3rd of the Year, 26 January 2020 ~ SMC
[sung] “I will make you fisher of men, if you follow me.” It was one of the Sunday School songs we learnt when I was a child. I’m not sure it teaches me much about the Christian Faith but it clearly stuck with me and reminds us of the importance of song in instruction both for our own spiritual lives but also in instructing our children in Christian songs. I’d love to know what resources are out there for catechising songs.
“I will make you fishers of men,” Jesus said to those first apostles, those twelve men on whom He would later give authority to baptise, authority to forgive sins, the command to celebrate the Mass in memory of Him, through whose love for each other and through whose union with each other are to show the world what the God of all love looks like. They were fishermen and it was therefore in their workplace that Jesus calls them to follow Him. In the stained glass window above the Statue of the Sacred Heart, we see a depiction of Jesus in such a situation. The disciples were fishermen, meaning they were part of a locally important industry, perhaps even sufficiently educated so as to read and write: we do not really know. Whatever skills they had and whatever graces they were yet to receive were to be offered in the service of the Church.
Not only are they in their place of work and presumably quite busy doing things which Jesus interrupts, St Matthew writing his Gospel and the compilers of the lectionary, who decide which readings we have at Mass, they want us to take note that this is in Capernaum in Galilee. The ruined site of Capernaum is there today and a great church built on the site of the synagogue and the house of St Peter’s mother in law, whom the Lord healed. St Mathew in the Gospel is quoting the first reading that we heard from Isaiah 8. The land of Zebulun and Napthtali, two of the ancient tribes of Israel, was the land then known better as Galilee. It was conquered by the Assyrians not long before the prophet Isaiah lived and that is the humbling that Isaiah refers to: “In days past the Lord humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in days to come He will confer glory on the way of the Sea.” Galilee was this important place of trade and commerce, where others would come on their way to somewhere else. Lots of buses would have gone through Galilee had they existed. It was therefore an easy place from which to launch the Church, through which the Good News was spread.
I’ve never been fishing. It looks quite boring, to be honest, but I can imagine those fish taste even better if you’ve caught them yourself. We are called to be “fishers of men,” for the church is apostolic. The phrase mustn’t make us think about trapping people in nets so as to drag them in to Church. But it might remind us of the need for patience. The fish don’t come instantly in to the net and even if they do you lose a few along the way. As we invite people to come to Church, as we talk to others about how our faith is important to us and things we gain from being not just nominally Christian, but actively engaged in worship and the fellowship of the Church, we can think of the great net which is the Church and through patient articulation of what God has done for us, others will long to come in. Hold those people in prayer, when lighting candles, when offering decades of the rosary, when dedicating Masses to particular individuals or intentions.
It is up to people to choose whether they will respond to the call of God or not. It’s important for us to remember that faith is a gift from God, not something of our own creation. God has chosen us, He has called us, it’s His imperative, His action that has brought us here this morning. But we have to co-operate with it. There will be days and times and occasions when we don’t want to co-operate with God, or when it seems too much effort or just not necessary. These days remind us of how much free will God has given us: to love Him or not to bother much with Him. We are free to choose, just as our Lord emphasises in His ministry that He is free: “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord,” (John 10:18). God won’t force us to love Him, that freedom is His gift to us. We come because we’re grateful for this gift!
Today and all save one of the Sundays of February, we’re hearing from the First Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians. It’s one of Paul’s earliest letters and it reveals a significant amount of the sort of relationship he had with the churches he helped to build up. In our reading today we heard how the Church is wracked with divisions around personalities - “I am for Paul … I am for Apollos” etc. People fell into camps and it did the Church no good at all. Having finished the week of Prayer for Christian Unity yesterday, we see from her earliest days the temptation to divide has beset the Church and we must not be part of that.
Paul knows what is happening in Corinth even though he is no longer there because of reports from those who remain behind, among them Chloe. Elsewhere in Paul’s letter back to the Corinthians we see there are reports of other problems concerning this issue of liberty, freedom, choice. Human beings have always concerned themselves with what was possible: could we do this, would it be possible? The Christian must also always ask him or herself whether it is desirable, whether it is Godly to do this or to think of that or omit the other.
And so Paul offers advice to the Corinthians on whether they should get married or not, which is slightly mixed to be honest. He tells them not to get divorced (I Corinthians 7). He encourages them to have regard for those weaker in the faith by showing them the best example of what a godly life looks like. Paul teaches this with regard to food sacrificed to idols but is a lesson for us today or modelling what a Christian life looks like if we expect others to take us seriously (I Corinthians 8). Paul also sets out to remind them that everyone will be raised from the dead and judged in their new Resurrection body (I Corinthians 15).
“I will make you fishers of men.” It should be of great comfort to us, my friends, that God did not call us alone. God could have forced us to follow Him and we would have been robots with no free will. He could have called Simon and Andrew and left them carrying on with their lives but He didn’t. He called them to leave their old lives behind. They still needed to sort out their own clothing, to find an income, to care for their families. But they were to do all that as part of the community and fellowship of the Church. The call we have received is no less to be part of this net and to draw others into the fellowship of the Church. We do this by being here Sunday by Sunday and through the whole host of other ways that we find out more about service: teaching at Sunday School, welcoming people to Mass, being at Mass every day, music, cleaning, refreshments, serving at the altar, Boys’ Brigade, lunch clubs, Night Shelter, administration, sitting on the PCC. Thank you to those who do these things and if you’re interested in finding out more then speak to me or someone else you think might know. Jesus called those first disciples to take up a particular role within the Christian community because that is what they were called to do. Jesus comes to us in this Mass and says no less to each one of us, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”