Spreading God’s Net

Tim Mulroy
August 20, 2012

The contribution of spiders to our culture continues to go unrecognized and be undervalued! Even though we spend so much of our lives surfing the internet, we never pause to think that it was partially inspired by the spider’s humble web: after all the abbreviation www stands for World Wide Web! Shouldn’t we be grateful that spiders have not yet prosecuted anyone for copyright infringement? Besides, the term internet rests heavily on the concept of a net, and it doesn’t demand so much of our imagination to see the similarities in design between a fishing net and a spider’s web.

I was reflecting on such connections during Taaremon Matauea’s diaconate ordination Mass, especially at that moment when various gifts, including a fishing net, were brought to the altar in procession. Since Taaremon’s people come from Banaba, a tiny island located in the Pacific just south of the equator, they have relied heavily on fishing for their livelihood for centuries. Taaremon himself is an experienced fisherman who – like those fishermen by the sea of Tiberius – has responded to Jesus’ invitation to leave his boats and nets on the shore in order to become a fisher of people.

During the procession of gifts the net was carried to the altar by Marika Nabou, a native of Fiji who lives in Chicago, and Jorge Maldonado a native of Chile who spent some years as a missionary in Fiji, but also lives now in Chicago. The lives of Marika and Jorge, as well as the net they carried, therefore, remind us of the way of life of the people of the South Pacific, as well as the way of life of both migrants and missionaries, who – like Taaremon – strive to form a web of relationships and friendships among peoples of different cultures, languages and countries.

A significant part of Taaremon’s preparation for missionary life has been the two years he spent in Taiwan, where he strove to adapt himself to the culture, learn Mandarin Chinese and build friendships with the local people. It seemed most appropriate, therefore, that after the net had been placed before the altar, Sr. Theresa Fang then came forward in procession with a Chinese lantern. Sr. Theresa, a native of China, is a student at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, the same college where Taaremon studied theology. The glowing lantern was a reminder that, as a Columban missionary, Taaremon is to carry within himself the light of Christ in order that he might be “a light to the nations.”

Of course, Taaremon already knows from his many expeditions on open seas that a fisherman’s lantern can be just as valuable a companion as his nets during long dark nights. Those fishermen who were among the first to follow Jesus also knew what it was like to spend long dark nights at sea, and so were pleasantly surprised one particular dawn to encounter the risen Lord on the shore preparing bread for their breakfast. In the hope that all of us would encounter that same risen Lord in the sharing of bread during the ordination Mass, Ariel Presbitero brought some to the altar to be blessed by Bishop John Manz. Ariel, a native of the Philippines, coordinates the Columban lay missionary program in the U.S. Prior to his work in the U.S., Ariel spent more than a decade as a lay missionary in Brazil and Peru. Ariel was joined in the procession by Jean Shiffer-Shea, who carried the wine. It was a particularly poignant moment for Jean as she also carried with her to the altar the precious memory of her brother, Columban Fr. Jim Shiffer, who died earlier this year. Fr. Jim had spent a large part of his life as a Columban missionary in Fiji and had encouraged and supported Taaremon in his vocation.

Even though most of the congregation didn’t understand the words of the Fijian hymn sung during this procession, its melody seemed to express its message that “we offer a sacrifice of bread and wine, together with our lives, we offer all to God.” Fr. Jim had offered his life to God; now Taaremon was offering his; and indeed the entire assembly was doing likewise, inspired by the voices of Monika Lewatikana and Sainiana Tamatawale, both lay missionaries from Fiji who are living and working in the Columban parish of Corpus Christi in Juarez, Mexico.

During that procession of gifts to the altar it felt, indeed, as if the church in Mexico, Fiji, the U.S., Philippines, Brazil, Peru, Chile, China and Banaba was meshed together and offered to God. It was a moment to savor the realization that through Columban mission, God is gathering peoples of different countries into one big net by creating an extensive network of encounters among peoples of different countries. This web of relationships in Christ that seeks to embrace the entire globe, and which was celebrated in the procession of gifts during Taaremon’s ordination Mass, must surely make even the dexterous spider envious!