Called to Be Fishers of Men
Bishop Rhoades Visits Notre Dame Priests and Brothers on Feast of St. Andrew
The following homily was delivered by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades during Mass on the Feast of St. Andrew, Nov. 30, in the chapel of Corby Hall at the University of Notre Dame:
The Church honors and commemorates the Twelve Apostles individually or in pairs on particular days throughout the year with the liturgical rank of feasts, and not just as memorials. This highlights the importance of the original band of Jesus’ disciples whom He chose and sent as apostles. They became shepherds to watch over and protect His people, to lead the Church in His name. The Lord built His Church on this apostolic foundation in order for it to stand firm in the truth of the Gospel and to be strengthened in holiness through the sacraments.
Today we celebrate the feast of one of the Twelve Apostles, St. Andrew, the brother of St. Peter. We heard in the Gospel today of the call of these two brothers, along with two other brothers, James and John, while they were doing their work as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus said to them: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately, they left their nets and followed Him. This is a simple yet profound event. These were hard-working men, dedicated to their humble profession. Jesus saw something in these four fishermen that attracted His attention as He was beginning His public ministry and inaugurating God’s Kingdom. Jesus saw their simple fidelity to their work and to their families for whom they provided.
Jesus wasn’t looking for the most educated or well-to-do to be His first disciples. Jesus didn’t call them to any particular teaching or ideology, to any school of philosophy or political party, to any specific project or undertaking. He called them to His own person. “Come after me,” Jesus said to them. Come, join me; follow me. And they did so at once, immediately. This is something for us to ponder. What was it that inspired these fishermen to leave everything to follow after Jesus? Perhaps it was Jesus’ voice and the way He spoke with authority. Or maybe it was His gaze or His manner of presence. Certainly, they saw His authenticity. Maybe they had earlier heard Him preaching; we don’t know. It was surely a movement of grace that they responded to when they left their nets behind to join Jesus as His first disciples. They must have had a spirit of adventure to leave everything behind to follow Jesus.
Andrew, Peter, James, and John didn’t follow Jesus because their lives were miserable – they probably had a good, though simple, life. But when they saw and heard Jesus call them, they believed there could be something more, something greater, more challenging, and more daring if they followed this itinerant rabbi. They must have seen in Him real truth and authentic love. Why else would they leave behind their good life than that they felt within them a strong attraction to something great, the mystery of the Person of Jesus? We can think back to what moved us, you and me, to leave everything to follow Jesus as priests and religious. It was something deep and personal – our own personal encounter with the Lord and His truth and love.
Notice that Jesus promised to make these four fishermen into fishers of men. Our Lord would recreate them on a wholly different plane of existence if they would come after Him. They would receive a new identity. They were two sets of blood brothers, but now they would be transformed by being given a new identity as brothers of the Incarnate Son of God. Like Him, they would become fishers of men, bringing men and women into the Kingdom of God. But first they would need to be with Jesus, to listen to His teachings, to witness His signs and miracles, and even to witness His suffering and death. They would be eyewitnesses of Jesus’ appearances after His resurrection and of His ascension into heaven, and then receive from Him the power and strength of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in order to continue Jesus’ mission of preaching the Gospel and making disciples. They received the grace to live the vocation they received from Jesus by the Sea of Galilee to be fishers of men.
St. Andrew, whom we remember today, most likely preached the Gospel in Greece and possibly also in Scythia, north of the Black Sea. There is also a tradition that Andrew was crucified on a diagonal of an X-shaped cross in the coastal Greek city of Patras. When Andrew left his nets at the Sea of Galilee, he had no idea how his life would unfold and end in martyrdom. When Holy Cross Father Edward Sorin and the seven Holy Cross brothers answered the call to the priesthood and religious life as young men in France, they had no idea that they would end up in the wilderness of Indiana to start a school that became the great University of Notre Dame. Like Andrew and the other apostles, they didn’t plan out their lives when they decided to heed Jesus’ call. And neither did we. When I heard the Lord’s call to the priesthood at the age of 19, I discerned that He was calling me to be a priest in my home diocese of Harrisburg. I expected to spend the rest of my life serving the Lord as a priest in south-central Pennsylvania. Little did I know that I would be called to serve elsewhere. Only 15 of my 39 years as a priest have been in the Diocese of Harrisburg. With the freedom of obedience, we go where we are sent, where the Church needs us, to serve as fishers of men.
Let us ask St. Andrew for his intercession: that we will be faithful unto death to our calling and our mission to follow in the footsteps of the apostles. Wherever we are sent, we are called to stand in faithful continuity with the apostles and with the truths of the faith they preached. May we imitate their courageous spirit! The apostles handed on to their successors, including myself, and to you, co-workers of the bishops, the mandate received from the Lord to be fishers of men. We are called to be custodians of the apostolic faith and instruments of Christ’s love and grace in the world today, so that His light, the light of truth and love, may continue to shine and never be extinguished in the Church or in the world.