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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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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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