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Making a Serious Career Change
by Sr. Margaret O’Dwyer, DC | January 19, 2012
Scripture Reflection for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (January 22, 2012)
John 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Four men, well entrenched in the fishing industry, leave their livelihood and their families immediately, to make a major career change. This is a story which repeats itself in modern times—young people venture out into the world in hopes of transforming it. In today’s Gospel, Peter, Andrew, James, and John offer a wonderful example of a long-term, common commitment to a cause.
Here in the South Pacific, the imagery suggested by today’s Gospel is very real. On any given morning, one can see people in the lagoon with nets, hoping to catch parrot or other edible fish. Trawlers unload tuna and marlin at the harbor. One has only to walk the beach or stroll along the quay to picture what it was like when Jesus called Peter and Andrew away from their fishing gear.
It is often noted that Peter, James, John, and Andrew were humble guys. But though ordinary, these fishermen possessed valued skills which would prove useful in conveying the good news of the God/man they loved so much.
A fisherman named George, who lives on a remote tropical island, pointed this out recently. He raised 12 children on a fisherman’s income. He also happens to be a catechist, a fisher of people, of sorts, which means he is responsible for leading the Catholic Community in Communion Services and burials when the parish priest is off island.
To be a good fisherman, you must be savvy about many factors which are learned over the seasons, according to George.
“Prayer is the first step in fishing,” he claims. “Because you are going into the unknown, you must have that known power in favor of your being out there,” he reflected. “That is the Almighty Father. Prayers work miracles in fishing. Really, out at sea you don’t know what will happen. The sea sometimes plays up suddenly and there might be a mishap you didn’t expect.”
Prayer and reflection are fundamentals for spiritual leaders, as well. Every day, they step into the unknown. An attitude of confidence needed to navigate through the roiling waters of current events flows from a strong relationship with God, which can only come from constant communication with Him.
“You must also have that natural instinct for safety—the head knowledge and the practical ability to carry it out,” George said.
Likewise, spiritual leaders must be prepared not only with “head knowledge” about Jesus, but also with the heart knowledge which makes Jesus real to others, no matter the situation. God is their safety net.
A fisherman must also pay attention to changes in the wind and in currents. It takes courage, wisdom, and advanced planning to read the weather and discern whether one will risk going out when the sea is choppy and the skies ominous.
Similarly, spiritual animators must pay attention to signs of the times, in order to make Scripture relevant to people’s experience. They also must be courageous in speaking up about current social and ethical issues.
A fisherman, too, must know where the fish congregate. So also must a spiritual guide know the favorite environments for people to gather, as well as how to make a prayerful, witnessing community a place of belonging for them.
Choosing the proper bait is another fishing skill, according to George. Likewise, a good shepherd must be aware of that for which his flock hungers.
George states further that if you are fishing for a certain type of catch, you must know the kind of hook and line suitable to their weight. If a line is too light, it will break when a big fish is hooked. One hoping to draw people to Jesus must do so with a message that is properly weighted with truth and strength.
A fisherman additionally must know the speed of the boat. Accompanying people, spiritually, through triumph and tragedy, requires that a spiritual leader must go at a pace which is comfortable for those they are companioning.
No doubt, there are other parallels between angling for fish and animating people, spiritually.
One wonders how four people who had such a solid profession could walk away from it so quickly (immediately). Christ obviously shifted their hearts from marine life to the Messianic Message. He offered something new on their horizon, something deeper than the great sea in which they labored. Perhaps they had never seen a leader before who focused on humble service which touched people’s lives, rather than on acquiring oppressive power. Perhaps his magnetic appeal intersected with their desire to move from the mundane to the meaningful. Maybe the idea of working together towards an eternal goal drew them from the emptiness of self sufficiency and individualism towards the ocean of love and fulfillment that is God experienced within community.
Peter, James, John, and Andrew put themselves at the service of others for the sake of the Kingdom. On this day when Scripture today invites us to consider God’s call and our response, it might pay to take a moment to “get in the boat” with the fishermen; to have an imaginary conversation with them. Perhaps it will reveal how their motivation and experience can move us from self sufficiency into the deeper waters of commitment to a compelling Christ.
Sr. Margaret O’Dwyer, DC
Sr. Margaret O'Dwyer is a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, having entered the Community in Evansville, Indiana. Currently, she provides services to special needs and remedial high school students and is engaged in prison ministry in the Cook Islands, South Pacific. She holds a Juris Doctor from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan.