Lessons from My FatherJune 15th, 2012
Second only to each of the births of his seven children, there was no day more anticipated by my father than the first day of fishing season. And, while, on any given pre-dawn Sunday, you’d find my dad fishing, anywhere, anytime, for any type of fish, his preference was fly fishing.
Now, apparently, fly fishing isn’t like any other kind of fishing. Unfortunately, I can’t exactly appreciate the intricacies—it was the old “girl + bait = ewwwwwww” thing, but those who do, will pardon my feeble attempt here to make the most of the metaphor.
According to my father, to be an honest-to-goodness, card-carrying, hip-wading angler, you had to be able to tie your own flies. I’ve been reflecting on the story of Jesus’ commissioning of the seventy-two (Mark 6:7-13). Mark begins: “The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” Jesus isn’t interested in clinging to this mission as if he’s the only person who can carry it out. He entrusts to the seventy-two what he shared with the Twelve, his mission of proclaiming God’s reign through word and action. I have to admit that I can easily dismiss this aspect of my life as a Christian. It’s so easy for me to say “I’ll let God take care of ‘that’” when, in fact, God actually chose me to be the instrument of “taking care of ‘that.’” People can’t possibly come to know that they are loved and valuable and necessary if I don’t live it with them in my relationships with them. We are God’s messengers in this. St. Paul calls us “ambassadors” of God’s life and love in the world. As ambassadors, we need to be able to tie our own flies—to know what will touch people’s hearts. Sometimes it’s a story about how Jesus is working in my life right now. Sometimes it’s sitting silently with a grieving friend. Whatever “it” is, you can be sure it’s about being present to the person right in front of you.
According to my father, you have to choose just the right fly. In this passage from Mark, Jesus says, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals;” Jesus counsels those embarking on this mission to travel lightly — this is no vacation. One can imagine that the most useful item the seventy-two will carry with them is their own unadorned personal stories of their encounters with Jesus told with conviction and passion. So, I am working on becoming a storyteller; after all, wasn’t Jesus the master storyteller? It’s the stories of how God is bringing me and you to healing, wholeness and grace that capture people’s hearts.
According to my father, you have to approach the river correctly so as not to scare away the fish. Jesus says, “Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” To pronounce peace upon a household is to value, honor and respect all who dwell there. There’s a terrific old saying in ministry circles: you have to earn the right to be heard. Now, there’s no guarantee that those we wish to engage in deeper Christian relationship will respond positively. That doesn’t and shouldn’t derail our mission which is to witness to peace – to the whole of God’s reign of justice and compassion. Being an effective ambassador requires that we spend time with folks on their turf. We can only do that by being present to and with people where they are, no matter what their circumstances, hurts, and challenges are. Peace is the result of loving others—of living in and for God’s reign in imitation of Christ.
According to my father, you may have to cast twenty-five times before a fish will take the bait. Jesus says, “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.” This mission is about hospitality, not having others indebted to us. It’s about solidarity, not charity. It requires that we remain in the same place with others and share life together in a spirit of mutuality and partnership and collaboration. I remember reading something like this in the book of Jeremiah, “Stop wearing your shoes out.” So, being an ambassador means being present to people for the long haul.
According to my father, when you finally allow your bait to light upon the water for the fish to strike, you have to make the right kind of “splash” otherwise, the fish will not respond. Jesus, says, “When you get there…eat whatever is set before you; cure the sick; say to them ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.’” Eat. Cure. Say. Three tangible, measurable goals: Eating implies that there’s a give and take—a dialogue, a conversation where one can know and be known. This is a call to be gracious; be thankful—even, Eucharistic, if you will. Cure. Be a healing presence to broken hearts and shattered dreams. Be the peace-bringer and peace-maker. Say. Make the pronouncement of God’s personal interest in another’s life. God’s reign is here no matter how fragmentary. And it’s available to all. Be the prophet of hope in a cynical world. What kind of splash are you and I making?
According to my father, you have to cast the line just “so” in order to mimic the actual flight pattern of flying insects. (Just like most people, fish can tell a fake from the genuine article.) How do others know I’m the genuine article? Only if I’m engaged in the very same, very personal ministry that Jesus engaged in: eating with sinners and outcasts, curing the sick and broken-hearted, and unleashing hope in the reachable reign of the God of Jesus. The goal of my life is to move into more perfect imitation of Christ.
When I’m feeling inadequate to the task of being an authentic Catholic Christian, I remember what a relative said at my dad’s funeral; something that meant and still means a great deal to me. She said, “I take great comfort in knowing how much Jesus loved fishermen!”