When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him with fear. Also, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon were awestruck. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Luke 5:8-10
I was raised in the Methobapticostal tradition that emphasized the concept that Jesus had given us a job to do. Go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. When you read the Acts of the Apostles that is exactly what they did. Peter and Paul carried the gospel into the Roman provinces of Northern Africa, Persia, Asia Minor, Greece and the Italian peninsula. Thomas carried the gospel into Chaldea and as far as India. Tradition has Joseph of Arimathea taking the gospel to the Celts of the British Isles. Of the apostolic churches, it was only the Roman Catholic Church that continued the apostolic zeal to carry the gospel into regions of China, Japan, Polynesia, and the Americas.
But culturally there is a different attitude toward evangelization today. Early Catholic priests like Junipero Serra lived to evangelize the Native American population. But as immigration brought thousands of Catholic immigrants into this country, the Catholic Church in America made a conscious decision to avoid evangelization. When the first seminary was established in Baltimore the bishops decided to not have any classes on evangelization as it might hurt the very fragile relationship between Catholics and Protestants.
Today, there is a pervasive attitude that religion doesn’t matter. You can be Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Animist, or Atheist. It doesn’t really matter as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Evangelization is viewed as being rather rude. Recently, an evangelical missionary was killed trying to preach the gospel to an isolated tribe in the Indian Ocean who were protected by law from contact with the modern world. Rather than being hailed as a martyr, he was denounced as a criminal and those who assisted him were imprisoned.
I see this as an over-correction of the evangelical attitude of the 19th and early 20th century, in which preachers and missionaries taught that converts must become like them, embrace American and European cultural mores and beliefs to be Christian. Or else, they were all simply going to hell. Even within Christian nations like ours Catholics generally believed the Protestants were going to hell and Protestants believed the Catholics were going to hell. Being raised protestant I can tell you that various groups of Protestants were convinced other Protestants were going to hell. Even many Southern Baptists believed the Northern Baptists were going to hell and I presume vice versa. Since few today even believe there is a hell, the whole impetus for evangelization seems to have gone away.
According to a recent Pew Research Group Poll, the most popular religious group for Americans under the age for 40 is “None.” Now, as in the days of the Apostles, we need to take the call to be fishers of men seriously.
To understand what Jesus was calling Peter and the apostles, and us for that matter to do when he said, “I will make you fishers of men,” we must look at how Jesus fished for souls. How did Jesus evangelize?
- He went about doing good and teaching others to do good.
- He healed the sick and delivered those who were oppressed.
- He called all people to live lives of authentic faith.
- To be accepting and not judgmental.
- To extend mercy and not condemnation.
- To extend assistance to the poor.
- To visit the lonely.
- To encourage the fainthearted.
- To build faith and belief in him, the Son of God.
That is evangelization, Jesus’ style. Let’s not think about saving the world right now. Let’s just think about saving ourselves. Do we dare ask ourselves the question, “How authentic is our faith? Do we experience the love and peace Jesus promised? Especially in the Eucharist? Do we invite others to share in our joy?”
Many Catholics see our faith as a religion of guilt. God as an angry judge which we try to imitate. Like the Islamic morality police, we sit comfortably in our certainty of rightness as we avoid, judge and condemn those who do not fit in or measure up. Mass is an obligation, not a healing fountain. If that is how we see our religion, no wonder we don’t invite others to join in. Perhaps, we think we are doing them a favor.
We come to mass. We sing, we pray, we receive the bread and the wine, but do we recognize it is the Holy God who is in our midst that drives us cry “I am a sinful man,” as Peter did? Are we sufficiently moved by what we experience here to take Jesus outside to our family, friends, co-workers, associates and bring them the gospel of Christ?
Jesus calls us to be fishers of men.
Why? Faith in Christ properly understood does not bring guilt and fear but delivers from guilt and fear ushering in the forgiveness, freedom, and healing of Christ. If we have experienced forgiveness, freedom and healing then we should be compelled to invite those we love to experience the same. A phrase heard repeatedly in the Gospels is “Come and see.” Too often we think evangelization is telling people that they are wrong. They need to clean up their act and come to church. But evangelization is simply directing people to Jesus. “Come and see.” You don’t need to clean up your act to meet my expectations or anyone else’s. Invite Jesus into your problems, your weaknesses, your failures. Let Jesus be Master. Let Jesus be Lord. “Come and see.”
How do we do that?
- First, by caring.
- Second, by listening.
- Third, by praying.
- Finally, by inviting.
When it becomes evident to your friends and coworkers that you care about them, they will start taking off their Facebook face and start sharing with you, their struggles. Take time to listen. Give compassion as Jesus did. Pray with them and for them. Invite them to come to mass with you. “Hey, I’m going to mass at___ this weekend. How about I pick you up. We can go to mass then I’ll take you to lunch/dinner and we can talk about it.” What if they say, I’m not Catholic? Well, tell them you actually don’t have to be Catholic to attend mass. What if they say, “I’m Baptist, or Methodist.” “Do you attend church? Where do you go? I bet we can find a service time there that doesn’t interfere with my mass time. I’ll go to mass and still pick you up and go with you to your church?” Yes, it will not hurt you to go to church twice in the same day for the sake of your friend. And if you are able to help a fallen away Baptist become an on fire, fully saved, holy rolling Baptist you have done good for the Kingdom of God. It is not about church membership. It is about connecting hurting people with Jesus who alone can heal their pain.
God calls from his throne, “I love you. Will you take my message of love to a hurting world?”
I think we want to see God on his golden throne, judging the world, giving those who irritate us their comeuppance. We get confused because in this fallen world God’s throne is a cross. His crown is a weave of thorns. His scepter of iron is a nail driven through his hands and feet. And his judgment is “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
Are we willing to share in that throne? To be a fisher of men, we must be willing to make personal sacrifice in the effort. It cost Peter and Paul their lives. If you are going to be the gospel to the lonely, it will cost you some time. You will sacrifice some convenience.
We can evangelize our world not because they might go to hell, but because they are already in their personal hell of their own making, and you can be the one who can show them a way out.
The voice of the Lord is calling from his throne, “Whom can I send? Who will go for us?” Will we answer, “Here I am. Send me.”