Casting Nets with Jesus

Implementing change in the workplace can take a long time. I work in the construction industry, and contractors are tough people. They all seem to know everything, and their way is the best way, the right way, because it’s always been done that way. However, things change. Industry standards, safety measures, construction codes—these things change.

In today’s Gospel, Simon is at the shoreline cleaning off his nets; it had been a long night and he hadn’t caught any fish. Along comes Jesus, who gets into Simon’s boat and teaches from the water to the people on the shore. After he is done teaching, Jesus instructs Simon to lower his nets into the water, and behold, the nets are full of fishes.

Simon is a fisherman—he owns his fishing boat, owns his nets, he fishes for a living, it’s his profession. Simon is a professional fisherman. When Simon goes out to fish he isn’t doing a lazy, recreational activity. He is doing hard labor: lifting heavy nets, moving bait around, dealing with waves, being dirty and smelly. A fisherman by trade knows that there is a right way to fish and a wrong way to fish. A fisherman by trade knows that certain fish bait at certain times of the day—given the climate in Israel, hot and dry, the higher temperature of the water would force the fishes to dive deep below to be at a cooler temperature. At night, the water temperature would cool off and fishes would swim upwards, closer to the surface. Simon, a professional fisherman, knew all of this and thus went fishing at night. But even with all his knowledge and tactics, he didn’t catch any fish. Imagine Simon’s first reaction when he hears Jesus tell him to cast his nets into the water. I imagine his initial reaction to be a little bit of annoyance that a carpenter is telling a fisherman how to fish and to cast nets in the middle of the day. You hear a little bit of Simon’s hesitation when he says, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing…”

How many times have you doubted that God would provide for you? How many times did you not listen to what Jesus had to say to you? Too often I’ve been like Simon at the beginning of the Gospel, doubting. I have even questioned God: “Really? Is this really how it’s supposed to be? Are you sure this is what you want me to do?”

Notice that the beginning of the Gospel begins with the people listening to the word of God. When we listen and are obedient to God’s word, we change. This change allows us to fully accept God’s grace. Simon changed when, in his obedience, he casted his nets into the deep waters: “but at your command I will lower the nets.” In that instance Simon became Simon Peter. This internal change in Simon Peter allowed him to see that Jesus was not only Master but Lord.

We need to let go of any hesitations. Let go of all doubt. Or at times we need to let go of the pride. Sitting at meetings with the subcontractors on my job always leaves me baffled. How can we finish a building without the plumber or without the electrician? We simply cannot; we need all the skilled workers. Likewise we cannot build our own homes without the foundation of Jesus Christ.

No matter what we do in our lives, what we are skilled at, how many times we have done something and succeeded or done something and failed—let’s give that up to Jesus. Let us always remain humble and listen to each other and listen to what God has to tell us. In our society we take our jobs and our volunteer positions as finite. Let us remember that we’re good at what we do because God deemed it that we’d be good at it. And our work needs to be fruitful in such a way that it glorifies God. Sometimes, we aren’t so good and we fail. That is all right. In this failure we are reminded to trust in God. When Simon couldn’t catch any fish, Jesus entered his boat and Simon Peter caught an overwhelming abundance of fish.

Allow Jesus to enter your own boat—make yourself open so he can walk into your life, and cast nets wherever he tells you to cast them.

Image Credit: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by James Tissot [Public Domain]

One of these choices is not like the other

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As an actress, I have frequented circles where the pursuit of life, love and the absolute virtue of self-expression reign supreme: Live your truth. If it’s you and it makes you happy, go for it. The universe is looking out for you.

These messages are found not only in my artist circles—they saturate all of our relativistic society and egalitarian culture, where nothing is objectively true and all is subjective; where no one or no One can be Lord over the “almighty” individual. It is all too clear who is the ruler of this world (hmm…does this make anyone want to shout the conquering cry of the Angel of Victory?)

This is in no way to stand in judgment over any colleagues or friends—far from it. I too lived this way during my “cherry picking” days and had some problems with claiming absolutes, especially where the Church was concerned. Without being rooted in my identity as a daughter of the Most High or knowing about the infinite treasures and wisdom of Holy Mother Church in a meaningful way, it was all too easy for me to think that I was doing alright as long as I was a “good person;” that I had my life over here and could put God someplace else to visit when it was convenient.

Slowly, mercifully, over the years of deeper conversion, the Lord convicted me. He opened my heart to the immensity of His unique, personal love for me (and for each of us). He opened my eyes to the spiritual reality and battle of our existence, where there is indeed an absolute choice to be made.

Moses says, in no uncertain terms:

Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.
If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin on you today,
loving him, and walking in his ways,
and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees,
you will live and grow numerous,
and the LORD, your God,
will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.
If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen,
but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish…

Easy enough choice, right? When looking at the eternal bliss of Heaven or the infernal horrors of Hell, who would willingly choose death over life? Yet that is the trap so many of us fall into when we willfully turn our hearts away from God for whatever reason, refusing to listen to the Truth—the Truth of His love for us, and the responsibility we have as His children. And not only listen to the Truth, but to joyously and actively choose to obey.

In the Gospel today, Jesus shares with His intimate friends a harrowing picture of the sacrifice He will make for the salvation of sinners. Knowing the infinite value of our souls and the passing temptations of this world, Christ then invites us all to make that choice to deny ourselves, daily take up our cross, and follow Him; to choose eternal life over eternal death. Today we celebrate the Feast of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, who give witness to this in a powerful way. As St Paul writes in Romans 8:18–

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

In this life, we should strive for nothing short of sanctity—Heaven is the realm of Saints and that is our true land. This is something I have to constantly remind myself of whenever I’m tempted to be “led astray and adore and serve other gods:”

When I care more for the opinions of others and it feels easier to keep my mouth shut in conversation rather than defend my Catholic faith and beliefs; when I let talk venture into uncharitable gossip because it’s all in “fun;” when I let jealousy poison my opinion of another person rather than seeing that person, and the gifts He has bestowed upon me, through the eyes of God; when I’d rather scroll through social media or watch Netflix rather than pray with Scripture or the Rosary.

Every day in countless small ways and in all sorts of places—at work, on the train, on the streets—the Lord invites us to die to ourselves, to love Him, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments. We can turn away from Him, piercing His Heart with our refusal, or we can turn to Him with our whole heart.

I have come to relish the moments when someone asks about the Divine Mercy image at my dressing room table, or notices my scapular peeking out, or learns that I attend daily Mass and bi-weekly confession (working up to weekly, Padre Pio!). Yes, even the moments of wide-eyed disgust when passersby see me, a young woman of color, standing outside Planned Parenthood in prayer. These moments of encounter open the door to astonishment and plant the seeds of grace.

The world around us is hungry for Truth and real Love. The universe and the gods that we make in our own image will never satisfy our deepest desire for God.

When we ask for the grace to live boldly and joyfully the proclamation that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, that there is no other, and that we were made for so much more than what the world offers—we will receive it.

When our seemingly ordinary days are colored by the extraordinary fact that Our Lord’s sacrifice and His infinite love for us, that Heaven is real (as is Hell), and that we have a choice to make—who knows how many souls we can win for the Lord?

Let us join with the universal Church in prayer for the Holy Father’s intention this month–that Christian communities, especially those who are persecuted, feel that they are close to Christ and have their rights respected.

Be faithful. Be authentic. Most of all, be not afraid. The victory is His.

Choose life, then.

Choose life.

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, pray for us!

Delighting in the Law

Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes.
In your statutes I will delight;
I will not forget your words.
Open my eyes, that I may consider
the wonders of your law.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous deeds.
Give me discernment, that I may observe your law
and keep it with all my heart.
Lead me in the path of your commands,
for in it I delight.
—Psalm 119:12, 16, 18, 27, 34, 35

Often we think of the law as something that places limits on our freedom—God’s list of don’ts. But true freedom does not mean we can act however we please without punishment; rather, it means being grounded in the truth, so that we are free to act in accordance with the purpose we were designed for, without being held back by the snares of sin and self-importance. True freedom must be rooted in truth; thus, it must be objective, not bending to our subjective demands. God’s law is not a list of restrictions; it is a recipe for our well-being, meant to help us to thrive.

Whether or not we believe that God’s law is rooted in truth, we will face the consequences if we choose to disregard it. When we begin to see the ways in which God’s law protects us from harm, we move beyond a sense of mere obligation and start to obey out of love for the God who cares for us and keeps us safe. When we find our will is stymied by His law, we will trust that He has our best interest at heart and seek to understand why He has placed that barrier before us. Ultimately, like a parent who places an arm out to keep their child from a ledge, His law is always for our good.

Rely on Him

Rely not on your wealth; say not: “I have the power.” Rely not on your strength in following the desires of your heart (Sirach 5: 1-2).

As a teacher, I often have to tell my students what not to do… I often go throughout the day saying, “Don’t poke your neighbor,” or “Don’t run in the classroom,” or “No! Don’t eat that!” However, in today’s First Reading, it is my turn to be told what not to do. I hear God say, “Don’t rely on yourself,” which is a reminder that I often need.

It is so difficult to let go, to move away from relying on ourselves. Like children, we need constant reminders of what not to do and what we should do instead. In today’s Gospel, we learn how to detach ourselves from self-reliance and different temptations that prevent us from growing closer to God.

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire (Mark 9: 43).

This image really wakes us up to the importance of looking at the world through God’s eyes. The earthly things that we may cling to with our two hands are nothing in comparison to God’s salvation. The Scriptures, along with our life experiences, continually teach us that we cannot rely on our own strength or possessions. Through our joys and sufferings, we learn to fully rely on God.

As Lent approaches, let us pray about what prevents us from following God wholeheartedly. Let us ask ourselves, “What do I need to cut out of my life to follow God more closely, to rely on Him alone?”

So That They May Believe

Gospel Jn 13:16-20

When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master
nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.
I am not speaking of all of you.
I know those whom I have chosen.
But so that the Scripture might be fulfilled,
The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me.
From now on I am telling you before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe that I AM.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send
receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

Dear fellow pilgrims,

It is late, so I will just send a few brief thoughts regarding today’s readings.

I can just imagine Jesus saying this after the washing of the feet, which seemed to turn the duties of servant and master on its head. This gesture of our Lord’s is similar to other gestures that challenged the understanding of the many social ways by which humans categorized themselves, but here, He is underlining the fact that the washing of the feet should not lend themselves to thinking that He is actually below them in authority.  Judas makes that mistake, he takes the opportunity to have authority over Jesus, to manipulate Jesus in some way, but even this is in accordance with God’s plan, what God had said would happen.

The whole first reading is St. Paul going through the Biblical lead-ins to Jesus, saying that all of these things the Jewish people knew to be true were actually pointing to the veracity of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus was all about recontextualizing what people saw as the way to appease temple leaders or the way to become holy, He was the answer to all these things, the sacrificial Lamb and the Way.

The main thesis of these passages is that all things are ordered towards bringing God’s people back to Him, letting them know that He is the Alpha and Omega, the one true God. God takes on human flesh, washes His followers feet, allows betrayal…for what? For exactly this: for bringing His sheep back into the fold. To show them that He is I AM, the one who is, who was, and ever shall be.

That is also the main point of everything in our lives, as well. All things should lead us to a closer walk with Him.  Maybe today (Friday), try praying more to God in question form, like “What are you trying to teach me about yourself?” in a tense moment of the day, or “I know you want to teach me something, here, but I can’t see it yet. Where are you in this situation?” Sometimes knowing and proclaiming an ultimate purpose will help you pray and then listen for an answer.

In the peace of Christ,
Alyssa

The Reckless Gift, the Reckless Giver

From today’s first reading:

“… Peter and the Apostles said in reply,
“We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

From today’s Gospel:

“…the one who comes from heaven is above all.
He testifies to what he has seen and heard,
but no one accepts his testimony.
Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy.
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God.
He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.”

Dear fellow pilgrims,

As I’m meditating about today’s readings, I see a common thread of the Holy Spirit through the first reading and the gospel reading. In the first reading, the Holy Spirit is described as both a “witness” to Christ’s death and resurrection and a gift from God granted to those who are obedient to Him. In the gospel reading, the Holy Spirit is described as a gift that never runs out, a gift that is always given out of abundance, a gift that is never given from a miserly, calculating heart. I think the Holy Spirit is the least understood member of the Trinity, and I think that is in part because he is the least embodied; we have an idea of the personhood of the Father, the Son, but who really is the Holy Spirit? I had to refresh myself on some theology out of the Catechism:

745 The Son of God was consecrated as Christ (Messiah) by the anointing of the Holy Spirit at his Incarnation (cf. Ps 2:6-7).

746 By his Death and his Resurrection, Jesus is constituted in glory as Lord and Christ (cf. Acts 2:36). From his fullness, he poured out the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the Church.

747 The Holy Spirit, whom Christ the head pours out on his members, builds, animates, and sanctifies the Church. She is the sacrament of the Holy Trinity’s communion with men.

There is something new about the Holy Spirit that was revealed to me as I read more…. the inseparability between the Holy Spirit and Christ, likened to how the oil of anointing seeps into the skin of the anointed. Christ and the Holy Spirit are inseparable, and each informs the other’s identity: the Anointed and the anointing cannot be so without the other. And this anointing is the divine nature of Christ given by the Father to be enmeshed with Mary’s immaculate DNA to create the Incarnate God, Jesus. This is the reckless love of God, to be united with His creation in such a way.

But the Incarnation was not the whole mission of Jesus, it was the qualifying state of His Being that enabled the larger mission of unleashing the deepest possible union between humans and their God through being the type of son that humans could never be: completely obedient, because Jesus submitted Himself to death completely to serve the will of the Father.

Jesus did not want to die. And yet, He did, and did so completely out of love for us because He trusted the Father’s love for us and for Him. Only because of His humanity did He know that His mission of obedience was inseparable from ours, and only because of His divine anointing and union with the Holy Spirit did He know that His mission of atonement was inseparable from the Father’s. And somehow, through the culmination of these inseparable missions in His passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven, an overflowing channel of the Holy Spirit was released into the hearts of obedient believers following after Him.

The barrier between Man and God was broken by Christ’s broken Body and became the chasm through which the Holy Spirit can now be embodied by non-divine people like us. Within this new relationship between God and Man, the Holy Spirit has one mission: to continue the Incarnation within us. And this gift is recklessly given, it is not rationed or divided because God’s love is never proportioned to what we deserve, God’s love mirrors the infinite mercy of the Giver. But this Spirit cannot be given to those who do not believe in Christ because of the inseparability of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and this is why obedience to Christ makes way for the movement of the Spirit: the Spirit cannot move through channels that have not conformed to Christ’s wounds.

Gracious God, You Who make all things new,
Create in us hearts of flesh,
Holding close to the beat of your Heart,
Which never ceases to live in pursuit of ours.

Good Jesus, may we learn from your perfect Sonship,
Your Sacred Heart, that did not deny the will of your Father’s.
Hide us in the wounds of your passion,
teach us the way of your glorious scars,
And bring us closer to your perfect obedience here within time
So that we may not have to wait any longer for eternity when You come. 

Pax Christi,
Alyssa