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The mission of the Church is still the mission of Jesus Christ. And Jesus is still calling fishermen to become fishers of men. I sang Masses at St. Peter's in Gloucester for eight years. And as we approach the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, I remember one thing I learned from the fishing families of Cape Ann: Nets and lines and traps don't put food on the table, a good catch does.
But how do you fill your nets? And if you're trying to catch souls, how do you draw fish into the flock? How do you keep from coming up empty handed?
Evangelizing isn't easy. And most of us who keep venturing out into the deep have at least one or two stories about the ones that got away. But there are some tips that can help, and some basic principles that might well make the difference.
1. Go where the fish are. In other words, don't stand in the middle of the field and ask the fish to come to you. Go out to people where you know you will find them, not where you wish they were or where you hope to bring them. Someone once asked John Dillinger, the violent thief of the Depression era, why he robbed banks. His answer was as startling as it was logical: "Because that's where the money is." If you don't know where to find fish, ask a fisherman.
2. Use the tools of the trade. That is, cast a line, drop a net, sink a trap, or throw a harpoon. Understand that different tools will result in a different catch, even on the same water. You can't catch a lobster with a rod and reel, or a marlin with a dragnet. Likewise, you are unlikely to draw a teen to Jesus with a CD, or a senior citizen with a Facebook group.
3. Use the right bait. If you don't offer a fish something he is already looking for, he'll just keep swimming. Know what the fish is looking for, and if you don't know, ask the fish. That is, know what people's needs are and meet them. It seems to me that sometimes what we want to give isn't always what someone wants--or needs--to receive. A new mother needs a hot meal and an hour to herself more than another yellow baby undershirt. But understand that when it comes to bringing people to faith in Christ, your life and the way you live it is the live bait on your hook. People won't bite on a plastic lure for long. Be good enough to eat, and honest enough to go to confession when you're not.
4. Be prepared for a long day, week, month, or years without catching much of anything. God knows that you are tired and wet, and your nets are empty. God knows that you think that fishing is, perhaps, a colossal waste of time. But he also knows what is swimming around in the water, and just maybe, he is sending you out there to catch it.
5. Reel or haul them in. A fish in the cooler is worth five on the hook. Bring what you catch to Jesus. Some fish really know how to put up a fight, and it takes more than one angler to land them. Ask for help if you need it, and know that you will in fact need help. Rely on the Holy Spirit and not yourself, and realize that some catches make it hard to sail the boat. When a wave of new people suddenly arrive at the parish, things change for a while, and not always for the better.
6. Know that not every fish is a keeper. Sometimes, even the most experienced fishermen hook a rock, or a shoe, or a shark. A dragnet will bring in everything, including a lot you won't really want. Don't worry about it though. People have a way of sorting themselves out. Not every fish will choose to leave the sea for the pasture.
7. Share your tales with other fishermen, but don't exaggerate. Christians need to learn from one another and encourage one another. The first story you tell, however, should be your own. How were you caught, and by whom?
8. If you've never caught much of anything, try something new. Look, there really are plenty of fish in the sea, lake, river, etc. Remember the time when Jesus told the disciples to cast their nets on the right side of the boat? It's because they were fishing on the wrong side (not the left side).
9. Pray for a catch. Nothing happens without prayer. The same Jesus who commanded the wind and the waves and who walked on water provides you with everything you need. He will also fill your nets.
10. Pray for the catch. In other words, pray for all those people who are swimming through life without God. Pray for the people you are hoping to bring to faith in Christ. Pray for the people you aren't even thinking about bringing to faith in Christ. And, continually place the people you have brought to Jesus into his hands.
When Jesus called the first disciples, they left their boats to follow him. But in these days of chaos and confusion, in this age which some have called post-Christian and post-Christ, Jesus is asking us to try it all again. From the eternal shore he calls out to us, "Children, have you caught any fish?" (John 21:6)
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.