The 3rd Sunday of Easter
Our Lady of Sorrows | Saints Philip & James
April 9-10, 2016
By Archbishop William E. Lori
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 some 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.
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: we might say to ourselves, “How can I return to business as usual?”, “How can I ‘return to normalcy’”?
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. To be sure, 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 … his former occupation. Peter was trying to go back to life as was before he met Jesus, 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.
A Catch and a Confession
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 sensed deep down that this was no ordinary fisherman’s advice. Indeed, the astonishing catch of fish, 153 in all, opened their eyes. So no one had to ask, “Are you the Lord?” – They recognized him in faith as they ate breakfast and he handed them bread and cooked fish.
Perhaps to ensure that Peter would not return to anything like business as usual, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, engaged Peter in a dialogue, as we also saw in the Gospel. Because Peter committed had denied our Lord three times, Jesus in his mercy gave Peter an opportunity to repent of his three-fold denial by professing his love, not once, but three times. But Jesus is looking for more than repentance. He is challenging Peter not only with regard to his discipleship but also his readiness to lead the Church into the future. So, each time Peter professed his love, the Risen Lord gave him a command: “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep.” In giving Peter this command, he isn’t merely asking Peter to work hard for his fledgling Church. No, what the Risen Lord is asking of Peter is a greater love, the love Jesus poured out upon the world in laying down his life for sinners. The Good Shepherd would not entrust the task of leading his flock to Peter unless and until he was prepared to love the flock as he, the Lord had loved it, by laying down his life for the sheep, by dying for us and for our salvation.
Gradually the Apostles came to realize that there was no one else like Jesus. Indeed, after the crucifixion they had gone into hiding and they were both joyful and terrified in the presence of the Risen Lord. But after being filled with the Holy Spirit, they emerged from the Upper Room, boldly preaching, teaching, and healing in the Name of Jesus and winning for the Lord and for his Church many followers, many disciples. And as we heard in today’s first reading, the Apostles were glad even to suffer dishonor for the Name of Jesus. So, the great catch of fish was a sign, a prediction that they would be attracting large numbers of people to Jesus and to the truth and love of the Gospel. And the breakfast of bread and fish recalled the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 but it also looked ahead to the ministry of the Apostles of celebrating the Eucharist with the first Christian communities, the same Eucharist in which you and I are privileged to share Sunday after Sunday, the sacrament of the Risen Lord’s Real Presence, the banquet of his Sacrifice.
Professing Our Love for the Risen Lord
How, then, does the Gospel apply to our lives? What does it say to you and me? 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 and salvific as they were 2,000 years ago, when Jesus and the Apostles walked the earth, yet it is so easy for us to bury the Lord amid our daily routine, to ignore the Lord by committing our customary sins, or to try to tame and domesticate the moral demands of the Gospel.
On Easter Sunday the Risen Lord also asked us a series of questions, just as he had questioned the Apostle Peter on the seashore. He posed these questions to us when we renewed our baptismal promises. He asked if we rejected Satan and that sinfulness which signals ‘business as usual’. He invited us, as he invited Peter, to profess our faith and our love for him. Three weeks into the Easter season, let us not bury the Risen Lord in our routine! Instead, let us heed the invitation of Pope Francis, the Successor of Peter, to undergo what he calls a missionary conversion: to encounter the Lord in love, such that our hearts be on fire with love of him, such that we, like the Apostles, become living witness to the Lord’s redeeming love.
Lest that sound terribly abstract and out of reach, Pope Francis has just offered us a beautiful reflection, an exhortation, on the joys and challenges of vocation of marriage and family. This reflection is a wonderful guide to help married couples and families amid all the challenges and problems and trials of daily life to hear the voice of the Risen Lord asking, “Do you love me?” In the love of married couples for one another and in their love for their children, they, like Peter, can answer, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!” And as married couples struggle with the demands of work, school, keeping their relationship strong, illnesses, and a thousand other things…spouses, moms, and dads and grandparents can hear the Risen Lord saying to them:
“Nurture your family and lead your children to my love!
By your sacrificial love for one another bear witness to my gift of love!
Share that gift with you children so that they may come to me!”
In a moment we will again profess our faith in Christ. Let it not be for you or for me simply a list of doctrines but a moment when, once again, we truly profess our love for Christ and find in his saving death and resurrection the source of that self-giving, sacrificial love that brings joy to us and to our families and enables us to bear witness to his truth and love!
May God bless us and keep us always in his love.