Friday, November 30, 2007

Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle
The Belief that Makes Us Fishers of People

Readings: Romans 10:9-18; Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11; Matthew 4:18-22

Yesterday, I returned from our long retreat to find a package waiting for me. In it was a gift with an accompanying note promising prayers for the retreat. I found one line particularly striking. It was the last. It said, with a smiley face at the end, God always turns up! Nothing really extraordinary about that statement. It’s a most appropriate thing to say. And everyone knows it to be true. Right? Or I should, at least, having made and given my own fair share of retreats in the past.

Yet, reading them only at retreat’s end, I found myself marveling at how well they described my experience. The past thirty days were indeed a demonstration of their truth. God kept turning up! And what was surprising and enlightening for me – even to the point of embarrassment – was how surprised I was that this should be so. I often found my director responding to what I had to say with, And you seem surprised at this… Yes, a crucially important observation. I was surprised: surprised that God should turn up, and even more surprised at my own surprise.

What has all this to do with the feast of St. Andrew the apostle?

No doubt we will have noticed that the readings speak to us about being saved. But salvation is a big word. What does it mean for us? Our readings offer us a deceptively simple description of the process. According to the letter to the Romans, salvation takes place in a cycle involving the following steps: someone preaches or confesses with the mouth, others listen to the message and then believe in it with the heart, which leads them, in their turn, to preach and confess to others. The gospel story puts it even more simply. Jesus tells Andrew and his companions: come after me, and I will make you fishers of men…

To be saved, then, is to listen to, to believe in, and to go after Jesus, and so to be transformed from people who fish into fishers of people.

I say that the process is only deceptively simple for at least two reasons. The first is strikingly illustrated in the experience of Andrew and his companions. In order to become fishers of men, they left not only their boat but also their father. And the radical nature of their willingness to let go of their possessions, their loved ones and, indeed, their own lives, is rooted in a second challenge, that of believing, truly believing with the heart, the message that we have heard and are called to confess. However we may wish to express it, this is the good news that God is on our side, that God loves us, that God always turns up!

As we celebrate the memory of St. Andrew the apostle, perhaps we might ask God to help us to ponder over the depth and efficacy of our own belief. In all that we do, are we truly fishers of people, or only people who fish? Are we saved?

PS: Many thanks for your prayers...

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