Fishers of Men: Our Calling
Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19
Jesus’ calling of the apostles is his call to us. Pope Francis reiterates this call today. For he challenges us, “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, in our parish or diocesan institutions, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel,” (World Youth Day Homily at Cathedral of San Sebastian, Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, July 27, 2013). “To go out as ones sent—it is not enough simply to open the door in welcome because they come, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people.”
In today’s culture, how do we do meet Pope Francis’ tough challenge? First, how do we go about meeting the people? Secondly, after we meet people, how do we authentically show the Good News of the Gospel to those we encounter? It’s not easy, even when we personally are striving for it!
As we reflect on these words, Pope Francis offers us one simple piece of advice. “Be servants… of the culture of encounter! I would like you to be almost obsessed about this… Be so without being presumptuous, imposing “our truths”, but rather be guided by the humble yet joyful certainty of those who have been found, touched and transformed by the Truth who is Christ, ever to be proclaimed (cf. Lk 24:13-35)” (World Youth Day Homily at Cathedral of San Sebastian, Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, July 27, 2013).
We should be struck by the Pope's comment. A life of encounter is so central to the fulfilling Jesus’ call to be fishers of men that Pope Francis calls us to be obsessed.
So what is a “culture of encounter” and how does one go about creating it? The culture of encounter is a culture of exchange. We must be more than people simply bumping into one another. Rather, we must form connections. While Jesus did preach to the masses, he did not spend the majority of his time feeding the multitudes. Most of his time was spent with twelve men, eating together and traveling. Through this he changed their lives.
On those shores next to the Sea of Galilee, Jesus pronounced an invitation, “Come after me.” He welcomed the apostles to be a part of his life and so he could show them eternal life. We must invite others into our homes, our families, and our lives.
Unfortunately, many Catholics in our parishes are anonymous Catholics. Many of us attend Mass with little connection to one another. We cannot be anonymous Catholics and be “fishers of men.” We must create a new culture, a culture of encounter.
So how do we become part of the solution? When you attend Mass do you look around for a new person to meet or slip out the door without speaking to another? Have you invited a friend, a colleague, or a neighbor to dinner in your home? Do you seek out opportunities to assist others in times of need? Do you delight in the opportunity to form new relationships?
Forming new relationships is not easy. For example, our family has set a goal of having one conversation with another young family at each Mass. We fail more often than we succeed. Often times the church has emptied before we can even get out of the pew. However, sometimes we do succeed. And in these moments we have been able to form new relationships.
At other times, we fail to create a culture of encounter because we are afraid to make mistakes. But Pope Francis urges us ““Let us not be afraid…The Apostles made mistakes before us,” (World Youth Day Homily at Cathedral of San Sebastian, Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, July 27, 2013).
We are not called to transform the world with our knowledge, but by being a point of encounter to the world. Our two year old son recently reinforced this lesson for our family. At the beginning of October we began explaining the concept of dressing up and going Trick or Treating for Halloween. When we asked our son what he wanted to be for Halloween he told us he wanted to be our pastor Fr. Christian. While we thought this request was charming, we were also somewhat embarrassed by this request. We felt all of our friends would think we were religious fanatics for dressing up our son as a priest for Halloween. However, after three weeks of our son consistently asking to be Fr. Christian for Halloween, I (Sara) headed to the fabric store and let our son help pick out the items so I could make him vestments for Halloween.
Our first Trick or Treating experience was at our local university’s dorms. We were surprised at how many people (positively) commented on his costume, and how it gave our family a very unique chance to show our faith. We realized that our 26 month old son did a better job sharing the Gospel in an authentic way than either of his parents had done in the same circumstances. We then realized we need to do a better job authentically sharing the Gospel with all those we encounter.
A Dominican sister once shared her secret for being fishers of men. She called it the SEW principle which stood for Subtle Evangelical Witness. She explained that there is no need to impose our beliefs. Rather, we must lead our lives in ways that makes others curious. Planting small visible signs like our son. As Pope Francis stated, the Gospel spreads when we (those who have been “touched and transformed by the Truth who is Christ”) live with “joyful certainty” (World Youth Day Homily at Cathedral of San Sebastian, Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, July 27, 2013). For in the end, this is what the world seeks. It is up to us to live it and share it.