“WHAT ARE YOU FISHING FOR?” (Mk 1:14-20): 14 January 2008 (Monday)
More than twenty years ago, I worked as a brand manager in a food manufacturing company, and was assigned to marketing the ready-to-drink juices–the type that came in bottles and tetra briks. On my first couple of months, I was eager to learn everything about the job, so I decided to get a first-hand experience of how market research was done. One morning I joined a team of researchers that went door to door to survey the brands of juices found in different households in Little Baguio, San Juan. I watched the team interview whoever opened the door for us. On maybe the fourth house, an unforgettable wide-eyed girl opened the door, and very graciously agreed to undergo the interview.
The researchers asked her the usual questions in the vernacular. “Meron po ba kayong juice sa bahay? (Do you have any juices in the house?)” they began.
“Ay, opo! (Oh yes!),” the young girl eagerly answered.
“Anu-ano po ang juice ninyo? (What juices do you have?)?”
“Marami po! (A lot!),” came the proud reply–and she went on to enumerate the Sacred Heart, Sto. Nino, and the Nazarene.
The poor girl had mistaken our survey on juices to be a survey about God (“God” in Filipino is “Diyos,” which sounds like “juice”)!
It’s a hilarious, but true story, but the uncanny thing about the incident was that it happened at a time when I was beginning to think seriously about what I really wanted to do with my life. The poor girl’s confusion about “juice” and “Diyos” symbolized—rather blatantly—my own growing confusion and dilemma about my life: Did I want to spend the rest of my life selling juice or doing something else?
In the Gospel today, our Lord bumps into four fishermen. He finds the brothers Simon and Andrew casting their nets into the sea, and he tells them, “I think you’re fishing in the wrong sea.”
He sees two other brothers, James and John, mending their nets, and he tells them, “I think you’re trying to catch the wrong fish.” The fishermen then leave their boats, follow Jesus, and become “fishers of men.”
You could say that in a sense, something like that happened to me. I realized that I was fishing in the wrong sea, and I was trying to catch the wrong fish. Like many people my age then—and even now—I fell victim to pressures from media that the secrets to happiness could be found only in possessions and prestige. I believed the constant bombardment from everywhere that first, “we are what we look,” and that “we are what we have.” As a result, I was almost ready to spend the rest of my life pursuing the things that I thought would make me happy.
Now, all of us are, in many ways, fishermen with our own special nets and our own private pursuits. We spend our lives fishing in some sea where we believe we can catch the fish that will make us happy, but sometimes, if we’re not careful enough, we may be casting the wrong nets into the wrong sea.
As the Lord did to his first disciples, he is inviting us today to examine our lives, our nets and our pursuits, to take some time out to ask ourselves: What do we spend our time and energy on anyway? What are we “in such hot pursuit of” in our lives, breathlessly running around day and night frantically chasing after them? In other words, what are we fishers of?
Is it possible that the Lord thinks that just like the first disciples, we’re fishing in the wrong sea? Could the Lord want us to be fishers of something else, something larger, something more valuable? Think about it.
Of course God does not ask everyone to become priests and nuns, but he is certainly expecting all of us to find a better reason and a better dream to live for. Our dreams have a way of shaping our lives; they have a way of defining us. So be careful about the dreams that you choose.
I believe that God wants a better dream for us—better, at least, than the usual mass-produced dreams of having more or looking better. Our lives and we ourselves are worth much, much more than that. Sadly, by pursuing lesser dreams, we often end up reducing ourselves to possessions and prestige—things that fade away.
Maybe the Lord is inviting us today to check if we’re fishing in the wrong sea. But what kind of sea does he want us to go to fishing on? How do we know the place that God is calling us to?
One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, says that there are two things that we have to look when we make our decision. He puts it this way:
“The place that God calls you to is the place where your deepest gladness and the world’s deepest hunger will meet.”
In other words, the place that God wants us to choose for ourselves—i.e., God’s Will—is the meeting place of our deepest gladness and the world’s deepest hunger. God wants us to choose the kind of life where we can find both the world’s deepest hunger and at the same time our own deepest gladness.
First, the place we choose must bring us face-to-face with what he calls “the world’s deepest hunger.” Whether we like it or not, out there, beyond the comfort of our usual circles lies a world where the great masses of humanity are suffering and are in great need. There is a vast sea of humanity that needs and hungers for many things. We don’t even have to look far. There are many needy and lonely people in our own homes, in the work place, in our neighborhood. Given the unique talents that God has given us, is there something that we can do, even just one thing, that can make some difference in just one life?
But that’s not all. Just as we ought to choose a place that will enable us to fill the world’s deepest hunger, it must also bring us to our deepest gladness: We must also find our deepest joy. Not just any kind of passing joy or pleasure. Not the pleasures that we tend to pursue but that eventually wears out and fades away, leaving us empty. But the gladness that lasts, the gladness that is so deep it can bring peace even when there is suffering. After all, God’s will, contrary to the common notion, is really nothing but our deepest desire—only we often don’t know it.
If we sincerely seek God’s will for us in our lives, we must look for the kind of life where the world’s deepest hunger will meet our own deepest gladness. And we must have the courage to leave our boat and nets to find that place.