The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin Reflection
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Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin
January 25, 2002 Issue

Images of yokes, the cross and nets

Signs and symbols challenge our imagination and convey God's grace

Bishop Robert Morneau
Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. What are the major symbols and images in your life?

2. What have you abandoned in order to follow the Lord?

3. What does the cross mean for us today?

January 27, 2002, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Cartoonist Gary Larsen has a vivid imagination and a strange sense of humor. He is able to crawl inside the world of dogs, elephants, cows and express something of their "real/imagined" world.

I confess I miss his daily cartoons (though I failed to understand some of them). From an old calendar of Larsen's cartoons comes this one. A dog is kneeling beside his bed with front paws folded in earnest prayer: " . . . and please let Mom, Dad, Rex, Ginger, Tucker, me and all the rest of our family see color." We do not know if God answered the prayer of this faith-filled, color-blind pup.

Three images from our readings today challenge our imagination. If we, like Larsen, were able to get inside them what would we see? I refer to the yoke, the cross, the nets.

Yoke! The yoke is a sign and symbol of burden, in some instances, of oppression. To have the yoke smashed and destroyed is to be set free. Isaiah the prophet tells of a time when the rod and yoke will be lifted from the people and they will know liberty and peace.

Today many nations live in darkness and gloom. Wars and factions have set family against family. The prophet promises us that salvation will come and rejoicing will be our song. From the perspective of the New Testament we know the source and power of this true liberation -- the coming of Jesus, the light to all nations.

Cross! St. Paul knew first hand the power of the cross, that symbol of God's extravagant love and the horror of sin. If the cross is made void, Christianity loses all meaning. Jesus came to give himself away, even if that meant suffering and death on the cross. Paul's concern is that infighting and faction will destroy what the cross of Jesus has secured: union and unity. Jesus came to lead us to the Father through the forgiveness of sin. To keep on sinning is to thwart his mission.

Fr. Mark O'Keefe, OSB, captures well the core meaning of the cross: "The cross is, of course, the perfect manifestation of a complete self-giving in love in the face of sin, that is, in the face of a refusal of a mutual self-giving" (Becoming Good, Becoming Holy, 88). What disturbed Paul so much was that quarrels and factions were blocking this call to mutual self-giving. One can feel his anger and his forceful confronting of a community that should have known better.

Nets! For fishermen, nets symbolize a whole way of life. These instruments, used to catch fish and thus provide a livelihood, take on a great significance. To abandon one's nets is to abandon a former way of life. One now is paying attention to a new set of values based upon a different vision. Simon and Andrew, James and John, were caught in the nets of God's grace and could not free themselves. And through this choice they became imminently free.

If Gary Larsen were to draw some cartoons about yokes, the cross, and nets, we might be given whole new perspectives on their images and metaphors. All of them are about relationships: being set free, being saved, being called. In our sacramental way of life as Catholics, signs and images are used to mediate the workings of grace.

One last image: house! To dwell in the house of the Lord is the psalmist's desire. There we gaze on the loveliness of the Lord as the Lord gazes on us with love. I wish that we had a cartoon to capture some aspect of this sacred mystery.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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