folding 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.
While we may not fish for a living, we do know about “preparing bait, mending and casting nets.” Some days, like life for commercial fishers, it seems like nothing changes. One gets tempted not to expect anything to change. We think: this is the reality; it’s 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 new life. It’s a knock up the 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. Jesus promises to be our personal AAA, our roadside service. He offers us a map, an itinerary, a destination. But it’s not only an invitation – it’s an invitation AND a promise.
It’s an 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. His boys 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. 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 the shore where we are. 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 nibble the bait. Some fish are picky about what will tempt them. If you ask a person who likes to fish what is the best bait to use, the answer may be “it depends.” What kind of fish they are trying to catch? Sometimes it is the color of the lure on the line that attracts a fish. Sometimes it’s the actual bait. Sometimes it can be a “fly,” a lure fashioned out of thread and small feathers to look like a fly.
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 convinces a “seeker” 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 than our ministries that prompt new-comers to “test the waters.”
We, (individually and as a community), can put our 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. But, keep in mind that vocation – to any and every state in life – a GIFT! And, remember fishing from our boat requires that 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.
So, what kind of 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? It’s an exceptional challenge in these pandemic times. But the phone calls and email messages; the ZOOM Oblate Meetings, the videos on our website, the personal letters, the eblasts from our Advancement Staff keep our readers coming back. In current lingo, the “soft touches” are ways to seal the friendships and supportive interest that last a lifetime. What is the bait, the lure that will prompt more questions, extended visits, developing relationships and finally prompt a vocation Seeker or an Oblate candidate to have the daring to say, “This is where I feel God is calling me; I’m willing to follow His lead, to leave all behind for the sake of Jesus’ call, with these Sisters (whom I now call my own) here at Holy Name Monastery.”