Monday, September 8, 2014

Discipleship and Encounter

Let’s face it, we're all in the same boat. 

Moreover, as G.K. Chesterton noted, "Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all sea sick"!

Our personal sea sicknesses may differ.  They might be self-inflicted, or the result of decisions by people we love; they might involve illnesses, troubled relationships, problems at work or school.  Regardless of its specific details, every type of seasickness has the same remedy--discipleship rooted in a personal encounter with Jesus.

In other words, once we recognize that we are all "in the same boat," the question becomes whether we will allow Jesus into our boat.  Luke's Gospel recounts a scene which needs to be replayed in each of our lives:  With the crowd pressing in to hear the word of God, Jesus climbs into Simon's boat (Lk 5:1-11).  Already tired from a full day of fishing, Simon was washing his nets.  He was finished.

Yet perhaps Simon knew, deep down, just what kind of boat he was in.  Clearly his heart was open just enough to be touched by Jesus' next request, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch."  Thus the next question for us becomes:  Will we dare to face the deep waters?  Will we trust Jesus enough to lower our nets again--perhaps in a place where we've never fished before?

Simon's boat is transformed by the presence of Jesus.  The miraculous, overflowing--dare we say, Eucharistic--gratuitousness of the catch compels Simon to confess his own sea sickness.  His "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man" is not the end of the story, however, but an essential turning point.  Without denying his malady, Jesus reassures Simon of the ever-greater grace which awaits:  "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." 

The ultimate question regarding our invitation to the lifelong adventure of discipleship is whether we will leave everything--including our fears, our boats and our nets--in order to follow Jesus.  Without a personal encounter with Jesus, we are destined to cling to our familiar ways.  This is why Pope Francis begins The Joy of the Gospel with a provocative proposal: "I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day."  Don't you love the invitation’s gentleness ("at least an openness..."), as well as its persistence ("unfailingly each day")?!

Because we might be tempted to respond like Simon (“I am not worthy!”), the Holy Father adds, "No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since 'no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.'  The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms" (EG, n. 3).

So how will we encounter Jesus today?  Maybe it will come through a silent prayer from the heart. Perhaps it will be a matter of listening to the living Word of God, as if for the first time, or seeing our Lord’s face in someone who is in need.  It could be a moment with the profound Presence of the Eucharist, or a kind word spoken by a friend. 

Raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, no longer bound by space and time, our Lord is able to be with us in a multitude of ways.  He speaks to each of us personally, in the depths of our hearts, just as he spoke audibly to Simon.  He stands ready to jump into our boat and to greet us with open arms, whenever we allow him. 

Isn't it time to "put out into the deep," to cultivate a personal encounter with Jesus, and to see the fruits of evangelization and charity which will undoubtedly follow?!