Calcutta, canonization, catching people, disciples, follow, James, Jesus, John, Luke, Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa, openness, poor, Simon, Sisters of Loretto, The Sophia Center for Spirituality
One of the most difficult things sometimes about reading the gospels, I think, is not what they say but what they don’t say. Today’s lectionary tells Luke’s story of Simon and his companion fishermen, James and John. It’s a familiar story (LK 5:1-11) where Jesus gets into one of their boats as they are washing their nets after a dismal night of catching nothing. Jesus is teaching from the boat (probably to get a little distance from the gathering crowd) and when he finishes, turns to Simon and tells him to “go deep” and start fishing all over again. Simon must have already had some experience of Jesus, first because he doesn’t seem fazed by Jesus just getting into his boat and asking him to go out a short distance from shore to teach the people. His response to the request to start fishing again was similarly instructive. Although he did register the complaint about having fished all night with no positive result, he acquiesces to the directive by saying, “…but at your command I will lower the nets.” The result is, of course, almost more fish than the nets can accommodate.
I’m most interested in the last line of today’s text, however. After Jesus assures them that they have a future in the trade of “catching” people instead of fish, Luke finishes the story with this conclusion: When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. That’s it. No follow-up instructions. No conversation with their families. No packing or making arrangements for travel…Nothing but response. The next paragraph in Luke’s gospel is about the cure of lepers. We never get to hear the conversation between Simon (Peter) and his wife about this conversion experience – or about anything for that matter.
(Blessed) Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be canonized a saint this weekend with a huge ceremony in Rome. Her autobiography records her desire to enter the religious life from an early age to become a missionary, so she was already on a spiritual path, but her life, like those fishermen, took a very radical turn one day from being a teacher and principal of a school as a member of a traditional religious life in the congregation of the Sisters of Loreto. Already disturbed by the poverty surrounding her in Calcutta where she was teaching, she was on the train on her way to her annual retreat when she received what she named “the call within the call.” She describes it as follows: ” I was to leave the convent and help the poor by living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.” That was in September of 1946. We can now read of the struggles she faced between that day and the beginning in 1948 of the work of her new congregation, the Missionaries of Charity. Her life has been chronicled by many, but on that day, I wonder if she had any idea of what lay ahead as she promised, in addition to the traditional religious vows, “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”
Change comes to all of us, bidden or unbidden, slowly or “just like that” – in an instant by some cataclysmic event. Sometimes we long to know how others have negotiated such change so that we might know what to do should it happen that way to us. Since everyone’s path is personal, however, we can only learn to walk it by walking. Openness to what God asks each and every day is probably the best preparation for what comes next, living in the present moment is all we have and the only “place” we are called to inhabit. So with an open heart and a listening ear, let us go forward into this moment…and then the next.