AN EDITOR'S LIFE | Like fishing, evangelization requires faith

Starting the new year in a river seemed like a good idea. Sure, the weather was windy and a bit cold -- the ice on a tree limb sticking in the water was proof enough -- but how can fishing be bad? Any day stalking trout is a good day.

But the trout didn't seem to agree. They were stubborn. Or maybe asleep. Or recovering from a New Year's Eve stupor. Whatever their excuse, they wanted nothing to do with my flies (which were uglier than Jerry Garcia neckties, but that's beside the point). Of course, working the same run over and over until fatigue becomes frustration isn't a productive way to fish, so perhaps it isn't fair to blame the salmonids.

Die-hard fishermen tend to be zealots -- passionate and persistent but not always humble. We know better than the fish, and we know with certainty that the next fly will be the secret to attracting the disinterested. When the fish don't bite, we blame them while ignoring our inadequacies -- sloppy casting, poor line control, inability to detect a strike and botching the fight so the fish throws the hook, offering a sarcastic wave of the fin before darting to his safe place.

Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like evangelization. We might be exhausted, yet we try over and over. We share our faith, defend the Church, live good Christian lives and invite others on our journey with Christ, and the uninterested still shun us. It can be exhausting and frustrating, and it's easy to blame others for not listening, not being open or just not giving a rip.

The author got skunked by the fish, but at least he made a decent nature photo.One of the most difficult lessons for a fisherman to learn isn't just to stand where he should be fishing. The best fishermen take time to consider every factor -- the water, the flow, the weather, the food sources and even the phase of the moon. And like successful evangelists, successful fishermen recognize that fishing goes well beyond a simple fisher and quarry relationship; a force is at play. It is the Holy Spirit, in whom we must have faith even if we don't fully understand it.

There must have been a reason Jesus revealed Himself to unsuccessful fishermen. Seven guys fished all night, casting over and over, always retrieving an empty net. But when they turned to Jesus and followed His instruction, "Cast the net over to the right side of the boat," they landed 153 lunkers (good thing they didn't have game laws back then).

It wasn't luck or a magic lure; it was faith.

Whether we're fishers of trout or men, we must take in the full picture. Our timing, our words and lures, our presentation, the environment and the mood of people and fish all have influence. Most of all, we must recognize God's role in it all. Our faith in Him leads to filling our creels, to continue with the analogy.

The other advantage of the fishing analogy, no matter how worn, is that it's a great excuse for getting on the river. When questioned, "Seriously, you're going fishing again!?" a simple answer would be, "Hey, if Simon Peter and his buddies can go fishing after seeing Christ resurrected, I can go today."

Phillips is the director of publications for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

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