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Bible Reflections View Comments

Fishing Through the Night
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, January 26, 2014
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My vacation last fall took me to the Shetland Islands, set in the middle of the North Sea, halfway between Scotland and Norway. At the latitude of sixty degrees north, they are close enough to the Arctic Circle that they have nearly 24 hours of daylight in the summer and almost 20 hours of darkness in the winter. It’s not surprising that the biggest fire festival in Europe is held there on the last Tuesday in January. Up Helly Aa is a late-Victorian celebration, but it reaches back to the island’s Viking heritage for its inspiration. It lights up a long, dark winter with fire, music, food, and drink.

Light in the darkness is one of the primary metaphors for belief, for love, for God. We know all too well how easy it is to get caught up in our problems. And many of those problems are heavy indeed: serious illness, the death of loved ones, financial troubles, the state of our world. But if we dwell only in this terrible darkness, we will be utterly consumed by it.

In our first reading today, the prophet Isaiah proclaims: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” We might recognize this reading as the first reading at Midnight Mass on Christmas. Matthew reminds us the prophet Isaiah referred to the people of Galilee as those dwelling in darkness.

Jesus calls the first Galilean fishermen to leave their boats and nets and follow him. We’ve become so familiar with the idea that the first apostles were fishermen that we might miss the reality.

It’s easy to romanticize the life of a first-century fisherman. Most of us think of fishing as a leisure activity, flyfishing for trout or sitting in a boat on a lake waiting for the fish to bite and napping if they don’t.

People who fish for a living, whether in the first or the twenty-first century, know that it’s a difficult and dangerous business. Before nylon nets, fishing needed to be done at night so the fish couldn’t see the nets. Sudden storms could easily overtake boats and their crews in the darkness. Daylight hours were spent cleaning and drying the fish, hauling the catch to market and mending torn nets. It was hard, physical work, and many people had few occupational choices. They fished because their fathers and grandfathers fished before them.

We might think that our lives are worlds removed from the time of Jesus. But work is work. And no matter what we do or how many choices we have in what we do to earn our daily bread, the day-to-day experience is going to have ups and downs, periods of great satisfaction and dry spells of boredom and frustration. I suspect it was the same for those first-century fishermen. We think of them as being dedicated to their work, their nets, their father and coworkers. But maybe at the time Jesus came along the beach, they were having a bad day and were eager for a change. Only later did they discover for what they had traded in their nets to embrace. It may have seemed like a lark at first, but by the time Jesus was crucified, they knew that their new life had its share of darkness as well.

At different times in our lives, we might think the disciples were crazy to leave behind financial security. At other times, we think they’d be crazy not to follow the Lord’s call. Then it dawns on us that the Lord calls us in much the same manner. One thing is certain in all of this: God chooses to call us. It’s our choice to hear and to follow.


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Peter Chrysologus: A man who vigorously pursues a goal may produce results far beyond his expectations and his intentions. Thus it was with Peter of the Golden Words, as he was called, who as a young man became bishop of Ravenna, the capital of the empire in the West. 
<p>At the time there were abuses and vestiges of paganism evident in his diocese, and these he was determined to battle and overcome. His principal weapon was the short sermon, and many of them have come down to us. They do not contain great originality of thought. They are, however, full of moral applications, sound in doctrine and historically significant in that they reveal Christian life in fifth-century Ravenna. So authentic were the contents of his sermons that, some 13 centuries later, he was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XIII. He who had earnestly sought to teach and motivate his own flock was recognized as a teacher of the universal Church. </p><p>In addition to his zeal in the exercise of his office, Peter Chrysologus was distinguished by a fierce loyalty to the Church, not only in its teaching, but in its authority as well. He looked upon learning not as a mere opportunity but as an obligation for all, both as a development of God-given faculties and as a solid support for the worship of God. </p><p>Some time before his death, St. Peter returned to Imola, his birthplace, where he died around A.D. 450.</p> American Catholic Blog Just as Jesus resolutely traveled to Jerusalem, knowing that crucifixion awaited him, we know that we need to seek God’s will and embrace God’s support in all situations—even the necessarily painful ones.

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