By Marianne Furtado de Nazareth –
Often priests are compared to fishermen. The comparison is apt and so important in todays world reeling with hate and division. Jesus told his first priests, his apostles – that they would be fishers of men. ( Mt 4: 19) It makes total sense that he used this imagery as there are so many similarities between the fisherman and the priest. The fisherman fishes for fish and a priest uses his knowledge and honesty to fish for souls.
When fishing for fish in the little creek in our village of Pilerne in Goa, my Dad taught us kids to use tiny prawns as bait. Then we were guaranteed a catch which he made us return to the creek. You need to have the proper bait, sharp hooks, strong lines and tons of patience to sit in the heat and wait for a bite.
Fish won’t just jump up waiting to be caught. You have to look for an area where they lurk in the depths, you bait them and catch them. They also fight against being caught and a fisherman has to have the patience to reel them in slowly rather than have his line broken in the fight. Many people don’t have the patience for that. One has to sit in the sun in discomfort and maybe at the end of the day you catch nothing. That has happened to us. We lost all our fresh bait and had no fish to show for it! But Dad explained that the hallmark of a good fisherman is patience.
The same way a priest must have a lot of patience and perseverance to ‘catch’ souls. Patient like a fisherman and calm and cool when he works. Results do not happen overnight. They take time and sometimes one gets nothing.
There are three similarities which this story brings out between a fisherman and a priest.
1) The hook, 2) the line 3) the bait.
The hook: must be extremely sharp and penetrate the soul effectively with the teachings of the church. He uses the hook of truth, the teachings of the catholic church. He does not use his academic degrees to do that, he uses his heart and the truth which can never fail.
To cite the bible—“ it is the truth that sets us free” John 8:32 The hook of truth may not be accepted at first, but it is the truth which finally captures a soul.
Many might reject the teachings, get upset and annoyed, avoid any support or interest. But a priest goes forward and does not get deterred. We the lay people expect that from our priests. He stands for truth and honesty and will do all he can to uphold that. He has to have answers to the searching questions his faithful ask and he has to uphold the teaching of the church, on controversial subjects which he might get asked.
The line: which every priest uses is a line of mercy. A priest will witness the setbacks which his faithful will face in life and he has to have a merciful heart if he is going to help them. Mercy and compassion towards the poor and the lonely, mercy and compassion towards those who are aggressive and nasty as well. A priest has to try and analyse why a lay person is behaving in a particular fashion and he can only do it with a heart of mercy and compassion.
There is an old saying, “a priest has to be a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the pew.” Meaning he has to be zealous when speaking to his flock but kind and gentle when dealing with individual people. That is why a heart of mercy is so important in a priest. Lay people, the flock which the priest looks after require mercy and compassion in their lives.
The bait: Priests do not have to be great orators. Speak with silver tongues, with fanciful words.But we must encourage However, they have to speak logically and with the heart of Mary in their utterances. The patron saint of priests – St John Vianney was not the most educated by the standards set by the world. Yet with Our Mothers help he was able to bring many to the feet of Jesus.
A priest has a sacred duty to perform and that is why we lay people believe, in all they voice and they utter. Sermons form such an integral part of our Sunday worship and service and the words tend to echo through our minds, during our quiet times, through the week. It is a wonderful vocation, to be a fisher of men and very few are called to be ordained and give their lives to the church.
Dr Marianne Furtado de Nazareth,
Former Asst. Editor, The Deccan Herald, &
Adjunct faculty St. Joseph’s College of Arts and Science, Bangalore.