Cochin Fishermen

January 13, 2015 at 9:12 am

Today is my birthday so I found it edifying how the readings for today, the first week of ordinary time, spoke to me.  Happy New Year.

With the new liturgical calendar, the readings begin with the start of Jesus’ public  ministry.   The readings focus on His message:

The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the apostles preached Jesus.  They did not forget his message but Christ became the focus of the message of the Apostles.  ( Referred to as the Kerygma in academia).    Here though we see the Church emphasizing the message of Jesus at the beginning of the liturgical year that the Kingdom of God is present.  Wake up and Repent.

Jesus then sees Simon and Andrew casting their nets and tells them to Follow Him and he will make them fishers of men.  Next,  He meets  James and John who are mending their fishing  nets.   He calls them as well.   They left their father Zebedee and the hired help on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

When we were recently with our friends John and Mary in Cochin  on the Arabian Sea, we watched men casting nets as they have for thousands of years.  They retain about 30% of the revenue from the fish that they catch and  sell.  The rest goes to the owner of the nets and dock.   The fishermen likely take home somewhere between 3 and 10 dollars a day.  This reading reminded me of these men.   Like these fisherman,  the first disciples were the working poor.  Jesus’ father was also a common laborer.  A technon.  Commonly portrayed as a carpenter, but more likely he was a mason who worked with concrete. Perhaps that is why  Jesus who was also born in a barn always had an affinity for the poor and called his disciples from the little people of this world.

As I read this passage,  I also imagined the reaction of the  father,  Zebedee.  Was he shocked or surprised to see his sons walk away?  Had he met Jesus before?  Had Jesus already been spending time with his first disciples?  Were they already familiar with his wisdom and charisma?  Had their hearts already been touched and were they  burning within?  Perhaps Zebedee blessed them as they went.

Reading this message on my birthday and reflecting on the call to follow Jesus, I wonder what does it mean for me to follow Jesus?  What is he asking me to do?  Am I called to be a fisher of men and women?

Yesterday at the end of Sunday Mass, Fr Packiaraj introduced a newly ordained Jesuit ( who he welcomed to the crazy club) and a newly married couple.   He talked about how each are called to their respective vocations.  Indeed, as a married man,  I can follow Jesus and discover God’s will by loving my wife.  I am called to serve and be the face of God for her.  Deep inside our protective persona, we are all fragile packages.  We need to be gentle with one another. Husbands have a responsibility to respect and love their wives’ fragile packages and vice versa.   We are called to live the vow that we made to one another to be faithful to one another no matter what  comes our way whether in sickness or in health.  It sounds easy, but is not without its challenges.   Isn’t that why we need the grace of the sacrament of matrimony?

These days, many young people are not interested in the artifices of marriage.  They see people marry and divorce like teenagers in middle school going steady and breaking up.   On the other hand,  I remember a married couple telling Kathleen and I when we were engaged that a married couple living for the Lord makes others hunger for what they have which comes from the Lord.  So perhaps as the culture around us has more and more people of all ages living together without marriage and unaware of how God can sustain their love, the remnant of married Christians has an opportunity to truly be a light to the world and  a lamp upon a lampstand.   In that way, married couples living out their vocation can be fishers of men and women.

At the same time, it is clear to me that all human beings are swimming in God, moving in God, living in God whether they acknowledge God or not.  We all live, move, and are  grounded in God.  God comes to us through one another.  A happy, loving marriage is not the special preserve of believers, Christians, or any other faith tradition.  I have more recently been conscious that it is important to not be self –righteous or think that God has given me or Christians something special.  A special knowledge.  If anything, one of the premiere points of Jesus ministry and message to the Jews was just the opposite.  He was always talking about how he found greater faith outside the Jewish tradition. There are many examples. A few include the story of the Good Samaritan,  the Samaritan woman at the well, the wise men who came from outside Israel to honor Jesus at his birth, Paul’s transformation of Christianity from a Jewish sect to a religion for all.  As the sun shines on all people, so too does God’s love.   Clearly God acts and seeks to draw all no matter their ethnicity or religious tradition to Her love.  Nonetheless, I know the power of the sacrament.  I have experienced how when I call upon the Lord, he keeps me true to my vow, removes impediments, distractions, temptations.

Thomas Aquinas discusses our concupiscible desires.   Aquinas baptized Aristotle who stated that we are animals.  We share an animal nature with sexual desires that are good and purposeful.  All desires are a yearning for the good.  According to Aquinas, all choices we make are for a perceived good.  The perceived good may be contrary to the real good which is ultimately choosing God.  While desires are  in themselves  good,  they may be misdirected  by us and end up weighing  us down.  They can be stirred up and perhaps form habits that lead to an addiction.  Some people live their lives on this level.  They enjoy the pleasure of such stimulations even though it makes them crazy and can lead to sin.   On the other hand, the grace of the sacrament or making conscious contact with God will help integrate our desires in a healthy and wholesome manner that aligns us with what is good, loving, and pure.  This example is only one among many of the ways Jesus calls me to be the face of love for Kathleen from moment to moment.  It is God’s will that we love and love in a special more intense way within married life.  At the end of the day, such love is incarnated and realized in how we treat one another.  Acting out of love  is  how we worship and honor the Lord and walk in Her way.

As Jesus asks us to come and follow him,  married couples are called to be of one heart and one mind as we seek to walk with the Lord in His way of love.  May we not refuse anything that He asks of us.  We may tend to complicate the discernment of the way of the Lord.   Aquinas can be boiled down to saying that God simply wants us to love one another.  St Augustine said “ Love and Do What You Will.”  Yet, we cannot be faithful to that call without His help and grace.  Whether known or not, God may be helping us, atheists, and agnostics to live in His love and reveal His love.

Lord, may we be obedient to the call that you have given us.  As we walk together through life,  may we see your face in each other and in others.  May we see your love revealed and reveal it.   As we seek to do your will in all that we do, may all our actions be worship.  May we as a married couples be a light for others in our shadowy existence.  May we hear your call to “ Come, Follow Me” and refuse not anything that you ask us to do.