The Christian vocation is not something that we design for ourselves. Vocation is a calling that we answer. This applies to every particular vocation; it applies also to the basic vocation of all Christians. We do not design our own model of Christianity. It is Jesus himself who call us, and his call always surprises us and may well upturn our own plans and expectations.
I am sure that many of you here today who have been part of Viatores Christi
over the past fifty years have had precisely that experience, of having heard a call of Jesus which upturned all your plans and expectations.
In today’s Gospel, Simon and the fishermen were cleaning their nets, with their night’s work done, but without any success. They were pondering about their hard and wearisome work, when Jesus arrives at the shore of the lake. Already Jesus is recognised as a teacher and he is followed by a crowd anxious to hear his word and understand his message.
To Simon’s great surprise Jesus comes towards him asks to get into his boat and suggests that they move out a little from the shore to permit Jesus to address the crowd from a distance. Jesus begins a dialogue with Simon, at first about practical things, but a dialogue which is going to mark Simon’s life for ever. Simon obliges. He offers to serve Jesus in a practical way but then he begins to listen to the words of Jesus and watches how Jesus captures the hearts and minds of those listening. The message of Jesus attracts him and something is beginning to move in his heart.
But then Jesus surprises Simon further. Jesus asks him to move out into the deep and prepare for a catch. Peter is an expert fisher. He knows where to look for fish and he knows when he is wasting his time. But for some reason he accepts the invitation of Jesus, even though he first tries to explain that he had been attempting all night to catch and that from the point of view of an expert in fishing it was pointless to go back.
Simon answers the call of Jesus; somehow he overcomes his natural caution; and once again Jesus takes him by surprise. Relying on his own abilities, his efforts were without success. When he abandons his own certainties and follows the call of Jesus, then the catch is so great that the boat of Peter and also that of his fishing companions James and John are filled to overflowing. Faith in Jesus Christ challenges us to look for salvation and fulfilment in ways which seem to go against the logic of conventional wisdom.
In today’s world faith asks us to discern about what are the fundamental values which should govern our lives and our hearts and to seek not just the conventional no-risk or low risk answers.
Jesus responds to our doubting efforts with generosity. He does not just surprise us but he stuns us with his generosity. There is never anything miserly or measured or calculating in the way God’s love embraces us. At the Wedding Feast, Jesus’ gesture produces wine in gallons; after the feeding of the crowd, dozens of baskets remain; today the catch is so great that Simon has to call two more boats. God’s love is superabundant; it goes way beyond any human calculation. God responds in terms which go way beyond anything we merit or could have imagined on our own plans.
How does Simon respond: the greatness of God’s generosity and love makes him realise his own inadequacy. He cries out: “Depart from me for I am a sinful man”. Any encounter with the generosity of God reveals just how distant we are in our lives from him. It is from this honest recognition of our sinfulness that we can begin a true path of conversion. Jesus’ call us to conversion not through punitive or threatening gestures, but through allowing us to experience the lavishness of his love.
The fruit of that encounter between the lavishness of God’s love and our inadequacy is calling, vocation. Once Simon recognises his own weakness Jesus give him a mission. He is to become a fisher of people, one called to lead others to Jesus so that they too can experience the love of God which changes lives.
I would like to congratulate you on the opening of this new building, an important milestone in your fifty-year history of Viatores Christi
. Springing out of the Legion of Mary, over the past fifty years you have been answering the call of Jesus to witness to his love and mercy in various parts of the world, leaving behind at least for some time your normal professional activities. I pray especially today for your activities in Haiti.
Your mission has been a mission which witnesses to the Jesus who cares and that witness has changed the lives of many, but it has changed in the first place your own lives. Through your generosity, you have experienced the generosity of Jesus, which will have very often been mediated through those for whom you worked. The love of Jesus changes also the way we interact with others. Solidarity is not just helping; it is entering into a different kind of relationship with others and changing relations in the world. The message of Jesus is never a message of domination, but one which frees all of us to be the people God wishes us to be. It is a message which changes the way we interact with others.
Faith is above all about trust in God who frees us so that we can transcend our own abilities and realise even greater things in our lives. Jesus frees us to be ourselves if we follow his path and his design for humankind and our world.
There is a final note about faith in today’s Gospels. Once called, the disciples instantly leave everything to follow Jesus. Faith is not something we can negotiate in order to work out our own terms of engagement. It is placing out trust in God and abandoning our own certainties so that we can be free. Following Jesus also contains a series of clear no’s. We are challenged not to allow anything which would separate us from the love of God revealed in Jesus. The reward for taking that risk will always be one of generosity, indeed of superabundance, on God’s part. That is the significance of the extraordinary catch in today’s Gospel, and I am certain that it is the experience of Viatores Christi in these first fifty years of its existence.May this house be a place where the love of Jesus is treasured. May this work of this house and of Viatores Christi continue to flourish for the goof of the Church of Jesus Christ who came to reveal God’s love for us.