Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Spirituality: What shape shall it have?
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Feb. 7, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)
There has been a good deal of controversy lately about how to freeze in time the increasingly popular depiction of the firefight-ers who raised the U.S. flag over the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York City. How does one capture this spontaneous response by individuals to a national tragedy and, at the same time, communicate the heroism and patriotism exhibited by scores of firefighters like them?
For some citizens, the scene is reminiscent of the soldiers who raised the flag on the hilltop at one of the most famous battles in World War II. Both a photograph and a sculpture now have etched in our memory this significant moment of victory over the forces of evil. There are those argue that the same should be done with the scene in New York, capturing as closely as possible the reality of the event. Others support the sculptor, who obviously has exercised artistic license and depicted the scene in more generic fashion, showing the firefighters as representative of three different ethnic groups.
Just a short while ago the Gospel reading from the Sunday Mass took us to a similar — though far less tragic — scene, a scene which has become etched in our collective Christian consciousness. It was the call of Jesus’ first disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Walking along the shore, Jesus calls to some men of the sea who are mending their nets.
“Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” the translation reads. Ready to start his ministry of proclaiming the saving work of God, Jesus invites the handlers of boats and nets to join in his endeavor.
What shape should a sculptor use to depict this scene? It all depends on how one “reads” what may have happened at the time. Does art try to duplicate the reality as closely as possible? Or is there a broader, more profound vision to be captured? Does one strive to capture the event, or capture its significance? How would we freeze this scene in bronze to preserve it for all time? How would we best preserve its message?
Would Jesus be depicted with a firm step already taken up a steep path, his figure strong and masculine like that of a hero in an old Western movie? Or would the image imitate a Russian mural, depicting Jesus leading his fighting force up the rugged hills of life, ready to convert the world? Would there be a need to abandon the likely masculine technicalities of the scene and place women and children in the boats — just to be culturally sensitive?
Who wins the day, the literalists or those of more interpretive bent? I’d suggest the latter. There is a hint even in the evangelists’ rendition of this scene that more is captured here than a snapshot in the life and ministry of Jesus as an itinerate preacher.
His invitation to the fishermen to apply their fishing skills to catching others for the Kingdom of God is an obvious play on words. The not-so-hidden pun is not unusually creative, however. We could well imagine the Lord playing with similar words in other situations that have not made their way into the Gospel story. Perhaps he said to farmers, “Come, follow me and I will show you how to nurture the seed of God in people’s hearts.” Or he could have said to attorneys and judges, “Come, follow me and I’ll help you apply a law that leads to a true life sentence.”
The writers of the Gospel give us far more than the recording of an original scene. They are not as much interested in reminiscence as they are in action. They have sculpted in words a scene that sets a critical tone for discipleship with Jesus. Jesus is no John Wayne, ready to lead his troops into battle. Rather, his “Come, follow me!” communicates a sense of his willingness to go ahead of those who would follow. He does not ask anything of his disciples that he is not willing first to endure himself. But his disciples indeed will learn from him the way to fullness of life, the fullness of life for which every human heart yearns.
Jesus’ invitation presumes that there is something already astir in the heart of the disciple because of the grace, or Spirit, of God. When the disciples drop their nets and follow the Lord, leaving fishing tackle in the lap of father and co-workers, the scene is not one of impulsive and irresponsible abandonment of one livelihood for another. (We find these same men back at fishing later in the Gospel narrative.) Their readiness to drop their nets without hesitation indicates a sense of priority: There is a time to fish, and there is a time for discipleship.
Whomever we may prefer to sculpt this scene, whether in words or in bronze, the challenge remains the same. At any moment we all are busy with the legitimate commerce of life. And we all have a tendency to want to stay with our fishing equipment, whether we be male or female, young or old. We prefer to remain with the familiar, the tried-and-true things of life. To walk in discipleship with Jesus is always an adventure into mystery, a trek into the unknown. It is always a journey into our hearts.
The Church’s liturgical calendar squeezes in these few weeks of Ordinary Time between the Christmas feast and our Lenten preparations for the Easter celebration. During these weeks, Jesus calls us to a refreshed walk of discipleship. We give shape in the contemporary world to the dialogue of invitation and response. We ourselves are the bronze statues which preserve in time and place the response to the Lord’s call to discipleship.
Jesus’ call to the first disciples on the shores of Galilee is far more than a moment in time recorded for our admiration. The Lord’s invitation still echoes in our hearts today. It is a waste of time to argue about how to preserve that special moment in bronze or language. Our very lives of loving service for the sake of God’s Kingdom must give practical shape to the Lord’s call. When people see us — whether we be men, women or children — the original scene on the shores of Galilee takes on flesh and blood once again.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish, Spokane. Harcourt Religion Publishers has issued his book Catholics Believe.) (Download order form in pdf format)
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