We've all seen the sign on the door of some shop or office or in a cartoon. It's a great statement of independence and freedom, 'I'm not here, I'm taking time for me, I'm away for a while, come back later'. Summer makes us all want to go fishing, to pull up and enjoy the world and life that otherwise speeds past us. It's a time to slow down a bit, to recreate ourselves, to take vacation, to go fishing.
I wonder if the expression originated with St. Peter. At the end of the Gospel of John, some of the Apostles are found wondering what to do now that Jesus was dead and buried. Peter said that he was going fishing and the others agreed to go with him. They really needed to go fishing; after all they had just been through. With the death of their dearest friend under such traumatic circumstances, they were discouraged, sad and depressed. They needed to get away from everything and rediscover themselves so they went back to doing what they did before Jesus disrupted their lives, they went fishing.
But their escape to the lake didn't work out. The Gospel says that they fished all night and didn't catch a thing. When I go fishing it's to enjoy the solitude of a lake or creek or the sea, if I catch a fish it's a bonus. The Apostles really needed to catch something to prove to themselves that they still had it, that they hadn't lost their touch. They were ready to give up and admit that it was all over. But then, as the sun came up, they saw someone on the shore. As they got closer, the man told them to put their nets back in the water and they would catch a lot of fish. They did, and their nets started to break from the load of fish. One of them said, 'Look, it's the Lord' and for the first time they realized that Jesus was still alive. He made them breakfast and they sat down on the beach and ate together.
Obviously, that was an extraordinary experience and the Apostles probably couldn't put it all together at the time. They had recently witnessed the death of the person who was at the center of their lives and now here he was serving them just like he had at the Last Supper when he washed their feet. At their breakfast on the beach, they came to realize that this really was the Lord, that Jesus was really alive and that his being with them was even better than it was before. When Jesus first took them from their boats and nets a few years earlier, they had to leave their everyday lives to be with him. But now Jesus was part of their everyday lives, doing what they were doing.
The truth of the resurrection is the same for us, too. Jesus is part of our everyday lives, helping us 'catch fish' or inviting us to 'sit down and eat'. The Gospel suggests that he is present most of all as we do things together with him in mind, even if it's just two or three of us.
As we think about summer, changing the pace, taking vacation, going fishing, I hope we can be open to experiencing the real presence of Jesus in our everyday lives and most especially in our relationships with one another. If we're open to his presence, he will be asking us to accept his invitation to serve and minister to each other. When we say we're 'going fishing' he will be saying, "follow me."