Rom 10:9-18; Matt 4:18-22
November 30, 2010
Last week, my dentist told me that he is bringing a hygienist to his practice. He explained that he would no longer be doing oral x-rays and teeth cleanings from this point forward in his practice.
Decisions like this one reflect the phenomenon of specialization. A field will be divided and sub-divided to accommodate increasing rates of knowledge, complexity and time management.
Specialization is found all over now. Years ago, relievers were a specialty within the larger set of baseball pitchers. It has since sub-divided into “closers” and “set up men.” Baseball is not the only sport with special players. Football has them too – placekickers and punters and returners who perform on special teams.
Even when it comes to Church work or ministry, specialization is evident. Recall here how Saint Paul instructs the Corinthian Christians, “I planted, Apollos watered [and] God caused the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:6) When it comes to roles then, there is a definite Pauline acknowledgement of specialization.
As with all things diverse and pluralistic, there is the chance we lose the sense of what binds us together. Our unity can become a casualty if all we do is fall head over heels for the differences among us. There is a unity to the Lord’s work in the Church, and it cannot be lost or buried under all the variations on the pastoral landscape – as good as they are.
Advent brings us to the beginning of another Church year and the feast of Saint Andrew brings us to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. At the beginning, Jesus calls the apostles to His side, preparing them for a ministry which the Lord assigns and cannot be taken up without a differentiated consciousness.
In today’s text, the evangelist describes how Jesus chooses two sets of brothers that they might share deeply in the work of Our Savior – seeing what others do not see and hearing what others do not hear. The first set of brothers, Simon and Andrew, are casting a net into the sea when they are called. (cf. Matt 4:18) The second set, James and John, are mending their nets when they are called. (cf. Matt 4:21)
Fishing is how the apostles made their living, and when they are called by Jesus to the ministry, they already know something about how to catch men. (cf. Matt 4:19) Casting a net is an evangelical orientation. It is an outlook shaped decisively by my own encounter with Christ in prayer, the sacraments and the apostolate. I then want others to experience, to abide in what I have found in knowing the Lord. Mending the nets is an outlook too. It is an honest admission that I fail at living the Christian life and I need to be forgiven of my sins. I’m not the only one who needs to be reconciled; others need it as much as I do.
We would be foolish to think that casting a net is only about devising programs to reach the unchurched and the unchatecized. More fundamentally, it is about a poverty in all of us which cannot be alleviated until we allow the Lord’s word to change us inwardly. As Saint Paul indicates in today’s first reading, that change does not occur, though, until we hear. (cf. Rom 10:17)
Andrew hears in today’s gospel. What he hears of course is the Lord’s invitation: “Come after me.” (Matt 4:19) Not only does Andrew leave his nets at once (cf. Matt 4:20), he will soon enough become aware that the evangelical net he is casting now is going to be resisted.
Fish instinctively resist being taken from the water, their natural habitat. Every fisherman who has ever cast a rod or a net knows the flailing about which inevitably results when creatures of the sea are removed from their watery environment. Fish, though, are not the only ones who put up a fight.
Accustomed to our natural habitats and not wanting to break from them, we can put up a good fight ourselves. Our resistance can indeed be so fierce at times that we break things, including ourselves. What’s more, we can break relationships, we can sever bonds of friendship. We need someone then who is going to help us undo the damage we have caused by our sins.
Let me suggest that what we have in today’s gospel, a casting and a mending, represent aspects of the priestly vocation which cannot be divided and sub-divided and delegated to others. Evangelizing and reconciling belong to the substance of the priestly vocation. To be sure, they are works which are carried out in harmony with other ministries and apostolates in the Church. Still, announcing the Gospel and absolving sin are quintessentially priestly works, and they demand of us priests our greatest attention.
For seminarians in formation, casting and mending are nautical images for the vocation to which you aspire. Allow me to continue in this vein by quoting now from a section of a little volume entitled Ministers of Your Joy (1989) by then-cardinal Ratzinger. He writes:
To be a disciple means to let oneself be caught by Jesus, by the mysterious fish who has descended into the water of the world, the water of death; who has turned into a fish himself so that he can first of all be caught by us, so that he can become the bread of life for us. He lets himself be caught so that we shall be caught by him and find the courage to let ourselves be drawn with him out of the waters of what we are used to and find comfortable.
Jesus became a fisher of men by taking on himself the night of the sea and descending into the suffering of the depths. One can only become a fisher of men if like him one surrenders to this. . . A vocation is no private matter . . . . Its context is the entire Church, which can only exist in fellowship with Peter and thus with the apostles of Jesus Christ. (p. 110)
Among these apostles of course is Saint Andrew whom we honor today in the liturgy. In both Saint Matthew and Saint John, these two gospels, Andrew has the privilege of being “first called.” In these opening days of Advent, may we be among the first to respond to the Lord’s bidding, imitating as we do the bold and daring faith of St. Andrew.
Praised be Jesus Christ!
Msgr Robert Batule