Friendship

One of the precious gems in life is friendship. In the Biblical book of Sirach there is a beautiful reflection on the beauty of friendship. “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter, he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds; For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself.” (Sirach 6:14-17) I have enjoyed this passage many times.

One surprising time I came upon the passage was in one of the Stations of the Cross booklets used here at St. Edward’s in Lent. It was in one of the reflections for people to ponder of The Lord Jesus, the fulfillment of all Scripture. The reflection took Sirach 6:14-17 to point to Jesus as our true friend; while asking us if we were being a true friend back to Our Lord. The prayer reflection asks us to pray with Sirach to proclaim that Jesus IS INDEED our “life-saving remedy, our shelter, our Love beyond price, our Friend.”

I have different types of true friends. #1 One type is the one that is a constant personal presence in my life. This friend I frequently am in touch with. I am so appreciative of these persons to making me important to their lives. There also seems to be a real heavenly connection between us, as if we were meant to share time and heart with one another, as if arranged by God for us. #2 Another type is a familial friend, who may have family or blood ties to me, but who means even more than that to me. We have cared for one another through many things. These friends have been on my journey for a long way. #3 Another type are those persons whom I befriended in another time of my life who remain dear to me, and I to them, even though time and distance have kept us mostly physically apart. When we meet or communicate, it is like we have always been together. It’s great to experience the bonds have kept strong and lovingly loyal. #4 Another type may be what I call a working friend. These are friends I have made while on the job or in the vocation. We have shared a common mission, and we have enjoyed each other’s company in the mixing.

Among these types of friends, there comes a time when they (or I) need to challenge the other to a better life or deeper growth in life. A true friend enriches one’s life sometimes even at great risk. For a true friend, while always supportive, they will also confront and challenge when necessary. It is in these moments that friendship can be deepened and strengthened.
Or else, you can find that a friendship wasn’t all it was, or seemed to be, as a trial or difficulty tests it out.

In a related matter, when trouble comes or a serious need arises, we can find if our friends are true friends, or just company in our lives without a commitment. In the end, friendship will ask for some commitment, and for some true sacrifice of self-giving.

When it works out, friendship can be so mutually strengthening. We can be so much better a person for their presence in our lives, and we in theirs. I love another Bible verse that speaks to that: “Let iron sharpen iron, and so let a person sharpen his friend.” This verse is Proverbs 27:17.

As I was saying in a wedding homily this month to a couple, “you are meant to be the best of friends, all through life, and you are meant to help your mate become the best version of person that they are meant to become, because of you, and the Christ in You who makes all things possible. Let Him be your bond and your inspiration. Pledge today to let Him be this Person in the middle of your lives.” (Iron then can sharpen iron.)

This helping of other’s lives in friendship, in whatever relationship that it is, does begin with a spirit of truly reaching out to the other person. Friendship extends one’s love out to other people. The Christ in you seeks to love other people, even with the heart of the Lord, in compassion, and kindness, and truth.

You learn that you can better love yourself when you pour out your heart to others. God wants us to live in this generous way of the heart. Jesus’ New Commandment was to “love one another, as I have loved you.” Jesus wants to be in the channel of love of people in the earth. Will we welcome Him?

Friends were once strangers to us, or they were people in our lives that became an endeared person to us, or they were life acquaintances that vastly improved to be almost life savers to us.

Thank God for these people in your life right now. Pray for new such persons to add to your life, and agree to God that you will be open for them to come into your circle of life.

In application to parish life, we should be making true friends with others in the parish. We need to be shared friends in Jesus. In our union with Christ Jesus, we have “a common middle” that is extraordinary and heavenly. Let us appreciate that. Parishes are strong or weak, depending so much on whether true friendship relationships are happening in them, ones that share life in the Spirit.
I hope I am a pastor-friend to you. If not, perhaps we will have opportunity ahead for that to happen.

Of the seven parish stops I have made in 25 years, a blessing of all the movement have been in parish friends I have made along the way….

Anointing and Sick Calls

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One of the 7 Catholic Sacraments is Anointing of the Sick and Dying. Visiting the sick is also one of the great Works of Mercy that Jesus asked of his followers to practice. Thus, as a priest, I highly value this ministry and the calls of persons for me to come visit them. It is a practice going back to the early Church, as told in the Bible in the Epistle of James chapter five. Today had such a call to a parishioner and to his family. Yesterday I also had an appointment at the church of someone to receive the Anointing Sacrament. In the past month I have also been called to hospitals for this purpose, to visit persons, known and unknown, and to bring them the oils of the sick, as well as Holy Communion.
In another routine, I anoint persons from time to time in the five elderly homes I visit each month, and I pray over persons who are sick. One occasion last week had me praying over a man who would go into a peaceful death that same day. He was not a parishioner, nor was he a Catholic, but he was someone I and others in our parish would see in our visit to Woodward Estates home (one of those elderly homes St. Edward serves). I prayed for Harry, and I sat bedside with the Hospice worker whom the family had asked to watch Harry. I have included above the obituary that followed in the paper a few days after my visit. Harry was an interesting fellow. He was a Pearl Harbor survivor, having been working on a ship that was in port that eventful day in 1941. Harry also was a married man, having loved one woman for over 50 years. He loved to dance with her. He loved big band music. Harry also loved to bowl. These things I learned about him. Harry Christian passed from this world this week, yet he made his mark, and he lived far beyond 1941, when death came close to him. He made a full life of it with his second chance on living, probably in some purpose to honor those brothers whom he knew that didn’t get to live past December 7th of ’41. Peace be with you, Harry. Eternal rest be granted unto you.

The Oriole’s chance has flown away

0803131824a-1I am a baseball fan, and one of our local teams looked like they would have the magic this year (as they did in 2012) to make the MajorLeague playoffs of the best ballclubs. Hopes were up. The Baltimore Orioles went into their last days of the baseball season needing to beat the team they were chasing after, in order to make this magic happen. This team was the Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately, over the last weekend and Monday, the Rays beat them in all four contests. The O’s lost their momentum and fell out of contention. Unlike last season, when everyone was happy in Birdland and the team made the MLB playoffs, the team missed the playoffs, just by a few losses. As of today, September 25th, the O’s had indeed lost their last six games, coming unglued! Now they are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, with fives games to play through Sunday at Camden Yards. Alas, these last games will not lead them anywhere but to a long vacation until the Spring. Only 16,000 fans showed up last night–a sure sign of lost hope. Still, the star hitter for the O’s, Chris Davis, has a team record 52 homers as of today, with perhaps 22 more at bats to add to his mighty feat for the year. He will be worth watching for the loyal O’s fans. The team had other exciting hitters in its line-up. The O’s management had also added two starting pitchers to the team in this season, to hopefully get them over the top. Well–they almost did it. I enjoyed the excitement of the O’s winning season this year, hoping for more, but I had a good time attending the several games that I did. The team looks pretty good for next year. Go Birds! The one consolation: the Yankees, the AL nemesis to the Orioles, did NOT make it EITHER to the playoffs this year. Rather, the RedSox finished in first this season. Final note: This year was the 21st season for the O’s in Camden Yards, perhaps the finest ballpark in the major leagues. It would really look great as host to the World Series next year, huh?! We can hope so!

Jesus’ Lost Coin

 

A Homily      The Parable of the Lost Coin.     From Luke 15

The lesson:  It is a good thing to make God joyful.

{Read it prior to homily reading, please}

 

The Sunday Gospel in Luke today takes us into the great fifteenth chapter, which has some famous parable teachings of Jesus.  The one parable there, usually overlooked, is the three verse lesson called The Parable of the Lost Coin  (Lk. 15:8-10).  Yet it really has a lot to say to us—for it guides us as Christ’ Church to bringing Him joy. We have some things to question from the verses:  What’s the big deal about finding one coin? Who is the woman in the parable?  Why a woman?  How valuable are these 10 silver coins, and to their owner, and what was one such coin worth in today’s money, as if we’d lost it?     Why the diligent search for it—don’t we have coins lost in our sofas or in our car or forgotten in a pants pocket, or on the dresser, or in a drawer somewhere?    Why does Jesus teach about joy in heaven over someone’s repentance in conclusion with this story (and its book-end parables of the finding of a lost sheep and finding of a prodigal son?)Let’s answer those questions…

What’s with the one lousy coin?  How important could it be? Well, it was more that a penny or nickel like in today’s money values.   This coin, or “drachma” (as they called it) was worth a day’s wages.  If lost—then it was one full day’s pay out of a ten-day earning.  So it’s not like losing a quarter and then finding it and getting your quarter back.

When I was a teenager and getting paid in cash for some day’s work—sometimes I could make $200 in a day—and I still remember the time back then when I once lost my paycheck.  You can believe I looked long and hard until I found it.  (Which I did.  I might have been able to get the paycheck re-written the next week,  but I needed some money right away, and where was that lost money of mine?!) The woman in the parable lost a day’s wages.   It seemed to be a big deal for her, too.  The woman is not portrayed as a wealthy person in the parable, but some worker living on “day to day” money.  (There were wealthier woman of the times, in the Middle East, back then, who actually wore coins up on their hats, for decoration.   The parable is surely not addressing this type of woman.  The coin is not a frivolous loss, like a decorative coin would be ,off of a rich lady’s hat and so easy to replace on a hat).  The woman in the parable definitely needed all those ten days wages.   One lost day of wages—“the lost coin”—would have been a lot for her.  I think of an unemployed woman, someone I know, who this Summer was out of work, except for just a week or so’s work and earnings, which had to sustain her all Summer long, until her Fall job started up again.   If she had misplaced a day’s paycheck, then a diligent search for it would have started.  I can tell you that!   So—draw THAT comparison in this parable of the lost coin.

Joy in heaven

Well, let’s speak about that joy of finding the coin.  As the illustration suggests a little celebration for the woman, Jesus seems to be drawing much more of a celebration about it.  As Jesus is telling this parable, there is much excitement and joy in His voice.  Why is HE elated for this woman in his illustration and her found coin? Because the coin found in the parable represents us.  We are the coin found.  We are that one sinner who repents and that causes heaven to rejoice.

Jesus was rejoicing over people responding to Him and believing the Good News and following Him.   We belong to Him, the Divine Son, but were lost in sin.  We were lost to Him like a dear possession.  He knows the Pharisees listening to this parable valued their coins and money—so He uses this illustration for them.  Yet it also works in application to you and I.   We belong to God, and He wants us back in His care.  He wants the sinner to be found.   Jesus says at the parable’s end, that repentance led to the person’s recovery to God.

Jesus reveals that Heaven is a place of joy, and its joy is increased by the sinner who repents.  Heaven, with all its saints and angels, wants more into its eternal celebration.  Thus, they rejoice with God over another one added in to His elect company.

In this parable, you get it our Savior is sad that some Pharisees are not rejoicing that Jesus is leading people to find faith and love and hope. You are to conclude from Him, that, if you wouldn’t care about whether a person is saved or not, then, of course you wouldn’t rejoice over their finding salvation. But because God so cares, and the angels of God so care for humanity, and all of Christ’ faithful should do so also, that, when one of us in the lost human community truly repents and surrenders their self to God, then some joy and happiness is in order.  It is what brings Jesus joy.   It should bring it to us, too.  A “lost coin” is the soul found.

The point of the story about the woman is that of the ten coins, this one lost one is noticeably missed and precious.   It’s just like a lost sinner—one is noticeably missed and precious to God. God notices who is missing.  He goes in search of it.   He asks the church to assist him in finding the lost sinner. This brings us to the question: Who is the woman in the parable?  You should surmise it by now that she is the church.   You guessed it right.

The woman is the church—the faith community whom we profess to be. Jesus led into His teaching on the parable of the woman and her lost coin with the parable of male shepherd finding his one lost sheep (of the hundred).  In the Shepherd image in Luke 15, Jesus is talking about Himself.  He has used a male image in the first parable, and now, in the next parable He switches to a female image.  Why?  Because the Church is the bride of Christ.  She is related to the shepherd.  He has asked her to help in the search for lost souls.  Do you see its connection now in this parable?  The Church loves her Shepherd, so she serves Him to bring Him joy.

You know that—as the church—that Jesus has asked us to seek and save the lost as our responsibility of His holy ones.  We were the little lamb or sheep brought home on His shoulders, and now we are the church helping in the mission to the spiritually lost.  In the New Testament writings, you notice that the church is often represented as a female. For example, the church is spoken of as a bride, or as a virgin, or as the wife of the Lamb. In Revelations, the church is working in tandem so much with the Holy Spirit, that the call is heard:  “The Spirit and the Bride say come!”   The woman, the church, is being inspired by the Holy Spirit to win souls to God.  It’s Revelations 22:17—one of the final verses in the Bible, and is says:  The Spirit and the Bride say come—to the world—they say come to Jesus for salvation and shepherding.  Come home to Jesus.

The Lord is seeking those who are perishing today.  That’s the parable of the Shepherd looking for lost sheep.   He wants us in the sheep saving rescue operation—the church—as the woman diligently seeking the lost coin.    He wants people back to the fold who have strayed, too.   This is the third of the parables of Luke 15, in the prodigal son found.   For finding these former or fallen away Catholics—we call that our “New Evangelism”   God seeks after the sinners (and backsliding believers who sin) through the agency of His holy people, the Church of God, in Christ Jesus.  We are His family of believers, The Church.

Next, the parable gives us two things that the woman in the parable (the  church) is set to do in seeking her coin (the lost soul).   A coin of those days could easily get lost when just dropped to the ground, whether inside or outside, since there was much dust and dirt beneath their feet everywhere.   In the parable, it seems presumed that the coin is thought to be ‘hiding in the dark and the dust?’  Did you hear that detail?   The woman in the parable, that is, the church, goes to put a Light on, and then she starts to sweep.  These are our two things to be busy doing in seeking the lost coin, er, the lost souls around us today.

She lights a lamp first.   What’s that detail about?   It is because she needs to see in the dark, or at least to see with full light through the shady and shadowy places.   For the Church, this is symbolic of our need to invite the help of the Holy Spirit to be the light and power over all darkness.   We are asked by Jesus to turn the Light of the Holy Spirit on.   We can’t see well without His Spirit.    This is a message heard all throughout Luke’s Gospel message and in his Acts of the Apostles:  We need the Spirit.   Even Samuel the prophet and King David of the Old Testament knew to call on God’s Spirit this way, as they prayed in trust:  “The Lord is My Light and My Salvation, of whom should I be afraid if I have the Lord?” (We also need Light to see what God needs us to see.)

Next, there is some sweeping going on.    What does one sweep away usually from the floor?  It is dirt and dust we sweep away.   This describes what the woman in the parable, the Church, is meant to be doing.   Yes, housecleaning!   Sweeping around.   Kicking up the dirt of sin and the dust of our inaction or inactivity of disobedience.    In the OT, dust refer to our fallen body (Gen.2:7), or of death (Ps. 22:19), or even humiliation (Ps. 72.9)—so the Spirit is outpoured in our New Covenant in Christ, to bring us Light and Healing, to overcome this fall of humanity.   But we must exercise our faith and our authority in Jesus Christ to get the broom out and help find some sinners lost below the dirt and the dust.

Here—- stop and think of some examples going on that show this lamp lighting and sweeping going on for the Lord, as His Church.

 

It is a good thing to make God joyful.   As Jesus explains, there is joy in heaven over the salvation of a sinner.   This is a major emphasis of this parable of the Lost Coin.

 

Or, like the parable says, we sweep, and jingle-jangle, we hear something that has been touched by our broom.  We lower the lamplight. We see a coin.  It is the Lord’s coin.   We pick it up and present it back to Him.   He becomes exceedingly glad about it, as does all His company above in Glory.  The found coin is a person found for Heaven.

By estimate, there are a ten thousand coins, that is, lost persons, right here in the Bowie vicinity.  They are people living as “lost.”  They don’t have Jesus.   Jesus has sent His Church, the woman, to go find them.   See them, hear their jangle in our brooms of compassionate and interest in them.  Clean off their dust, and help them get picked up, and bring to them to the saving message of Jesus Christ, and join them into a community of people of other “found people” who are thankfully living the Christian way of freedom and happiness.

 

Does that describe what we are doing here?    The parable is a self-check for a church.

 

What a joy it is to God when we are doing this job for him of seeking the lost and finding them.  The Lord uses our heart for evangelism and the Gospel, and He does a mighty thing through it.  Psalm 113:7 describes it, as God uses the faith community:  He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the dirt, dust and ashes; that he may set them to be seated with royal places, in a stature with the King of the people.

 

Yes, praise the Lord! He raises the poor out of the dust. God raises the poor of this world from the dust, from the humiliation, from the degradation of sin. And He lifts them up to sit into a heavenly stature. He makes us to be sons and daughters of God. That is salvation.  We each, as found by the Church as led by Jesus Christ, are those drachmas found, of great value to God, to be His possession forever.

 

Fr. Barry’s Tie Ins.    √ We have a model in St. Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church, who urges us to use the Holy Spirit to be our Light and to help in the sweeping.   (See parish bulletin insert—9-15 St. Ed’s.)

 

√ Tie in to this time of year.  A Gathering, harvest-of-souls time. Our parish programs to share faith are just begun.   Invite people in.

 

√ Message about lost coins—the tenth that is lost to the church (one missed coin out of the ten)—as when tithes are not given to her, for her mission, she is not able to best do what she is called to do.  Priorities need to be re-addressed.   A parish needs to support herself and her staff.

It is a hidden message of this parable of the lost coin.

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A 200th Parish Anniversary In Rockville

0908132254   On Mary’s Birthday, Sept. 8th, I was invited back to the parish of my first assignment as a priest (1988-1991), which was St. Mary’s in Rockville Md..  The occasion was their 200th parish anniversary.  Cardinal Wuerl presided over the Mass, and a social followed afterward.   In his homily, His Eminence noted that the original diocese of the colonies (and the U.S. Church) was Baltimore, and it had begun just a handful years early, when in 1813 they looked to begin a parish in Rockville, and it was Bishop John Carroll who assigned a 1-year -ordained priest there to be its pastor. By 1817 the congregation had built a chapel, and it has remained since then on that spot (now being the intersection of Rt. 355 and Rt. 28/Veirs Mill Rd.).  The chapel is now a historical building of Maryland, though in great shape and still in daily use for Masses for parish daily liturgies and week-end ones for weddings and for a Chinese Mass.   (A restoration project in the 1980′s preserved it so.)

Cardinal Wuerl was reminiscing of the kind of dedication and evangelism that it took in the early 1800′s for such a new parish to become launched. He also applied the lesson of those first parishioners to be an inspiration for the present parishioners of a New Millenium to keep serving Jesus Christ and His mission there.   He spoke of the large numbers now going to Mass at St. Mary’s Rockville (they have a large modern church on the property, too) and its reputation for assisting the poor and needy, in cooperative efforts with the local, county and state governments.   In the early 1800′s, the parish started out with an outreach to the needs of many immigrant workers who were building the C & O canal.

Archbishop Carroll himself had been the priest for 13 years who solely pastored Catholics in Montgomery County, up to 1787, when he moved to Baltimore, and then 26 years passed before the county received its first official pastor in one Fr. James Redmond in 1813 at the new St. Mary’s parish of Rockville.  Inbetween, they had a Jesuit priest named Fr. Robert Plunkett, who rode horseback up and down the deep country roads of Montgomery County, from Forest Glen to Rockville to Olney, for ministry. (He was the same Fr. Plunkett who, after arriving from England, assisted the founding of Port Tobacco Carmelite Monastery, south of here in LaPlata–which still remains operating.)

When Fr. Redmond began ministry at St. Mary’s, he also was responsible to go around the county to offer the Sacraments and other priestly ministry.  His rectory home was in the chapel, above the sacristy, at St. Mary’s.  Yet he often also stayed in homes out and about in the county, such as when up to Clopper Road (Gaithersburg, now, off Rt. 270) to serve 100 or so Catholics there, and up to Barnesville to serve 160 persons (they built a church in 1808 to successfully attract a pastoral stop), and the priest also covered Brookeville/Olney to serve a few dozen Catholics there, and then traveled down to Forest Glen (now Silver Spring at the Beltway) to serve another 70 to 80 persons. It was the start of Catholicism in the country places of Maryland, called Montgomery County.  After Fr. Redmond served his time, St. Mary’s parish in Rockville would always have young energetic pastors assigned there to meet the demands of so much work and movement.  Today, in 2013, it has two priests assigned there under the ‘new’ (19498-on) Archdiocese of Washington and its archbishop, and the priests only have a section of Rockville to cover (no more cross-county travel–though the clergy now have cars!).  Rockville is a busy place, though, with a very large population.  Five other parishes serve Rockville today:  St. Raphael’s, Holy Cross, St. Elizabeth, St. Jude’s and St. Patrick’s.

All clergy of the parish history of St. Mary’s Rockville were invited back for this historic day.  It turns out, I am the second-to-oldest priest that dates backward.  Fr. Mark Hughes served as the associate pastor before me, in the 1980′s, and then I came in the Summer of 1988.   All the clergy before that, and a few after us, are deceased or have left ministry.   That was a little surprising for me!   Normally there are a few monsignors and/or retired priests that one can find that has served a parish back some earlier time than yourself.  Yet priests like Msgr.Kostack, Msgr. Hahn, Msgr. Gatta (yes, same one as St. Ed’s founding pastor), Msgr. Reddy, Fr. Silk, Fr. Powderly, and others had all passed.  I–just going back to 25 years ago–am paired with Fr. Mark (1980′s associate pastor) as the two senior, ‘furthest back’ priests of the parish.   Yet the list is quite a long one, as clergy names for St. Mary’s go back for two centuries.

In comparison to our own St. Edward’s parish here in Bowie, we go back 40 years to our founding, with just five priests in our history, and we have about the same population in numbers as at our start, due to much transition in South Bowie. St. Mary’s Rockville started with 70-80 persons trying to found a parish 200 years ago, and now they have many thousands there.  They once seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, now Rockville is a bustling place, with a MARC, Amtrak, and Metro train station next to St. Mary’s parish property, a Metrobus center, and one of the busiest vehicle traffic arteries of the DC area out front in the merging of three main roads (the mixing bowl, as they call it).

St. Edward’s has seen the busyness of South Bowie pick up quite a bit, too, over the four decades.  Yet, we are glad it still in suburban, and not urban in nature.  Our parish church remains with much of the small-sized and personal charm it had when it started.  Our work is to keep developing it with the dedication of our own founding members.

Pope Francis’ Words: “Bota fe!”

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I really like this quote.  His Holiness Pope Francis is speaking on Youth Day to a throng at the beach, relaying to them how they could be like Jesus’ followers by the Sea of Galilee:

I think the youth must have really felt like they were being spoken to be The Savior, through His Vicar…             read this and see if you agree…

“Bota fe (put on faith). When we prepare a plate of food and we see that it needs salt, well, we “put on” salt; when it needs oil, then you “put on” oil. “To put on”, that is, to place on top of, to pour over. And so it is in our life, dear young friends: if we want it to have real meaning and fulfilment, as you want and as you deserve, I say to each one of you, “Put on faith”, and your life will take on a new flavour, it will have a compass to show you the way; “put on hope” and every one of your days will be enlightened and your horizon will no longer be dark, but luminous; “put on love”, and your life will be like a house built on rock, your journey will be joyful, because you will find many friends to journey with you.”

Faith, hope and love, however, have a foundation and a model: Christ Jesus.

“Dear young people: “Put on Christ” in your lives.”

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From the emotional to the real, Pope Francis indicated the Sacrament of Confession to be reconciled with Christ, with others, and with oneself. He invited them to feed on the “Flesh of the Eucharist,” the Sacrament of Christ’ Presence, of His sacrifice of love.  Finally he proposed meeting one’s neighbor in these days in which young people are living a unique experience of cultural exchange with their contemporaries from different countries, and spiritual growth through voluntary work and the catecheses received.  He encouraged them to receive Jesus and go out to the world.

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“It’s lovely to be here,” said Pope Francis, interpreting the thoughts of the young people, but he also recalled them to their responsibilities and to a mature plan of life when he said:

“Looking at this sea, the beach and all of you, there comes to mind the moment in which Jesus called the first disciples to follow him, on the shore of the lake of Tiberias. Today Jesus asks us again: Do you want to be my disciple? Do you want to be my friend? Do you want to be a witness of my Gospel?