At my holy hour of Adoration this week, I knelt before our Lord in the tabernacle and, as sometimes happens, my mind, after a while, began to wander. This time it drifted to a trip in July to Montana where I’ll have the opportunity to do something I love – fly fish. Although it’s two months away, I’m already excited about it because this will be a special trip as I’m taking a good friend with me who has never angled for trout in a mountain stream.
I dreamed about preparing my equipment, of examining my fly box, and wondered what will attract the fish this time. I visualized sections of streams where I’ve caught fish before and of making the perfect cast into the perfect spot. I sensed the patience and anticipation, and the sound of the rushing water as I stood in the stream with the beauty of the mountains surrounding me. It was an excellent daydream!
When I came out of it I felt guilty that I had been distracted from my adoration of Jesus. I know that distractions in prayer are sometimes the devil dividing my attention away from Him. But, I’ve also experienced times of distraction that left no doubt that it was the Holy Spirit Who had led me there. This, I believe was one of those cases.
In March I came out of retirement and began working as the Director of Evangelization in our parish family. It’s a job I am loving and excited about, and a challenge which, I hope, will help bring other people to Christ. As I was coming out of my daydream I was suddenly inspired by the parallels between fly fishing and evangelizing.
Intentionality – In most of America, you can’t just go fly fishing for trout at the drop of a hat. You have to be intentional about it and you have to plan for it. The trout stream doesn’t come to you, you have to go to it. Evangelization, I think, is like that. In most cases, someone who doesn’t know Christ isn’t going to come looking for you. Rather, you have to make yourself available to them. And, you have to go into it seeking to make a friend with whom you can build a trusting relationship.
Preparation – A successful fishing trip requires up front preparation: checking your equipment, your leaders and tippets, the flies in your fly box, your waders for leaks, etc. Preparation is required for successful evangelization, too. You need a firm relationship with Christ, the One Whom you are going to introduce to someone. You need to know how to respond to a few questions such as, “Why are you a Christian?”, “Why are you Catholic?”, “Who is Jesus?”, etc. And you need to be prepared to stay with a potential new friend on their journey.
Love – Angling, I believe, requires a real love for the sport. Anybody can thread a worm on a hook, put a bobber on a line and toss it in a pond. It doesn’t take a lot of love. But fly fishing is an art form that can only be truly appreciated with a love for the craft. Likewise, evangelization is an act of love. In evangelization, our love is expressed by truly desiring the good of the other person, and there’s no greater good to gift someone than a relationship with Christ.
Meet them where they are – Unlike pond fishing where you randomly toss your line out and hope something will bite, in fly fishing you have to read the water. You have to find that boulder, or the slot on the edge of the turbulence, where the fish are waiting. You have to meet a trout where he is because he’s not going to swim out of his way to take your fly. In evangelization, one needs to meet people where they are. Everyone is at a different place in their spiritual life, and it’s necessary to ask a few questions to understand where they are.
Feed them – Trout are always hungry but they are picky eaters. They won’t eat just anything. They know what’s common to the stream, they know what insects are emerging and coming off the water. Just any old fly won’t work. Similarly, someone looking to understand Christianity is looking for that one thing that will click with them, that will entice them to take a second look.
Presentation – You can pick the right fly and float it past a trout, but if it doesn’t look right, forget it, they’ll let it go. If it’s moving too slow, too fast, or in a different direction than everything else in the water, it’s suspicious to them. Presentation is important in evangelization, as well. Get too preachy and the person is turned off. Too nonchalant, and they won’t take you seriously. You have to be authentic, real, because they’re looking for someone they can trust.
Patience – Fly fishing requires patience and experimentation. Sometimes it takes time to find where the fish are lingering, what’s on the streams natural menu, and how you’re going to “plate” the fly. You may have to try different tactics to get that first strike. Evangelizing is no different, it takes time and patience to find that one thing that will catch a person’s attention.
Persistence – Fly fishing isn’t a lazy person’s sport. You have to work at it. You can’t sit on the bank and wait. You have to be active, wade in the stream, and risk slipping on a slimy rock. If you don’t, you’ll become discouraged and give up. Then you’ve failed. As Christians, it is our duty to evangelize. We’re not allowed to give up. We can take breaks, we may fail occasionally, but we can never give up.
Our Lord said to his disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” (Mt 28:19). If Jesus hadn’t had a lot of other things on His mind, I think He’d have told them to go and learn to fly fish for trout, too.
“Heavenly Father, I pray for the grace to listen to your Word, and to let the Holy Spirit lead me in building a culture of evangelization in our parish. Lord, inspire our faithful to grow closer to you and form an army of intentional disciples. Help us to be fishers of men and women. And, if it’s Your will, for a successful fly fishing trip in July. Amen.”
(Angling and the Art of Evangelization was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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