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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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Rose of Viterbo: Rose achieved sainthood in only 18 years of life. Even as a child Rose had a great desire to pray and to aid the poor. While still very young, she began a life of penance in her parents’ house. She was as generous to the poor as she was strict with herself. At the age of 10 she became a Secular Franciscan and soon began preaching in the streets about sin and the sufferings of Jesus.
<p>Viterbo, her native city, was then in revolt against the pope. When Rose took the pope’s side against the emperor, she and her family were exiled from the city. When the pope’s side won in Viterbo, Rose was allowed to return. Her attempt at age 15 to found a religious community failed, and she returned to a life of prayer and penance in her father’s home, where she died in 1251. Rose was canonized in 1457.</p> American Catholic Blog Obedience is not a joke, it is a sacrifice. The more you love God, the more you will obey. Obedience is a cross—pick up your cross and follow him. Everyone in the world has to obey in some way or another. People are forced to obey or they will lose their jobs. But we obey out of love for Jesus.

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