Maybe it’s just the way my mind works, but I saw something a bit strange, a bit ‘off’ in today’s Gospel reading. It’s a very familiar Gospel: “from now on you will be fishers of men (and women).” The calling of the apostles, and their subsequent call to call us to faith, symbolized by the huge catch of fish. Notice, however, that there were no fish until Jesus comes; then tons of fish are caught. This of course symbolizes that Christ’s grace must come before everything, even faith. Without Christ first calling us, we wouldn’t even have the faith we take for granted.
So far, so good. Now I’m not a fisherman, I’ve done a little over the years, mostly party-boat stuff with friends, but I do know at least a couple of things about fish: fish love bait, and fish hate to be caught. The bait tastes great, I guess, but that hook that comes with it means death. The trick is to take the bait while evading the hook.
And isn’t this the human condition? Now, there’s all kinds of bait: good bait and bad bait, spiritually speaking. Problem is we seem to have developed a very human taste for the great-tasting bad bait. Just ask Eve and Adam: I’ll bet the bait of that proverbial apple tasted magnificent, until…
And then there’s the good bait, maybe not so great tasting to our earthly taste buds, but in the long run, far more nourishing and satisfying. That’s the ‘bait’ of God’s grace washing upon us to do good and avoid evil, so as to gain eternal life. For the fish, the dangerous but sweet-tasting bait leads to death. For the fish, I can hear him saying “Boy, that tastes great,” just before ending up in a frying pan. Same for us. The only way to avoid the hook that the Devil is hiding in all that sweet-tasting temptation is to avoid it altogether, and swim toward the grace, the bait if you will, of God’s blessings to us leading to salvation.
But how can you tell one from the other? In the last few weeks, I’ve had some remarkable conversations with people. I’ve been questioned on Original Sin, personal sin, mortal sin, venial sin. And over and over again, in being asked to clarify these concepts, I’m hearing that people were never taught these Catholic values in the first place due to many different circumstances, but equally, I’m hearing that these tenets of the Faith were simply forgotten over the years. They went unreinforced in the family, and little by little they faded from memory so as to become nonexistent. For so many, even the basics of the Faith, perhaps through no fault of their own, are lost. You’d be surprised as to how many people seem surprised when I mention that going to weekly Mass is an obligation, not a suggestion. Any graduate of Catholic School should be able to tell you that that was imparted upon us in the first and second grade and nothing has changed. Why has something as basic as this faded from so many memories? Some might say that it is because they never hear it any more, that Father never talks about it from the pulpit. Well, I’m doing just that: talking about it!
And what do we tend to do these days when we become aware of some hole in our knowledge that we want to find out more about? You know the routine. We switch on the computer or pick up our phone or our iPad, go right to Google or Wikipedia, and have at it. Now that may be OK if you want to know how many rivets there were in the Titanic, but when it comes to the teachings of the Faith, with all the misinformation out there posing as the ‘truth,’ what you are far more likely to get is someone’s opinion, not the facts, the truth, as taught by the Church. In other words, someone’s opinion doesn’t become a fact just because someone yells it loudly enough. By the way, according to Wikipedia, there were 5.5 million rivets in the Titanic, in case you were burning to know…
So what’s my point? My point is to watch where you swim. If you swim in waters of sin, death is all that awaits you. If you swim in the waters of grace, eternal life awaits you. The fish that the Apostles caught that day were released into the waters of baptism so as to live, so to speak. And it is up to you to use your God-given intelligence to grow in faith, and to be careful about what you take in that can easily drown your soul.
“From now on you will be catching men and women.” Thank you, Lord, for the good bait of your grace, thank you for helping us to be open to the Truth and not to lies, and thank you for giving us the grace of the Holy Spirit that we can know the difference.
There is a lot of junk out there posing as ‘Truth,’ so where do you find out what is authentic? You can start by asking a priest or a deacon. Corner our bishop if you happen to get a chance to talk to him. If inclined to use the web, the web site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is a good place to start (https://www.usccb.org/). Not only will you be able to access the daily Mass readings, but also a rich library of documents relating to Catholic teaching. I use it all the time.
My friends, it is true that God will not hold us to account for truly being ignorant of what the Church teaches but that’s not an excuse for ignorance being bliss. We are commanded to know, love and serve God if we wish salvation, because ignorance is dangerous, and definitely not bliss. Ignorance is swimming in shark-infested waters and telling ourselves that that big fish over there with all those teeth is a friendly fish. Let’s all try to get to know God better through honest inquiry and a mind open to grace and truth, that we may love and serve him better. And that after being caught by Christ in baptism, we may always swim in the safety of our baptismal waters to salvation. Amen.