A Kindergarten teacher was observing her students while they were drawing. She would occasionally walk around to see each child’s work. As she came upon one little girl working diligently, she asked what the child was drawing. The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.” The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.” Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing, the girl replied, “They will in a minute.” (Author unknown)
In today’s Gospel, Luke is presenting us with a picture of what God looks like and how God acts. He is doing it through the medium of story and through the textures and colors of the unique characters of Peter and his fishing companions. Jesus climbs into Simon’s boat to catch Peter’s attention and spirit. This is a clue as to how God looks and acts! God moves into our lives, our comfort zones, if you will, very subtly and mysteriously, and then invites us to let go of our familiar ways, our predictable patterns, our safe places, our long held beliefs, attitudes, and points of view so that we are available to God’s on-going invitation to “Go deeper”!
Jesus has cast the net of call – this net is always about letting the Word “catch us” as we are, “just minding our own business.” Peter was doing his usual thing, going out into the dark of night to fill his nets with fish for his family and village. However, once he encountered Jesus, he would no longer be the same. Jesus, the carpenter, tells Peter the fisherman to throw his nets over on the other side of his boat and to go deeper at a time when the water is warm, the sun is high in the sky, the fish have gone into the cool mud of the bottom waters, and the guys are just plain tired.
By letting himself be “caught” by Jesus, Peter instantly (through grace) lets go of his control and trusts in the invitation to go deeper, certainly a metaphor indicating that something in his own inner deepness will be transformed. Within moments of the nets being lowered, they are filled to capacity, nearly causing the boats to capsize. These men now stand in awe, for they have experienced scarcity transformed into abundance, control transformed into trust, confidence transformed into vulnerability, routine transformed into risk, and the ordinary transformed into the extraordinary. We are told by Luke that they left everything they used to do and completely committed themselves to a new angling adventure!
Today, we gather to remember and celebrate three people who were “caught” by the net of call as well, and who manifested God’s love, mercy, generosity, and forgiveness: namely, Fr. Caspar Rehrl, Anne Marie Hazotte (Mother Agnes), and Fr. Francis Haas.
In the opening paragraph of Sr. Margaret Lorimer’s book, Ordinary Sisters, she writes: “The Sisters of St. Agnes count as their founders one woman and two men, but at no one time did the three plan or work together to form a religious community.” Perhaps we could say today, that this one woman and two men are our own trinity of founders, who revealed what God is like by their response to the call, along with their gifts of faith, hope, creativity, courage, tenacity, inspiration, and their capacity to endure prolonged suffering and hardship.
If we review the writings that tell of the lives of these three unique individuals, we find that they all had an inner passion, purpose, and desire to make a difference with their own lives and to give purpose to the lives of the peoples settled in the Wisconsin territory and beyond during the mid-19th century.
In her book, Fieldstones ’76, Sister Imogene Palen, describes Caspar Rehrl as “priest, missionary, trail blazer, builder of churches and schools, publisher, organizer of parishes, a holy man of God who was chosen to found the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes.” Although Fr. Rehrl (according to Sr. Margaret’s writings) did not intend to found a traditional sisterhood, he did want the community to be recognized by the universal church.
Thus, in 1858, he composed a rule of which he submitted to Bishop Henni of Milwaukee. (Sr. M. writes) “The first rule Fr. Rehrl wrote visualized the sisters primarily as teachers in rural areas and as servants of the priests. Their motherhouse should be located in the country, or at least on the outskirts of the village. They should have the usual farm animals and gardens, but in addition, they should plant grapes and have honey bees, raise and manufacture flax, spin their own wool, and make their own dresses. They should make candles and church vestments, clean the church, and wash the vestments and linen. If the priest in a parish had no cook, the sisters should cook for him.”
(First Rule) 7. Recreation
In summary, Sr. Margaret writes, Bishop Henni did not find this rule satisfactory.
We also recall a story that speaks of how Fr. Rehrl’s vocation discernment techniques left much to be desired. It is told that when he would visit his friends in the Barton farmlands, they would often ask if he needed anything. One time when he was visiting Caspar Blum, Caspar asked him, “Father, what is it you need today, how much wheat and how much barely?” The farmer was startled when Fr. Rehrl responded, “I need her,” pointing to the farmer’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Anna, who eventually did enter the community.
Fr. Rehrl died Sept. 3, 1881, and two days later was his funeral Mass, of which newspaper accounts estimated that 5,000 people had paid tribute to this Apostle to the Shores of Lake Winnebago. Among the prayers that were expressed, it was often said that “he was holy.”
Fr. Francis Haas:
On reviewing the letters of Fr. Francis Haas to Mother Agnes, our Sr. Mary Monica Kutch writes: “What do these letters tell us about Fr. Francis Haas?” She summarizes her findings with the following list:
• His whole life was spiritually oriented in answer to his vocation to mission;
• He was dedicated to the establishment of the Congregation of St. Agnes as a papal institute, firmly, authentically Roman Catholic as he understood it in his day;
• He was “Franciscan” in ideals and practices, appreciative of the finer things of life, valuing cleanliness, healthful foods and the environment (including nature, education, and art), and he lived a life of simplicity;
• He was a man of regularity in habits, dependable, of great strength of character, appreciative, dedicated to the spread of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Blessed Sacrament, and St. Agnes;
• His attitude toward the women whom he shepherded was typical of that of men of his day: 1) he was “Father” to his “children” the sisters, 2) he was protector and disciplinarian, and 3) he found women hard to understand;
• His sense of humor was evident to friends who enjoyed his company, and although circumstances brought a changed attitude toward Mother Agnes, his deep sense of friendship as co-founder of the Congregation never faltered.
In the history of the Capuchins of the Province of St. Joseph, Fr. Campion Baer writes of Francis: “The suffering and trial of his final years had mellowed Francis. When he began the religious community (the Capuchins), his desire to introduce the order in all its purity and perfection had an influence on his conduct. He was harsh at times even severe as a matter of principle and sense of duty.” … However, he adds later: “As Francis came in contact with other provinces and saw how they observed religious life, he came to realize that governing with strict authority and law was not always the most fruitful way of maintaining religious observance. Although strict, almost severe, Francis also was as tender as a mother.”
Finally, in this deep story of call, we reflect upon Mother Agnes, who in 1863 came from Detroit to Barton at the age of 16. Upon her arrival, Fr. Rehrl called her his “child of destiny,” and in July of 1864, after renewal of vows, she was elected Superior General, and was faithful to that leadership role until her death in 1905. In Sr. Margaret’s book, she quotes Sr. Luisa Wolsiffer, who paints a picture for us of how God looked and was revealed through the life of Mother Agnes.
“Mother Agnes possessed a strength and nobility of character which commanded the love and esteem of the sisters. In the government of the congregation, she manifested great wisdom and prudence, and met difficulties fearlessly and with courage. She accomplished much by means of prayer; her devotion to the Holy Eucharist, our Blessed Mother and to St. Joseph was remarkable. . . Mother Agnes was charitable not only to members of her household, but also extended her charity beyond the precincts of the convent. She cared for orphans, assisted poor students for the priesthood, and cared for the destitute parents of the sisters.”
So what is the Good News for us today?
Let us ponder that . . .
• Call is the impulse to move ahead in a meaningful way – it is passion, purpose, desire, and choice all rolled into one.
• Call creates the urge to do something significant; it provides the inner drive that informs us that it is time to get on with it!
• Call takes us beyond the confines of what we thought we knew to regions of high risk and the unknown.
• Call lingers in the realm of the mysterious where God whispers to us again and again . . . “There is nothing to fear.”