February 6, 2007

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, while attending the Diocesan Synod of the Episcopal Church of Cuba February 2-4, delivered an address during the closing Eucharist in Cardenas. The full text of her address follows:


Cuba – 5 Epiphany, Year C
February 4, 2007

Diocesan Synod: Closing Eucharist and Ordination of a Priest

Many years ago, I worked as an oceanographer doing research on squids and octopuses in the Pacific. I went to sea many times on ships, looking for these creatures. We used large nets, towing them for many hours at various depths. The captains always were afraid due to the danger underlying the towing of the large nets. If there was a small catch, there would be no problem. However, a large catch could have endangered the vessel. Every time we went fishing, the captain was afraid. Every time we threw the net over the side, the anxiety level went up.

Every time fishers go to sea, they would like to have a large catch, but, at the same time, they are afraid. Every time the fear, or question is, "Are we going to capsize?" Fishing involves risks – capsizing by a large match or returning empty-handed. Nevertheless, there are real dangers: falling into the sea, injuries while working, and the risks of navigating in turbulent seas, without shelter or shocked by towering waves. Every trip could be the last.

Being in Cuba made me think in Hemingway's story, The Old Man and the Sea, where the struggle with the fish epitomizes the struggle with life; but it also prefigures a life following Jesus. We cannot live the abundant life without risks, and we cannot live it without risking everything.

The apostles need to risk everything and leave behind their lack of hope before the amazing catch. When Peter and his companions returned to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus -- maybe just for an instant, even their fears.

Whenever we start following Jesus, he asks us to take risks. He invites us to leave everything behind for the sake of the Gospel, and to follow him without anything that may burden us. We need to walk to leave our burdens behind on the shore. Fear may hinder recognizing the Resurrection; it may make us blind and deaf to the abundance of grace in our world. If Jesus is truly risen, there is no reason to be afraid.

You and I are fishers – like the apostles or today's fishers. How are we going to respond to Jesus' invitation to go fishing? Are we going to be hopeful or afraid? God is always blessing us with the catch of abundant life. The question is, how are we going to respond, so that we can see, listen or discover the great catch that surrounds us all.

Today we are ordaining a new priest. She has been called to be a fisher and to be a leader of fishers. Very much like the apostles, priests have been called to be fishers in the world. She and all priests have been invited to be examples of courage, to learn to risk their lives in the great fishing trip of life. Priests have been called to be encouragers of the people, teachers of the faithful and channels of the amazing hope of God. But all the baptized have also been called to fish in the midst of difficulties.

To be successful in fishing, priests and the baptized need to have a vision, a dream for the trip. Moreover, it has to be a glorious dream, a dream valuable in God's eyes, and one that God will accept and bless. If we lack big and glorious dreams, we will not be able to fish in deep water. Worthy catches are only possible in deep water, in waters that may instill fear in us. What is the dream of the Episcopal Church in Cuba? Is it big? Does it cause you to fear? Is it calling you to risk everything? If not, then it is not large enough, it doesn't hope for an amazing catch.

I believe that the only dream that is big enough is the dream of healing the world, of reconciliation, one to another, to save the whole world. As our Catechism teaches us, the mission of the Church is to reconcile the world to God, and each other, in the love of Christ. Such a mission, such a dream asks for everything we have, as he is the one who calls us to risk it all.

Priests are fishers and are called to catch a fearful people – including the priest himself or herself – around the altar to acknowledge the ancient truth that God can conquer death. God can even conquer nothingness. You and I can see death all around us in the world – death brought by other human beings or by nature, as in the ferocity of earthquakes or hurricanes. We have been called to fish incessantly in this terrifying world. And, if we are daring, we will be able to catch the life imaged by those fish, the abundant life that God dreams for all creation.

Are you ready to go fishing? This is our mission: Fish for life in the face of psychological death, or illness; death by hunger, thirst, or lack of shelter; death by oppression or embargo, death by oppressive and cruel systems. All these deaths are in the sea where we have been called to fish. You know that before fish are brought closer to the surface, we cannot see them swimming in the deep waters. In the same way, we need to notice and recognize the soft voice and hints of the risen life all around us before we can continue living the abundant life. We need to seek that life in Christ; we need to go out fishing, all around us.

I noticed in some places here the slogan "Nation or Death." Jesus' message is that God conquers death and, distinctively, in today's Gospel, we trust that the dreams of God can prevail even against death. Christians should strive for a better life, but God wants a better life for all the world and not only for one country. God dreams of a world inhabited by a reconciled human family. That's a worthwhile dream!

How can you catch the amazing catch in Cuba? Where are the fish for our catch? They are in a different place in each community. There is sea of possibilities. In some places, the fish of life may be helping senior citizens, washing their clothes and offering companionship. Somewhere else it may be sharing the most nutritious and economic vegetables with those who have nothing. Or it may be helping those in prison or the sick. Somewhere else it may be demanding the best of government. Each community is surrounded by waves of fear that will also produce the catch of abundant life. Jesus calls us to be courageous and hopeful fishers in all areas of life.

Can we risk such a big dream, the dream of abundant life for the entire world? Can we risk our lives fishing in the midst of seas of terror and death? This is what Jesus calls us to do. Are you ready to embark? The results may be larger than all we can imagine, even larger than our dreams. We need the best gifts, the best ideas, and the biggest dreams. We need courageous leaders, with strong and willing hearts. It will ask everything we have to give – priests, deacons, bishops, and laity. May we have big dreams! Let us go fishing; let us go fishing into the deep waters, filled with abundant life. May we have a fruitful and amazing catch!

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church