He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19).
Today’s Gospel account recalls Jesus’ call of Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. An interesting contextual point is that Jesus was the one doing the calling. Spiritual teachers were common during the time of Jesus within and without of Judaism. What was more common in those accounts was that the disciples came to the master. It was a rarer case that the master would search out and call his followers.
Another interesting point is that Jesus met the brothers in the midst of their everyday activities of fishing, in the midst of their work. The encounter with Jesus was not on some isolated mountain top, it was not at a revival, nor at the temple or synagogue. Jesus met them in the midst of Simon and Andrew casting their nets and James and John mending their father’s nets.
The third point from this short account is that Jesus immediately followed his invitation to Simon and Andrew with the insistence that they will be fishers of people. They are not entering their new apprenticeship with Jesus having any false notion that they will wait for others to come to them. They will travel out of their comfort zones. They were called to leave their current way of life, financial security, and to trust in Jesus as they learned about and shared the Good News that the kingdom of God is at hand.
The three points above apply directly to us as well. Jesus seeks us out and invites us to join him. Are we willing to receive this invitation and say yes as Simon, Andrew, James, and John had done. Jesus meets us in our everyday moments, in our workplaces, among our interactions with family and friends, in our class and dorm rooms, as well as in our activities and leisure. He meets us in our conflicts, struggles, suffering, as well as our joys, success, and our moments of wonder. Jesus also encounters us during our unpreparedness for interruptions, in our times of prayer, and worship.
The very desire to pray does not actually begin with us. It is the beginning of our awareness of Jesus’ call to follow him. When we take the time to pray we slow down and become more aware of his presence so that when we leave our times of prayer and worship, we will be more able to see him in the midst of our daily activities.
Finally, Jesus calls us to share what we have experienced and learned from our encounter with him. No matter how small. We will make mistakes, we will not be perfect, but as we put into practice his teachings, we will learn and grow as his disciples. Remember who he called? Peter, Andrew, James, and John. There are four Gospels full of accounts of their false starts, gaffes, and “Oops”. We grow and learn by doing. As we crawl, we will soon learn to walk, as we walk we will soon learn to run, and as we run, we will soon learn to fly!
Jesus calls us to participate in his life and to put his teachings into practice. This is a gift of transformation we are invited to experience. As we begin or continue this journey with the Lord, we are to share our faith by accompanying those in our realm of influence. This happens in the our normal interactions, remembering first and foremost to do so in a way that respects the dignity of each person we encounter. We are to resist any desire to impose and instead authentically bear witness to our practice and engage in respectful dialogue.
Nicholas Black Elk (ca. 1866-1950) embodied this gift of dialogue. The Oglala Lakota, holy man, best known from John Neihardt’s work, Black Elk Speaks, like St. Andrew whose feast day we celebrate today, said yes to Jesus’ call and was baptized a Catholic in 1904. He continued to practice his Lakota ways while also becoming an effective lay catechist. Under his guidance, over 400 people came to believe in Jesus.
He was instrumental in his role of not only teaching the Catholic faith but nurturing and caring for the faithful of St. Agnes Catholic Church in between the monthly visits of the priest. In May of 2021, Pope Francis promulgated the formal role of the lay catechist. Nicholas Black Elk certainly modeled this position effectively, and if canonized would be an inspiring patron saint of catechists.
On June 25, 2019, the diocesan phase of the Cause for Canonization of Nicholas Black Elk was finalized with a Mass at St. Agnes in Manderson, SD. The next step in the process of his canonization will be a thorough investigation to examine if he lived a life of heroic virtue and if found to be so, would be given the title of “Venerable.” May we also answer the unique call Jesus invites us to partake in.
St Andrew, pray for us. Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk, pray for us.
Photo: Source Marquette University Catholic Mission Archives. Nicholas Black Elk catechizing with the “Two Roads Map” at the cabin of Broken Nose, Pine Ridge Reservation.