Handing over your life to Christ - radically living out the vow of Obedience

I posted the following text on this blog 2 years ago in relation to the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C of the liturgical calendar (we are in Year A at the moment). It is a reflection I wrote in relation to one of my favourite Gospel passages: John 21 - Peter + other apostles going fishing, Jesus appearing to them and the events that followed. It came to mind because its theme of handing over control to Christ has become more and more pertinent for me in recent months with a change of community lined up for me this summer. I will write more about this at a later date. For now I will just say that I don't actually know which of 2 possible communities I will be going to yet. I have to trust that in handing over total control of my life to Christ through the medium of my Superiors within my congregation (vow of Obedience) I will end up where God wants me to be. Of that I am sure, though never in my life have I felt myself living out that abandonment and handing over of self as radically as I am at present. And it feels liberating.

My life as a Brother has followed fairly predictable tracks much of the time since I joined in 1990 (various stages of training, teaching + ministry). But now, more than ever before, I feel as if I am leaving comfort zones behind. Having navigated inland waters, always within sight of land and known ports of call, it's now time to set out on open ocean water and see where the wind of God's spirit blows me. The name for our Archdiocesan parish programme here on Merseyside - "Leaving Safe Harbours" (involving reorganising and redynamising parish life within new structures) could very appropriately be applied to my own life. Over the years, I've had various specialisms in my ministry (a real jack-of-all-trades) and have been blessed with the opportunity to develop certains skills. But as yet, the special set of circumstances I/we find ourselves in mean that I have no idea which ministry/ministries my Superiors will be asking me to fulfil next year.

This encourages me in my prayer to make mine the words of Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1) "I am the servant of the Lord. Let what you say be done to me".


Bro. James - April 2007

John 21

This particular Gospel passage is one of my favourites. I've always been very fond of Peter's story and in particular this part, the culmination of the Gospel story and the prelude to his mission as an apostle or messenger of Jesus. In that sense it is also a pivotal moment in his life and in hindsight, the life of the Church. Jesus carries out a wonderful act of mercy that brings inner healing to Peter and sends him to "Feed my lambs" and "Follow me" (the healing coming through the threefold question "Do you love me?" in response to Peter's threefold denial of Jesus in the Temple).

But let's start at the beginning. Jesus has already appeared to the disciples in the upper room, but they are probably still reeling from the joyous shock of that event and the subsequent spiritual gifts bestowed upon them. We hear Peter say to a group of disciples who were with him, "I'm going fishing". I love this blunt statement of his. Notice also how it's Peter who takes the lead and the others follow. When in doubt, go back to what you are familiar with. Ok, the followers probably needed some more food to eat, but an activity like fishing would give them the chance to just have a break, do something manual that doesn't need too much reflection and just take stock.... take a deep breath before facing the daunting task of carrying on Jesus' mission.

However, what should have been a simple night-time fishing outing took on a whole unexpected importance for them, starting from the fact that they caught nothing. The Sea of Galilee, probably teeming with fish, a group of experienced fishermen and yet no joy. I can just imagine Peter's frustration. The one thing he's meant to be good at and he can't even do that anymore! How's he going to cope as a preacher and father-figure for his fellow followers of Christ? Notice that when the man on the shore calls to them we are not told that Peter calls back to him, only that "they" answered. Peter was probably scowling away to himself at the other end of the boat mending a net, perhaps, and probably a little embarrassed and annoyed at this "friend" on the shore and his nosey question.

But, when the man says, "Throw the net out to starboard and you'll find something," what is it that makes Peter (albeit perhaps reluctantly) do what the man says? Even though the later words of John, "It is the Lord!", suggest that at this stage Peter hasn't recognised the man as Jesus, is there something in the way the man speaks that reminds him of his master? I tend to think that Peter was being taught a lesson in humility. He, the experienced fisherman somehow found it in himself to follow the advice of a stranger (though thinking perhaps "If he's a fisherman, he certainly isn't from round here!") in the one area of life where he normally felt totally in control: fishing. He was being asked to hand over that control in an act of faith, and boy, was that faith repaid in fish! (An act of faith followed by another in John's recognition of Jesus: "It is the Lord!").

This handing over of control, handing over the reins of his life to another finds an echo in Jesus' subsequent words to Peter in relation to the way his life will develop: " 'Somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go'... the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God." Not exactly reassuring words. What follows is much more so: "Follow me." As if to say, "Follow me and everything will be alright."

I find that I myself am being encouraged to hand over total control of my life to Jesus, not just as a one off (I did that already when taking my vows as a Brother), but day after day after day. That's the tough part. I don't know if it's getting easier, but I am certainly more and more conscious of doing so, which can only be a good thing. Life's hardships can teach us valuable lessons in this respect, lessons in humility. Such hardships could overwhelm, but if you place yourself in God's hands, totally, you can indeed never fall any lower. On the contrary, he will lift you back up onto your feet and nudge you back on your way.

Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit.


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