Friday in the Octave of Easter
Knights of Columbus Board Meeting, Washington, D.C.
I. Introduction: Business as Usual
A. In his mercy, God grants us moments when we sense how close he is to us. In a moment of prayer, we might feel the personal presence of Christ in our souls. When we receive Holy Communion, the magnitude and beauty of Jesus’ gift of self might dawn upon us and awaken our Eucharistic faith as never before. Maybe while examining our consciences the light has gone on with regard to a persistent fault, readily visible to others, but not to ourselves. In these and many other ways, we encounter the Risen Lord. Such experiences can bring us joy but they can also unsettle us.
B. When an encounter with the Lord has been unsettling either because it brings to light some area of our lives in need of conversion or because we regard it as “too close for comfort” – we may face an immediate temptation: without putting it into twenty-five words or less we might say to ourselves, “How can I return to business as usual?” “How can I ‘return to normalcy’?
C. Truth to tell, I think that’s what is going on in the first part of today’s Gospel. On two previous occasions the Apostles had encountered the Risen Lord. They had seen Jesus raise people from the dead, such as the son of the widow of Nain; but Jesus’ resurrection was something totally new, totally unexpected. He was not a resuscitated corpse; rather his humanity was glorified with the indestructible life and love of the Father. It was too much to take in; altogether too unsettling. So, Simon Peter announced, “I am going fishing” – not recreational fishing but commercial fishing…all to no avail; nothing was caught. Peter was trying to go back to life as was before, to the good old days, just the way we often like to return to business as usual when Lent is over or when the emotional high of a spiritual experience subsides.
II. A Catch and a Cure
A. It didn’t work for Peter and the Apostles and we had better hope it won’t work for us! Jesus appeared to them again, this time on the seashore. They did not recognize him at first but when he asked them to cast their nets on the starboard side for a catch, they must have sensed deep down that this was no ordinary fisherman’s advice. The astonishing catch of fish, 153 in all, opened their eyes. No one had to ask, “Are you the Lord?” – and how they must have rejoiced to share a meal with him.
B. The challenge of the Easter Season is not to go back to our routine as if nothing happened in Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. The mysteries we celebrate in these times are as fresh and real as they were 2,000 years ago, when Jesus and the Apostles walked the earth. Gradually the apostles came to realize that there was no one else like Jesus – indeed that there is “no other name by which the human race can be saved.” The great catch of fish was a sign that they would be attracting large numbers of people to Jesus and to the truth and love of the Gospel. The miraculous cure that Peter performed in the Acts of the Apostles was the result of the Name above every other name acting in and through him. Thus did Peter cure the crippled man in the temple precincts and thus did he find the wisdom to address the opposition that cure provoked.
III. Missionary Conversion
A. And what of us? How can we avoid burying the Risen Lord in our daily routine? Or ignoring the Risen Lord amid our customary sins? Or trying to tame and domesticate the One who is the Alpha and the Omega? Let us heed the invitation of Pope Francis to encounter Christ, to allow him to accompany us on our daily pilgrimage, and to undergo what he calls a missionary conversion such that our hearts are aflame with love of the Name above every other name. Then it is that we begin to practice a charity that evangelizes because our service of the poor is not merely evidence of our good will but rather is a sign of that the new life of the Risen Christ has taken hold of us, that it possesses our hearts, that the Lord is acting in us and through us.
B. On Holy Saturday, after the Vigil had been celebrated, one of the newly baptized asked me about the inscription on the old high altar in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. Emblazoned in gold are the letters IXTYC – initials for “Jesus, Son of God, Savior” – but in Greek those letters spell the word “fish”. In Jesus alone do we make our miraculous catch of fish! And who better to go fishing with than the family of the Knights of Columbus! Vivat Jesus!