Two weeks ago we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord, when our gospel has that great image of Jesus plunging into the waters of the Jordan, into the water of Baptism, plunging into the midst of our lives, all-in, showing us he belongs to us in his full humanity – and to show us a life with a higher purpose – fulfilling the deepest desire of God: that all might be saved.
Then he rises from the waters to begin the mission, to cast his divine net far and wide. It is then we hear the familiar words – the words we hear in each Eucharistic celebration: “Behold the Lamb of God….” Two millennia ago, one person heard those words and it engendered within him a curiosity. He wanted to know more; he sensed the call of belonging – and so he followed… loosely, perhaps at a bit of a distance, a safe distance. Jesus sees him and speaks the words of warmth and welcome: “Come and see.”
We have all had the same experience in life – it is what unfolds on the car lots. Come and kick the tires, ask your questions, take a test drive. “Come and see.” In our best days as church, we speak words of warmth and welcome: come to Mass, come to Sunday school, join our Bible study, join us in prayer and worship, “Come and see.” What is common to the car lot and with faith, eventually you either take ownership or you walk away.
Now what? Just because you have taken ownership doesn’t mean you are done. You can own take pristine, showpiece of a car – and you can leave it forever in the garage. Left there long enough it will become an antique. Your faith left forever in these pews, never taken out for a spin on the roads of life might share the same fate.
“Come and see” only takes you to the place where you discover Jesus doesn’t stand still. Jesus is moving onward, out onto the roads of life and you repeatedly have to decide to follow. It was the same for the people along that Galilean shoreline; it is the same for us today – “Come and see” only gets you to: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
We came, we saw, but now… will we follow? Will we choose to shove off from our familiar shorelines and be those fishers of men? Will we figured out our part in the great fishing expedition? Will take the time to understand we are already gifted, but now are called to accept the grace that will let us take of place and do our part.
There are lots of parts to fill. Some will cast the nets, throw out the lines, and reel them in. Some will bait the hooks. Some steer the vessel. Some man the oars, set the sails, chart the course. Some will clean the catch, swab the decks, man the docks, deliver the product to market, staff the selling stalls. Some will advertise, hand out brochures, build a web site and social media, some will operate payroll, human resources. Some will be in vessel maintenance, repair the sails and the nets, overhaul the engines, forecast the weather. Some will teach the next generation the whole mysterious complex of being fishers of men. Some will wait and pray for the safe return of those who cast their life upon the mighty waters, lighting the candles that those who venture to sea will see the porch light shining upon their return.
Each of us called to figure out our part, trusting we contribute to that higher purpose, knowing that we belong and are engaged in this common endeavor. As individual and as a community, trying our best to follow Jesus through the toil, the successes and failures. The curiosity stemming from “Behold the Lamb of God;” gets answered because we again choose to follow.
Answered in each day we choose to belong and do our part – as small or as grand as it may be. From Bishop to just baptized, from child to catechist, from priest to parent, accountant to acolyte, lector to leader, in hospital or hospice, migrant camp to summer camp – every role, every port of call, every body of water sailed – all of it part of the unfolding mystery of following Christ.
We are not alone or apart in this endeavor. Each us belongs to this great fleet which ranges from Rome to Rangoon, from St. Peter’s in the Vatican to St. Jude the Apostle Cathedral in St. Pete; from Hernando to Hillsborough; to the local fleet tied up here at Sacred Heart in downtown Tampa. Each of us is called to belong, to let God’s grace empower the gifts we already possess.
Sometimes we ask everyone for their help to keep the larger fleet in operation.
It is a new year, a new fishing season, if you will – and it is time to ensure the larger fleet is provisioned to serve. There are some deep-sea projects such as homelessness, pregnancy crises centers, and immigration that are best handled by the larger capacity of the diocese. There are some operations vital to us for which I am grateful not to have to do: insurance, construction, finances, human resources and more. These too are well handled by the diocese. There are parishes and missions which serve in marginal and poor areas that will not likely be self-sufficient – and so we contribute that they are able to carry out their mission. It is the Annual Pastoral Appeal which helps make it all happen.
You will be receiving letters about the Annual Pastoral Appeal. There will be more in the bulletin and more during Mass in the weeks to come. What I would ask of you is simply this: begin to pray about where we, as a parish, are in the mystery of an entire world-wide church following Christ, a great fleet covering the globe. Prayer about your belonging and engagement. And as we continue to probe and consider the deeper meaning of belonging, the Annual Pastoral Appeal, is one of ways that we acknowledge a greater purpose and undertaking than just ourselves. It is something for which we need all hands on deck – the full engagement of every household in order to do what is ours to do. Please begin to pray about your part.
From Rome to Rangoon, from Hernando to Hillsborough
Together the mystery unfolds of what it fully means to answer Jesus’ call: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”