In Paris, from mid-November through January it seems as if we’ve suffered through ever darker, cloudier, colder days, which may account for my dour mood these days. This is a dark season, short-days and long nights, cold and colder temperatures, sleeting when it’s not raining…
This “season of shadows” is better suited to staying inside seeking warmth and light. In fact, any little bit of light (even if artificial) goes a long way! With Christmas still a fresh memory, only a week ago we celebrated the “Feast of Lights,” the ancient feast of the Purification; soon we Christians embark on our 40 days journey towards the great mystery of life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. Yes, at our best, this is what followers of Jesus do – look for the light!
But, assuming that at times we all do struggle to discover the light hidden in darkness, what is it like to think, to reflect as a Christian today (i.e. critically, consciously, as a follower of Jesus)? Such a person might be better able to see, judge, and act (ver, juzgar, actuar) just as Vincent de Paul clearly did in his own time (arguably, a very dark time indeed!)? Is this kind of reflecting helpful or even realistic, or is it just another kind of escapism, a flight from our dark, shadowy times?
In this, our fifth (and last) “ordinary Times” Sunday before Lent begins, there may some indications for Christians on what to look for and “how to be disciples”, if we are to stay with the One we want to follow.
Gospel (Luke 5:1-11) :
Jesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signaled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point. When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.
Peter and his companions, “busy with their nets”, were likely mildly interested in what Jesus had to say but suffered from the illusion that they were not his “flock” i.e. those who made up the throngs of this new wonder-worker’s listeners. Then Jesus asked to use their boat in order to teach more effectively (and only that!); they complied – it was but a small gesture of hospitality. However when Jesus asked Peter to “put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch,” he was now asking for an act of faith from professionals who knew better. Surprisingly, Peter agreed and, during that momentary lapse of incredulity, was “caught” himself! Along with some of his companions he recognized his own hunger and thirst for what Jesus promised and immediately they agreed to leave all that they had known to follow Jesus. This seems a rocky beginning for what our Church was meant to be! Still, Jesus’ invitation then (and now?) was simply to decide how to live then and there, a choice based neither out of fear of God, nor of shame in oneself, but rather on finally “seeing” God’s actual work in us and around us. We Christians were always meant to be people of miracles, i.e. people of faith.
Well, it’s one thing to grasp this truth from time to time during the liturgical season; it’s quite another to develop and nurture the habit of thinking, judging, and acting like Jesus’ followers or like the “Jesus-images” we try be, such as Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and (thankfully) many, many other heroes, heroines…our saints. Where do we begin? particularly in a world so seemingly battered by rapid change, mass migrations, a growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots, random violence, and on and on?
Perhaps we can learn where to start, such as in our own lives and neighborhoods. For that is where we live, where we most affect and are affected by others. Indeed, this was the starting point for a mixed-group of the East-Africa Vincentian Family members gathered in Nairobi, January 25-26. In offering one CIF module (of many) developed around “the Signs of the the Times and Perpetual Renewal,” I was able extend our program beyond our usual locations in France. So, instead of celebrating our Founders’ Day with a day of rest and recreation, the Kenyan Vincentian Family prayed, listened, studied, shared in groups, even did some writing. The topics were intercultural communication and critical, pastoral reflection; the theme “Be-friending Diversity.”
One could hardly think of a better “laboratory” than this group – 95+ men, women, professionals, students, each representing one or more ethnic groups: African tribes, European and American cultures, older and younger generations… but all trying to live and work together harmoniously and effectively!
Who can tell where such efforts and good may end up? It is difficult enough to grasp how so much of today’s violence is born out of (often unconscious) misunderstanding, cultural-religious conflict, deeply felt historical wounds – and so much of this at work in us without our knowing or wanting it! If grasping that cultural diversity is challenging enough, it is still not enough – it takes years of effort (and many setbacks) to develop new “skill-sets” for communicating with and living with people from other countries, cultures, language groups, politics… in ways that are gradually marked by mutual respect and shared purposes, even love. However, what better group to face these challenges than those who already have vowed to “follow Jesus Christ, evangelizer of the poor.”
Meanwhile, we can (and do) always hope that, like Peter and his companions, we may have taken the first of many more steps of putting our lives in the hands of the One we trust the most! And, perhaps, already sensing some new light in our sometimes shadowy existence.
dpb cm / 10 février 2,013