The calling of Simon and Andrew by Jesus, by Carravagio
For seventeen years I was the National Episcopal Promoter of the Apostleship of the Sea in the United States. It was the first national office I was given after my ordination/consecration as a bishop in 1972. I was asked by Bishop Robert Tracy of Baton Rouge who was then the NEP of the AOS to be his deputy, but within a year he retired and the Holy See (at that time the AOS was not under the jurisdiction of the NCCB/USCC but was directly under the Pontifical Commission for People on the Move) asked me to assume the role of NEP.
I was born with a love of the sea, having lived almost all of my life on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. I had uncles who worked in the maritime industry. I loved to sail and to fish and weekends on Galveston beach were routine when I was a teenager. So my ministry as NEP was a labor of love.
As NEP I was responsible for overseeing the ministry of the port chaplains in every seaport in the United States. Much of my work involved persuading bishops to appoint priests and deacons to the position of port chaplain and to provide financial support for their ministry.
Every five years the Pontifical Commission would hold a world-wide conference of all AOS members and during the seventeen years I was privileged to meet AOS personnel at Congresses in the United States, Rome, Hong Kong, and Mumbasa, Kenya (in the shadow of the hospital where our Muslim President was born). In addition I convened meetings of AOS personnel of the U.S. in almost every major port city in the U.S.
Much of the work of AOS dealt with alleviating the suffering of members of the merchant marine from all nations, but principally from the far East, the Philippines and India. The growth of globalization produced enormous expansion of ocean transport and most of the ships were registered in Liberia, Panama or other Third World countries to escape the laws of the First World countries that protected seafarers.
But it was at the World Congresses of AOS that I met the with AOS personnel who worked in countries in Africa and Asia with fishermen that I became conscious of the extreme hardship endured by fishermen and their families around the world. Truly they are among those who are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Their lives are constantly in peril from the dangers of earning a living in small vessels on the sometimes cruel sea.
From the earliest years of my life I had wondered about the calling by Jesus Christ to fishermen on the Sea of Galilee to be his first, and in the case of Simon Peter, his chief apostle. The key to understanding this I found in the Beatitudes preached by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10
The profound significance of Jesus’ words “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” can be easily understood when one considers the work of fishermen who earn their living fishing on the sea in small boats. The analogous activity of trying to attract men and women to Christ through the employment of all the skills in interpersonal relationships can be seen in the efforts of fishermen to catch fish.As a sport fisherman myself, I know that it is not easy to attract, catch and keep fish. As a priest and bishop I know that it is not easy to attract, ‘catch’ and keep men and women in a relationship with Christ. Fish swim in water that is sometimes murky, cloudy and turbulent. Men and women live in an environment that is sometimes turbulent and difficult. Catching fish is made difficult by the environment in which fish live. ‘Catching’ men and women for Christ is made difficult by the hedonism and secularism of the environment in which they ‘swim.’One of my favorite homilies that I preached many times, dealt with the question, who would you choose to organize a multinational business like Sony, or Ford, or Apple? You would choose men and women with Masters or Doctorate degrees, individuals who have demonstrate ability to organize and direct the activity of people. Individuals with multi-linguistic skills and multi-national knowledge.The Church by analogy is a multi-national corporation. Who did Jesus choose to organize and direct it? He chose fishermen. The lesson is obvious. God’s grace can accomplish more than higher education and training. More than intellectual ability what God needs to advance his kingdom on earth are individuals who fit the description he gave in The Beatitudes.Try to measure up to thatjob description. Peace be with you!