“For the clergy it is easier to be pastors than to be fishermen — that is, it is easier to nourish those who come to the church through word and the sacraments than it is to seek out those who are far off in cultural environments that are very different. The parable of the lost sheep is reversed today: ninety-nine sheep have gone off and one remains in the sheepfold. The danger for us is to spend all our time nourishing this one remaining sheep and not to have time — also because the scarcity of clergy — to seek out those who are lost. The contribution of the laity in this situation seems providential.”
—Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa
“Christ Yesterday and Today”
In 2013 there was a television mini-series titled “The Bible” that aired on the History Channel. One of my favorite scenes is when Jesus says to Peter, “Let’s go fishing.” As they were in the boat conversing with one another and fishing, Jesus sticks his hand into the Sea of Galilee and begins to summon the fish. That day Peter and the other disciples netted a miraculous catch of fish.
I thought of this story last summer when I was competing in Bishop Robert Gruss’ fishing tournament for seminarians. The fish were not biting so I decided to stick my hand into Lake Oahe and start summoning the fish.
A fellow in the boat next to us yelled out, “Hey, buddy, does that sort of thing really work?”
I yelled back, “For those who have faith it does!”
He smiled, but never stuck his hand in Lake Oahe to summon the fish. My team won; his did not.
After last month’s column, in which I invited you to share your “fishing stories,” I received several phone calls. Two calls in particular were about answering Jesus’ challenge, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Mt 4:19). I know there are more fishing stories still out there, but to give you some hope and encouragement, I thought it would be good to share with you one of those stories:
“I met my friend Brandon while working in the panhandle of Texas in 2013. He was half my age, a hard worker and eager to learn. As our working relationship grew, I learned that he was raised Catholic but was no longer practicing the faith. He was, at the time of this meeting, anti-Catholic; what I mean is he would say negative things about the Catholic faith and Christianity in general, and did not attend church of any kind.
“There were two of us on that job who were active Catholics and we would travel an hour to Amarillo on Sundays to attend Mass at St. Mary Cathedral, followed by a trip to a shooting range and lunch. After a few weeks of talking to Brandon about shooting, he asked if he could come with; I told him we attend Mass before we go out to the range. That was okay with him, even though he had not been to Mass for quite a long time.
“When that job was completed, Brandon returned to his home in Denver and we stayed in contact through email and an occasional phone call. I was working in Colorado in August 2015 and Brandon and I ended up going to a Rockies game one weekday afternoon. We had a great day and before we parted company, he told me that he wanted to go to confession but was scared.
“He asked if I would help him get to confession. I said, ‘Sure!’ but I didn’t know when this could happen because the job I was working was ending that week and I knew I had no chance to do anything for him right then.
“As Lent 2016 progressed, the promise I made to my friend stayed on my mind. I sent him a text a few weeks ago to see if he was still interested in the sacrament of confession and he said he was. I really wanted to help him get to confession before Holy Week so he could enjoy that liturgy and also be ready for Divine Mercy Sunday.
“I called the Denver Cathedral Basilica office and asked if I could schedule a general confession. The secretary said she would see if there was a priest who could accommodate me and call me back. As I was driving through Wyoming on March 15, I had a lot of anxiety about not finding a confessor for Brandon. I said out loud with all my heart, ‘Please Jesus, send a confessor to help me!’
“That was all it took. About 30 seconds later, my cell phone rang and I had an appointment with Fr. Ron for a general confession at 1 p.m. on March 18 for Brandon. Tears of joy came down my face. I called my friend and told him to meet me at the cathedral in Denver for their noon Mass “We went to lunch and he told me that it had been 20 years since his last confession and that he thought his father and grandfather, who are deceased, were probably pretty happy. I assured him they had definitely thrown a party in heaven that day.”
Wow! That’s what I call fishing! This man drove all the way to Denver from the Black Hills to accompany someone to confession. What a gift of extraordinary generosity and an example of taking to heart Bishop Gruss’ invitation to accompany others in their journey to Christ.
This joy-filled Easter season is a great time to apply Jesus’ words about fishing for people. Who is the one person — just one — you could help bring back to the church, to a deeper relationship with the Son of God? I look forward to hearing your fishing story at 605-716-5214 x235 or email MMcCormick@diorc.org.