The famous calling of Sts. Peter, Andrew, James, and John recounted for us in the Gospels reminds us that those called to be disciples of Jesus are not only to follow our Lord, but will also be made fishers of men. That is, for those called to follow in the Lord’s footsteps, there is an accompanying call to go out, seeking to win souls for Christ. All of us, by virtue of our baptism, are called to be fishers of men, called to be witnesses to Christ in the world, called to accompany our brothers and sisters as they seek to walk with the Lord. In this season after the Epiphany, the Gospels the Church gives us help us to remember that we have been invited to be disciples of the Lord and made His witnesses to the world.
In a very particular way, today’s Gospel applies to those men whom God is calling to serve Him as priests. “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men,” is a call that echoes through the centuries. The task given to the apostles and their successors is to proclaim the Gospel to all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and to sanctify through the sacramental ministry entrusted to them at the Last Supper – “Do this in memory of me.” All of that is communicated in the simple phrase “fishers of men.” This great mission endures through the ages. In every place where human beings dwell, there is a need for the Gospel to be proclaimed. In every country, state, city, town, or village, in every culture, and in every historical moment, Jesus invites men to join Him in the task of proclaiming the Good News and to be fishers of men.
If Jesus calls all his disciples to bear witness to Him in the world, he offers this task to priests in a unique way. Through the sacrament of Holy Orders, a man is configured to Christ in such a particular way that he, in the traditional parlance, becomes an alter Christus, another Christ. Being a priest is no nine to five job. Rather, a priest is a priest in everything he does, which means he has the opportunity to witness to Jesus at all times (even when he might prefer to take it easy or get some rest!). Speak to any priest, and they will tell you that while it’s not always easy to be that witness, the priesthood is the greatest privilege and blessing they could ever hope to receive. For a priest, one of the most profound moments of his life was hearing the Lord say “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
The need for priests is as great now as ever. You will often hear concerns about a shortage of priests, and I share those concerns, if not always with the same vocabulary. Practically speaking, we need more priests to meet the pastoral and spiritual needs of the Church. But the need for more priests does not, to my mind, indicate a lack of men being called by the Lord to this service. In fact, I am firmly convinced that God is even now preparing the hearts of men all around our country, and indeed the world, to answer the call to serve the Church as priests. All of us will benefit from this grace! And so while we wait for the completion of the good work that God is beginning, we can do three things. First, we ought to pray daily that those who are being called would be courageous and confident and give their enthusiastic “yes” to the vocation to the priesthood. Second, we can encourage young men in our parishes, in our schools, in our ministries, and in our families to reflect on their own lives and ask if they have ever heard the Lord inviting them: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Third, we can pray for and give our visible support to the priests we know and who are currently ministering to our Catholic community. Share your appreciation for the work your priest does, pray for his greater sanctification, and let him know you are ready to help him in his task of preaching the Gospel, helping people on the path to holiness, and caring for the needs of the Church. And most of all, remember that you too are called to be a fisher of men, and you too have been invited to follow after Jesus, who calls you by name.