3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Mk 1:14-20) “St. Francis Xavier: A Fisher of Men” PDF Version
Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B (2018): Mk 1:14-20
The decision to follow Jesus Christ would have cost something for each of the 12 Apostles. For Peter, Andrew, James and John, the fact that they owned their own fishing boats meant they were men of reasonable wealth, meaning to follow our Lord would have drained their monetary security and separated them from their families. St Matthew gave up the morally questionable life of privilege that came from being a roman tax collector, while Simon the Zealot, if he was indeed part of the Jewish guerilla movement that assassinated Romans and other political enemies, would have meant turning away from a life of violence to follow in the non-violent teachings of the Gospel. Even Judas Iscariot was willing to give up his former life to follow Our Lord…
One of the defining features of any disciple is their willingness to accept the costs of following Jesus Christ to become a fisher of men. Among them is a man whose relics just so happen to be visiting our city this weekend! As the sacred relic of the right arm of St. Francis Xavier has made its pilgrimage across Canada, countless people have discovered that to be in the presence of the relics of this zealous missionary is also to encounter a disciple who was willing to give everything for the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.
On August 15th, 1534, St Francis Xavier and St Ignatius of Loyola and 5 other companions meet in the crypt of the church of St. Denis outside of Paris. They pledged to live lives of chastity, poverty and obedience and with the permission of the Pope sought to form the Society of Jesus, known more commonly as the Jesuits. On this night, these 7 men choose to leave behind their fishing nets, be it their academic ambitions, lucrative careers or desires for worldly powers, and to follow Jesus Christ to the ends of the known world.
For St. Francis Xavier, this meant after his priestly ordination to act as a missionary in Goa, India, Japan and islands throughout South East Asia before his untimely death on a small island but 14 kilometers from mainland China where he sought to end his missionary endeavours. Some claim that he baptized as many as 100,000 people, showing that once he had said yes to become a fisher of men, that he would work until his last breath to seek out new souls to bring to the waters of salvation, most of whom came from a nation and culture that had never heard of Jesus Christ and His Church.
Each of us, if we truly desire to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, will also be asked to leave behind our fishing nets and follow the Lord. This occurs when a couple choose to be married, they leave behind their former lives to be united as one flesh, and in their marriage work together as disciples of the Lord, in bearing witness to God’s love in their marriage and being open to bring children into this world who will come to the saving waters of baptism and in time discover their vocations in Christ.
It will come in the man who makes the bold yes to discern the call to become a priest. It will occur in the woman who says yes to enter religious life and discover what it means to be a virginal bride of Jesus Christ. It will come in the single person who says yes to the Lord’s plan to use their gifts and talents to serve their community and our Church and like the disciples of old put aside their own self-centered ambitions for the betterment of others.
Each of us, I do mean each of us, will be asked in some manner to leave behind our former ways and follow Christ in the way in which He desires us to be fisher of humanity, as no Christian is exempt from this call and each of us has a vocation to serve God and others.
But like the 12 Apostles, we will discover that we will need to continually renew our initial Yes to leave behind the fishing nets of a former life to be the fishers God calls us to be. We can imagine that probably on the daily basis, the 12 Apostles had to recommit themselves to the work that Christ had entrusted to them. Even after they abandoned Him to the terror of the Cross, 11 of them eventually returned and renewed their willingness to continue the work that Christ has begun.
So too did St Francis Xavier continually recommit himself to the perilous and at times hopeless work as a missionary. Nor was St Francis Xavier afraid to make known his frustrations when it seemed like so few were accepting the Lord’s call to join him in bringing the Gospel to Asia, which was for the Church perhaps their greatest missionary challenge as they encountered sophisticated cultures that had the ability to be make exemplary Christians, but who required numerous faith filled disciples to bring them to saving waters of baptism.
In a letter to St Ignatius of Loyola, Fr Francis Xavier made his frustrations clearly known when he said: “Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians! Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: ‘what a tragedy: how many souls are shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!’”
In the face of such difficulties and personal anguishes, we can be certain St Francis daily recommitted himself to the Lord, remembering that night so many years before when he and 6 friends sought to follow Christ and accepted the call to be fishers of men.
So too will each of us need to daily recommit ourselves to continue in the work and vocations that God has entrusted to us. Very often we will want to give up and run away. Too often we will do so and be left with a deep sadness that we are no longer fishing in those waters that God has entrusted to with to bring more and more people to Him. But even when give up, even if we run away for a time, we can always return, because as St Francis and many others have discovered, the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few, but through prayer and trust we can hope against hope that God will continue to support us in our discipleship and carry on when disappointments and setbacks come our ways.
May the 12 Apostles, St Francis Xavier, all holy men and women, both in heaven and on earth, along with the choirs of Angels, inspire us never to give up, to continue fishing even when there seems to be few souls to be found and to know that our Lord rejoices in the ways we seek to faithfully and continually serve to be fishers of humanity.