The church tells us “the term ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus denotes the entire mystery of Christ, the totality of his being and his person. . . . Devotion to the Sacred Heart calls for a fundamental conversion and reparation, of love and gratitude, apostolic commitment and dedication to Christ and his saving work.”
Reflecting on the Love that flows continually from the heart of Jesus has been a devotion of mine since childhood.
I wrote the article below in 1981 at a difficult time in my life and then preached it as a Good Friday homily in 1992.
I hope you enjoy it; I think it can have some practical value for you in managing the suffering in your own life ~ and in America and our whole world today.
* * * * * *
The Heart of Jesus
(Jesus the Tremendous Lover)
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
Jesus is the one who is our tremendous Lover.
He came to live among us to reveal to us, his sisters and brothers, that we have a Father/God who loves us with a Love that is once a passionate, unconditional love and yet gentle, always inviting, never coercing. Jesus came among us to be our Love, to show the human race how to use the supreme power which God could give us: the intimate, infinite Love which is ours, if only we would claim it and model our lives after Jesus, who is Love itself.
Jesus was to be for us the model of Love because he was willing to experience in his heart the depths of human emotion. He risked time and again to embrace the sorrow, the agony, the unfreedom, the need of those who came to him to be healed. He risked being burdened by the needs of others. He risked being disheartened by those who would take from him and not even say thanks. He risked being misunderstood and rejected by the authorities of the day and even his neighbors in his home town. He risked the pain of realizing that even his closest disciples and friends had narrow vision and missed the main point of his message.
He risked all, and realized that, in spite of the pain and sorrow, in his heart, the soft Voice of the Father within him was asking him to keep going, to risk even more. To go deeper into his heart and to carve out still more and more places for those he would touch and heal, until one day there would be room in his heart for the whole world.
I doubt that Jesus ever forgot a single individual that he encountered, not even those who oppressed him. He kept them all in his great heart, remembering them, praying for them, hoping that they would open their hearts to the One who Loved them with a passionate Love — the Father/God of all. He must have realized how important it was to see and feel the tragedy of the corruption he witnessed among the religious and political leaders of the day, to keep even these things in his heart. As painful as it was, he hoped that by keeping them there some of the great evil he saw would be disarmed and tamed.
That’s all he could do, after all — absorb the tragedy, the struggle, the sin, the failures in Love of the human race in his great, great heart. Yes, he healed a few sick and gave the gift of sight to some, but most of all he Loved: He let people into his heart (that’s the definition of Love, after all: to let someone into one’s heart) there to be comforted, if just for a moment. For one brief moment in the heart of the Lord Jesus is enough for any of us.
He had room for young John and impetuous Peter. And for Judas. He had room for the outcasts of his day, Zacheus and Matthew and Mary Magdalen. And he brought the outcasts in and seated them at his table He had room for beggars and lepers and blind people. And he had room for the Pharisees who broke his heart by their refusal to see and understand.
We remember that he was capable of deep emotion. He wept profoundly when he saw in prophecy what would happen to Jerusalem because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. And yet, even the gift of his tears and the greatness of his Love would not stop the destruction that would come because of Israel’s hardness of heart and lack of vigilance.
In the end, he wept in the garden. I like to believe that his agony was not focused on the trauma he personally was about to endure but because the Father permitted him, in that moment, to experience to the depths the reality of evil and tragedy in the world. He must have experienced some of the pain and loss that many of us feel when we encounter hardness of heart and misunderstanding.
Jesus embodied the compassion of God — the mercy, the tenderness, the Hesed of God (to use the wonderful Hebrew word). God wanted to be known as the Merciful One. And we, likewise, are instructed to “Be compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate.”
Jesus became for us the “Man of Sorrows”, familiar with suffering” — the suffering Servant of Yahweh. He bore the weight of the world’s refusal to Love and even worse its refusal to be Loved by the God of Love. He allowed that evil, that senseless tragedy of the human race, to be absorbed, and thereby redeemed and purified, with his own blood. In his own bloodstream the cosmic battle between the forces of Love and Hate was waged. And “his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” In him the great cosmic battle was focused. Our great compassionate God sent his Son to bear within his soul the brunt of that cosmic storm.
We are filled with awe at such overwhelming Love. And so we honor today his great, great heart. But most importantly we should realize that he has become for us Love itself so that we will also might become Love.
The one essential ingredient of the Christian religion is to Love as Jesus has Loved us. We are to become compassionate as Jesus is compassionate. We, like Jesus, are called not to be afraid to embrace the suffering, the tragedy, the sin of the world, so that in Love we will join our hearts to his and, as St. Paul says, “to make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”
Perhaps we can say, therefore, that there are two kinds of people in the world — those who are willing to accept their own share of suffering in the world (and a bit more for Jesus’ sake) and those who cannot or will not bear even the suffering caused by their own failures and sins. The compassionate ones do what they do out of Love, a seemingly foolish Love. Some Love because they have been opened up to a mystical awareness that they, like Jesus, are making their own soul and body available as an arena for the cosmic drama of interaction between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.
I do not pity those who suffer. I rather pity those who are afraid to suffer. Out of suffering comes understanding — a larger perspective of the world and with it a practical wisdom that tempers Law and Life with Mercy. Out of suffering comes the ability to see the face of Christ in even a hardened criminal or a seemingly pitiful alcoholic.
The ability to see, to understand, the inner workings of people’s lives is a gift far greater than the suffering one must endure to attain it. To-suffer-unto-understanding (a definition of compassion) is to be able to look upon the world as Jesus does and as he invites us to do in the Beatitudes.3 (Of course, a person can suffer without understanding — especially when we are angry about and refuse to accept our lot of suffering. But if we pray faithfully while we suffer, God will most assuredly gift us with his own very special kind of understanding.)
Understanding is the goal of suffering for those who have eyes to see. Understanding which sees through the eyes of Jesus. Understanding allows us the courage to be with Jesus hanging on the Cross and to see what he saw from that perspective. Understanding allows us the courage to go with Jesus into the bowels of the earth and descend into hell and to see what Jesus saw. Then, too, understanding allows us to feel what Jesus felt when he was lifted from the grave.
I have always had an inner sense that the fastest, most efficient way to handle a crisis was to face it head on — not to avoid it. And so, I invite you to “go with” the suffering. Explore it. Allow yourself to experience the feelings, as painful and confused and frightening as they may be. The more you fight it, the more you will suffer. Ask Jesus the Light to lead you through the darkness. Then have faith and confidence that he will. (After all, the worst you will experience is what Jesus experienced, as long as you follow the will of God. (Other persons have suffered more cruel deaths than crucifixion.) And if you truly want to follow the will of God and are praying daily, then be assured that God is leading you. Take his hand in the darkness and follow — even if you can barely see the ground in front of you!
The pain may feel unbearable for a while, and the temptation is to avoid it as long as we can, and, of course, to worry about it. (I have always found worry most bothersome, like walking around with a pebble in my shoe. Far easier to bend down and take it out than to walk around with it for years!) So, too, with suffering. Even in one of my earlier bouts with emotional and mental suffering, I somehow found myself diving into it to seek its cause.
From what I can see there is always a cause of suffering. Discovering the cause can often lead to alleviating the suffering. In fact, the pain oftentimes will be transformed the moment the cause is recognized and diagnosed, so it is to the person’s advantage to stay with it and find out who or what the “bugger” is. (Perhaps there is an analogy to the oyster who “suffers” an irritation that will eventually through which it may become a pearl of great price.) If we see the larger picture of reality, seen through the eyes of Christ, some joy and satisfaction and relief will enter our soul. We will thus be on our way to recovery and new life.
The easiest way through suffering is to stretch out our arms and allow ourselves to be nailed to our cross. Don’t fight it. Surrender to the will of God. Jesus in his agony on Thursday night saw through the nails in his hands and the crown of thorns on his head to the Resurrection. He didn’t ignore the Cross; he saw it and the horizon beyond it.
Jesus didn’t focus on the pain. The pain of the Cross was only a brief moment (which he knew he had the strength to endure) in the history of his lordship presiding over the business of the universe. So you, too, should not focus on the painful aspects of our life. Look instead for the cause of the pain. Look for the reality — the truth! And remember that Jesus said “the truth shall make you free!” See as Jesus sees; that is, see and accept the truth. And leap from your cross as a butterfly leaps from the cocoon and as Jesus leapt from the grave.
“Impossible!” you may say, especially if you have been suffering for years.
“Not so!” says Jesus and the whole company of prophets and martyrs and confessors and virgins.
Ask for strength and you will receive strength.
Ask for guidance and you will be led through the darkness to a point you will recognize.
Ask to understand and Jesus will let you see yourself through his eyes.
But remember! Don’t focus on the pain. All those gory pictures of Jesus in agony and bloody crucifixes of the past generation, hopefully, are, hopefully, gone for good.
The Cross is the focal point in that we realize the great Love which Jesus has for us and what he personally has done for us. But one must not forget to look at the horizon beyond the Cross. The sky on that first Good Friday afternoon undoubtedly was an awesome sight to behold. The cross, the pain that is our lot in life to endure, is there only to be transformed and transcended. The cross is but a moment.
Suffering in life is only a means to greater life. It is not our final lot. Resurrection is. Glory is. Triumph is. Though the paradox is that we must accept our cross totally to be through with it. We are invited to surrender to our Father in complete abandonment as Jesus did, as if we were to leap off a cliff and know that we will land in the Loving arms of our great God.
A further delusion of spirituality of the past generation is that our reward will not come until the next life. What is delusional about that is that we fail to realize the kingdom is already inaugurated by Jesus in history by his triumph on the Cross. Our lives are already illumined by the light of the resurrection. And there is no reason that we cannot triumph here and now — if we accept our cross. And, in fact, I am convinced that it will be Christians bold enough to take up in their hand and in their minds the Cross of Jesus who will lead us in XXI and XXII Centuries, just as this has been true in every age of the Church.
And so, the question that we ponder this feast day is, once again:
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
And the answer is: “The great, great Love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who Loved us so much that he stretched out his arms in the most loving, indeed, the most-nonviolent act, the world has ever seen. He stretched out his arms in the face of his enemies and said from his Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Come, then adore the Lord who wants to be for us all our Beloved. Come, then, adore the Lord, the tremendous Lover. Renew your Love for him and know even more than ever before that it is by the holy Cross that we have been redeemed.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this?
And now, before you go, here’s that wonderful hymn, What wondrous love is this? Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are the Mass readings for tomorrow’s feast. Click here.
The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christ)
Sunday, June 19, 2022
Today is our Roman Catholic Feast of Corpus Christi in which pause to appreciate and give thanks for the wonderful gift of the holy Eucharist.
I’d like to reflect for a moment on what we Catholics believe this wonderful sacrament.
We believe in the Real Presence of Jesus ~that the bread and wine are transformed into his Body and Blood. Thus, for us communion is a sharing in divine life, not just as symbol.
It is stumbling block for many – not only for many Protestants but many a Catholic who never really gets it because they don’t let it transform their life into common-union or a deeper union with Christ.
And, um, I know some priests who don’t get it or live it either.
The Eucharistic story included for today is the charming one in which Jesus feeds five thousand (men) on the hillside. Our Scripture Scholar-friend William Barclay tells us that this the only miracle that all the four gospels include. Luke’s, account (the one proclaimed at Mass today) begins with the folksy story about the Twelve coming back from their initial attempts to spread the word. And Jesus needed the time to be alone with them; so he took them to the neighborhood of Bethsaida, a village on the far side of the Jordan to the north of the Sea of Galilee. When the people discovered where he had gone “they followed him in hordes” says Barclay –”and he welcomed them.”
There’s all the divine compassion here. Most people would’ve resented the invasion of their hard-won privacy. How would we feel if we sought out a lonely place to be with our most intimate friends and suddenly a clamorous throng of people show up (with paparazzi in tow perhaps) with their insistent demands? Sometimes we’re too busy and too tired to be disturbed, but to Jesus, human need took precedence over everything.
The evening came, home was far away, and the people were tired and hungry. Jesus, ordered his disciples to give them a meal. Now, there are two ways we can look at this miracle. First, we can simply look at it simply as a miracle in which Jesus created food for this vast multitude. Second, some people think that everyone had something but the Twelve laid before them the little they had and the others were moved to produce their shares and in the end there was more than enough for everyone.
Before Jesus distributed the food he blessed it; he said grace. Jesus would not eat without giving thanks to the giver of all gifts.
This story tells us many things, Barclay says.
First, Jesus was concerned that people were hungry.
Second, Jesus, help was generous. There was enough and more than enough
Third, in Jesus, all our needs are supplied. There is a hunger of the soul There is a longing in each of us in which we can invest our lives. Our hearts are restless until they rest in him (Luke 9 :10 -17)
Now to add a theological dimension to this, Bishop Robert Barron whom you may have seen me quote earlier in this blog has this to offer. I enjoyed his article in the Magnificat Liturgical magazine that I use for my daily prayer . . . .
“How strange and wonderful is the Catholic faith! The Buddha offers wise teaching to his followers. Muhammad presents to his devotees a revelation that was once given to him. Confucius passes on to his adepts in an intricate moral system that he has developed. Moses comes down the mountain bearing a Law he received from on high.
But Jesus presents, offers, bears, and passes on . . . his very self. On the night before he suffered at the Passover table, he gathered with his Twelve Apostles. Taking bread in his hands, he said, This is my body, and lifting up the cup, said, This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.
He gave them, not a teaching, a discipline, or a spiritual insight, but his substance—his very own flesh and blood. And this is why the Christian Faith is not a matter of learning or walking a religious path, but of eating and drinking Jesus’ Body and Blood.
From this Eucharistic fact, the Church Fathers derived the splendid teaching of theiosos or deification. We disciples do not just follow Jesus, we become Jesus; we become adopted sons and daughters of the Father in the Son. And this is the object of our bedazzled contemplation on the Feast of the Lord’s Body and Blood.
That is what Jesus did, and he allied this dramatic action with the ancient feast of his people so that it would be the more imprinted on the minds of his men. He said, “Look! Just as this bread is broken my body is broken for you! Just as this cup of red wine is poured out my blood is shed for you.”
For me, the Eucharistic words have sustained me as I experienced my sinfulness, my woundedness, my brokenness and also profound joy and at times, a deep affection for my Jesus.
When I receive our Lord in holy communion I pray:
Lord Jesus, You became — You are still — bread-broken
and blood-poured out for the sake of the world.
As I receive the precious gift of the Eucharist
may I become Your body
and Your body become mine.
May Your blood course through my own blood stream.
I want to be transformed by my communion with you, Lord.
Transformed from my self-centered lusts and angers and petty jealousies
Let me become Your Body-broken
and Your Blood-poured-out
into a world that needs You
now more than ever.
To You, Jesus, be honor and glory and praise
this day and forever!
So be it! Amen!
And now. before you go, here is the Eucharistic hymn “Adoro Te Devote sung in procession. On this day throughout the world, it is the custom to have public with the Blessed Sacrament such as the one in this video. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings with the Ancient “Sequence” or Eucharistic poem included before the gospel. Click here.
William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / the Gospel of Luke / The John Knox Press / Louisville. KY 2001 pp. 139-42.
The Sequence written by St. Thomas Aquinas
THE FEAST OF THE HOLY TRINITY– June 12, 2022
This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday when we give praise to God as we Christians understand and know God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For me, it’s all about being caught up in–getting lost in–finding my true self in the awesome dynamic relationship with our God as we come to know that God is love.
My first assignment as a priest was to Holy Name of Jesus Parish across the street from the Atlantic Ocean. I have fond memories of that place, not only of the whole parish but also of its geographical and ecological setting. Today I see it as one of the finest parishes in the continental United States in the wonderful ways in that hundreds of parishioners are involved in 85 ministries.
And so, I have a story to tell. I have told it on Trinity Sunday almost every year of my priesthood. It’s about some sea turtles. You’ll probably be wondering as you read what turtles have to do with the Trinity. But I’ll save that for the end. It is a powerful connection.
Indialantic, Florida, Summer 1969. I had just arrived in the parish and was meeting my new parishioners. Several asked, “Have you seen the turtles yet?” I assumed they were talking about turtles who came to our beach but I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. So I accepted Tony’s invitation, a teen from the youth group I had just met: “Meet me on the beach at 9:00 tonight; bring a small flashlight.”
I was a little early, so I sat on the steps watching the 2-foot waves lap the shore. I soon learned what a joy it was to live across the street from the ocean. I lived there the first three years of my priesthood. That night was a quiet, dark night; there was no moon. I took off my shoes and put them beside a small-sized dune. I could see the light of flashlights bouncing across the sand towards the south but the beach was dark to the north. Apparently, prize turtle-watching happened on the south stretch of beach. Indeed, the most active area for loggerhead turtle nesting is south of Cape Kennedy.
Tony came along and we walked south and the waves washed further up the shore. He quietly explained that loggerhead turtles grew to about 38 inches and had huge heads with short necks and powerful beaks that can break open mollusk shells. He said they weigh from 200 – 350 pounds.
We were silent for a while. I noticed that the flashlights were all turned off; apparently the sea creatures are spooked by light. A dark night is best.
“What will we see?” I asked.
“The huge creature will lumber slowly up the beach to reach an area above the high water line. The tracks she makes resemble caterpillar or tank tracks. She will then turn around facing the ocean and use her rear flippers to dig a hole. Sometimes she will not leave any eggs and fill in the hole again to fool us turtle-watchers. There are sometimes egg poachers around. But if she does lay eggs there will be about 100-126 white-colored eggs about 2 inches in diameter.”
We soon saw some turtle tracks, leading out of the surf up the beach. None of us used our flashlights, keeping some distance and, interestingly, even the children kept silent, as if there were a spell over us.
That was my first experience of turtle watching. I had many more. But there was one night I will long remember. It is that night that I have told in my Trinity Sunday homilies very often.
I was alone that night — no companion, no other turtle-watchers. The moment opened up for me to be a profound mystical awareness, a moment I still remember vividly. I watched the giant turtle lay her eggs and slowly make her way back toward the surf. I moved a little closer as she came to the edge of the water. It was really dark.
I felt drawn to her by some compelling or impelling force. I wanted to follow the turtle! As it disappeared beneath the waves, I was drawn to follow her, to enter the unknown world beneath the sea.
But I hesitated. I pulled back.
I was on the edge of mystery.
The turtle has its own mystery; the turtle is at home in two worlds — land and sea. We also live in two worlds — the physical and the spiritual, the seen and the unseen. For a brief moment, I was drawn to follow the turtle down beneath the waves. But actually I was drawn into the mystery of the life of God which the feast of the Holy Trinity celebrates for us. And there, too, I hesitate. I pull back. I prefer to get close, but not too close. I prefer to stand upon the shore, to walk along with my toes only in the water, not to plunge in.
The shoreline is highly symbolic. It is the liminal space (the margin) between land and sea. As such, it is a powerful space, a place of mystery in its own right, as any liminal space can be. I have stood on several of the shores of the world and it’s always a powerful experience. Perhaps the shoreline runs down the middle of my soul.
So, what do we make of this feast of the Holy Trinity? In having this feast the church is telling us we live on the edge of mystery. We live on the edge of God’s wonderful life — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is not to be solved like a Perry Mason or Agatha Christie mystery. In religious experience, a mystery is to be lived and to be unfolded as we uncover its multifaceted dimensions, as we allow it to envelop and sometimes enrapture us.
The immensity of God’s love is a mystery for us, for sure. But we should not be afraid of mystery. We should not be afraid to immerse ourselves in the mystery of God as the turtle immersed herself in the mystery of the ocean.
The day will come, sooner or later, for me and for you to let go of our hesitancy and fear and to fall into the ocean of God’s love. To no longer live on the edge of mystery but to be immersed fully in the mystery of God’s love — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I had the experience last year when I got off the shore and onto a dive boat. After three years, I finally got my Scuba certification, and like the turtles went below the surface of the Atlantic ocean for the first time and entered a brand new astonishingly beautiful, silent world!
There’s a similar story told about the great St. Augustine who lived in the Fourth Century. The story or legend goes that he was walking on the beach contemplating the mystery of the Trinity when he saw a boy in front of him who had dug a hole in the sand and was going out to the sea again and again and bringing some water to pour into the hole. St. Augustine asked him, “What are you doing?” “I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole.” “That is impossible, the whole ocean will not fit in the hole you have made” said St. Augustine. The boy replied, “And you cannot fit the Trinity in your tiny little brain.” The saint was instantly confronted with the mystery of God.
And so, dear friends . . . .
Follow a turtle!
They hatch in sixty days and are completely on their own. The hundreds of condominiums on the Florida shoreline are in themselves a threat to the newborn because the little ones are drawn to the light and away from the ocean where they should be. There is a law that only a few lights are to be on the sea-side and these are to be covered. Like so many other little babies they are endangered. May we protect them all!
Now, before you go, here’s a cute music video about “Caretta, the Sea Turtle.” Click Here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full Screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click Here.
P. S. Please pray for my friend Tony who passed away on this past May 9th; we were friends for 53 years.
The Great and Glorious Feast of Pentecost
Sunday June 5, 2022
In our last blog, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension.
After Jesus left the disciples and ascended into heaven, they had gathered again behind locked doors,
despondent, worried, fearful, bewildered, devastated.
“[Then] suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire which parted
and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim (Acts 2:1-21.)
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.”
“When the day of Pentecost came it found the brethren gathered in one place. Suddenly from up in the sky there was a noise like a strong driving wind.”
The Holy Spirit is associated with that wind. The wind that blows where it wills. The wind that stirs things up and gets them moving.
The word for “wind” in Hebrew is “Ruah” — the same as the word for “breath.”
Often at night, sitting in my chair, I would just pay attention to my breathing for a while. I imagine that the Holy Spirit is the breath entering me, and when I exhale, I’m breathing out the Holy Spirit as well.
What a wonderful image is breath. Breath is life itself. No breath, no life in the body.
The mighty wind of Pentecost stirred things up. And the church was born! The apostles and the others who were part of their company, and the women who were present, were given enthusiasm. No longer afraid, they courageously preached the message that Jesus established a new order for people’s lives. They began gathering the church. The Acts of the Apostles is in so many ways the gospel of the Holy Spirit.
In the beginning of scripture, there is a story about the tower of Babel, that tries to explain why there’s so many different languages on the earth that we cannot understand each other; why there’s so much discord, so much disharmony.
The story has God confusing the languages of the people at Babel (Gen. 11: 1-9) and from that day onward they were scattered.
On the day of Pentecost the opposite happened. People were gathered together. Parthians and Medes and Elamites; people from Cappodacia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia and Egypt — all heard the apostles speaking to them in their own languages.
On the day of my ordination, I was filled with enthusiasm. It was day before Pentecost, May 24, 1969.
I was reminded of this prophecy of Joel:
“I will pour out my spirit upon all humankind.
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
your young men shall see visions.
Even upon the servants and handmaids,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28, 29)
Those were the days immediately following the Second Vatican Council. There was a lot of enthusiasm all over the Church. Those of us who were young, had wonderful opportunities to serve.
The enthusiasm that poured onto me and into me lasted the first full three years of my priesthood. The Spirit really touched my ministry, as he did with another priest who was ordained the same day with me.
Nine years later, the opposite happened. My life crashed in upon me. And I was reminded of still another scripture about the Spirit — the prophecy of the dry bones.
“Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord: “See I will bring spirit into you that you may come to life again. Breathe into these slain, O Spirit, that they may come to life.” (Ezekiel 37: 1)
That’s what Pope Francis is trying to do. Breathe new life into the Church that the Holy Spirit will draw the church together in a new way.
There is still something else to note from the Pentecost story. A tongue of fire rested individually on the heads of each person. The Spirit of God has a special relationship with each of us, just as the Father and the Son do. The Spirit will enliven us according to the gifts and talents of each one of us.
So this Holy Spirit does wondrous things for us!
The Spirit is the source of inspiration for all who would design and create.
But I must realize that there were also times in my priesthood when I experienced a great deal of powerlessness. I felt like Samson who had lost his strength. My soul had become like the valley of dry bones. I didn’t like my own mediocrity.
It is clear that I needed to bring the Holy Spirit to the foreground of my life again and again. I would like to have a vibrant and vital relationship with the Holy Spirit from moment to moment. In each moment of my life I hope that I will discern and follow the Spirit’s lead.
And so, an important role of the Holy Spirit is to encourage gifts. To invite risk. To reach out beyond safe boundaries, as Pope Francis is encouraging his priests to do. To make connections. To unite. To celebrate diversity. The story of Pentecost states that the Spirit of God is uncontrollable – by us. It comes as a “strong driving wind’ and “tongues [on] fire! Or in “Trekkie” language, to go “where no one has gone before.”
The greatest saints did just that! Catherine of Siena (a very young woman religious!) chastised the pope. Francis Xavier undauntedly stepped off the boat in Japan into a culture very foreign to him. A peasant girl named Joan rallied the French army to victory and was burned at the stake because of it. Katharine Drexel stepped beyond boundaries to revere Blacks and Native Americans as persons. And a supposed “care-taker pope” John XXIII shocked everyone by calling a solemn Council of the Church.
They improvised! They pushed the boundaries of the established ways of doing things! They were not afraid to do things differently. They were bold and convicted in the confidence they received from the Spirit of God – just like at Pentecost. They were the innovators, the Reformers. The ones who led and changed the Church. They listened to the Holy Spirit who prompted / disturbed / prodded / inspired them / led them, and who became their “Defense Attorney” or Advocate, i.e. “Paraclete.” They simply learned to trust that they were tuned into God from moment to moment and discovered God would guide them in what to say and do at the appropriate time.
Our world, our our country, desperately needs people with that kind of enthusiasm and conviction today. I pray that as I may still have some of that enthusiasm and joy and conviction to serve God’s holy people in this, now beginning the fifty-third year of my priesthood. As my anniversary of ordination was just this past May 24th, there’s still a lot of joy and and eagerness within me to serve!
And may we celebrate today the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in the Church, in our world and in, indeed, all of creation!
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,
and enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
and You shall renew the face of the earth.
May it be so. May it be so.
Now, here’s the ancient Sequence for the Feast ~ or if you will, a poem that occurs within the Pentecost Mass . . .
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
And before you go, (A little different than “Come Holy Ghost” for a change.) Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here.
And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.
The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord
May 29, 2022
The feast of the Ascension of our Lord is part of the Easter mystery. First is the Resurrection in which Jesus conquers death for us and reveals that life for us will never end.
Then there is the Ascension in which Jesus is taken up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand.
And finally Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind.
All three experiences are intertwined; they reveal different aspects or facets of the same reality. The Scriptures separate them over 50 days to afford us the opportunity to reflect on each aspect of the one Easter mystery.
Now, let’s look at today’s feast, the Ascension.
At the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostle (the first reading ~ Acts 1:1-11), written by the same author as Luke’s gospel, describes the experience . . . .
Then Jesus told them not to depart from Jerusalem but to “wait for the promise of the Father of which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
He, of course, was referring to Pentecost.
. . . Then he said,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you
AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and to the ends of the earth.”
Then Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
They stood there, awestruck, spellbound .
Then two men dressed in white garments stood beside them and said,
“Men of Galilee, why are standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
This feast is about heaven, but also about earth.
Jesus is taken into heaven; that is, he returns to his Father where he sits at the Father’s right hand.
And the second reading from Ephesians states that. . . .
God the Father “put all things beneath Christ’s feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” (Ephesians 1:23)
Thus, there is a cosmic dimension to Christology. The great mystic and theologian Father Teilhard de Chardin talked about “Christogenesis” – the entire universe evolving by the power of Christ’s all-embracing love. When Chardin was far away from bread or wine and could not celebrate Mass, he talked fervently and passionately about the “Mass on the world” – that the whole planet was the body of Christ.
So we think about Jesus as Lord of the Universe, and we pray that people on earth would somehow find ways to stop the violence and inhumanity toward each other.
And so the feast of Ascension is also about earth.
The angels ask the disciples — Why are you standing there looking up in the sky? Brothers and Sisters, you and I have work to do!
YOU MUST BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
A witness is one who knows with one’s own eyes and ears what has taken place.
A witness is one who has filtered through one’s own senses what one’s own account of the truth is.
I consider myself a witness to the resurrection. I have had enough experiences of risen life–even of mystical experience–that I am convinced that Jesus is real; that he lives and reigns today in our world, that he empowers us through his Spirit. Throughout my life I have found myself immersed in the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I know this also, because Jesus has allowed me the ability to share his life with others, and they with me. Many others have deepened and enriched their faith as the Holy Spirit worked through me.
So Jesus, gone to heaven, gives authority to his apostles and disciples on earth.
Brothers and sisters, we have work to do. We are put on notice in the scriptures of today’s feast.
Next Sunday we will attend to the third aspect of the Easter mystery–Pentecost–the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all humankind.
During the coming week may we pray that the Holy Spirit would renew each of us individually, the whole Church of God and indeed the whole world!
But before we go, it is well to be aware that we tend to be misled by the metaphors in the poetic images we use for heaven such as clouds and sky and cute pink cherubs flying around that are meant to signal how heaven transcends our world.
Yet heaven isn’t a geographical place or space far away. The Risen and ascended Jesus acts as Lord of the church, our world and the cosmos, right here, right now. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “it would be a mistake to interpret the Ascension as a ‘the temporary absence of Christ from the world.” Rather, “we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and “enter into him.” Heaven is a person. Jesus himself is what we call heaven,” wrote the pope emeritus.
Now, before you go, here’s the Psalm for the day “God mounts his throne,” And be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
As this is Memorial Day weekend, I will remember in my Sunday and Monday Masses all those who have– and are serving our country. Enjoy your weekend and Stay Safe!
Today’s gospel reading is another section of Jesus’ Last Discourse at the Last Supper, as recorded in John’s Gospel. And, as Jesus was talking with his own disciples, it helps us to think about our own relationship with the Lord.
Are we close to him? Do we allow him to get close to us? Or do we keep him at arm’s length?
Some of us don’t want to deal with the Lord as a friend. For some, he is more of an impersonal “boss,” a Ruler who compels us to impersonally obey – “from a distance,” as Bette Midler once sang.
For others of us, he is our “best friend,” our dear brother,” “our shepherd.”
I’d like to invite you, right now, to think about your relationship with the Lord.
In the church before the Second Vatican Council, our Lord seemed to be distant from us, unapproachable. He was someone to be feared. He seemed to be someone who would send us to hell if we ate more than a quarter of a hotdog on Friday or if we “had bad thoughts.” And so we returned the favor; we kept Jesus outside of us, not close enough for us to invite him into our thoughts or minds or souls. Many of us kept him out of sight and out of mind. And in the old church, some folks would put off dealing with Christ or the Church until one’s deathbed.
After Vatican II for a while there were some renewal movements that brought people close to Jesus. I made a Cursillo (Little course in Christianity) back in 1971, just two years after my ordination. It had a significant impact on my life in that it helped me bring others to Christ.
Four years later, I encountered the Lord up close and personal in a meditation I experienced on a retreat. That moment changed my life. From that day in February 1976, Jesus has been close to me, even though I have wandered away at times.
Jesus is now my best friend. I let him into my soul. I don’t exclude him from areas of my soul that are still in disarray. I let him “listen in” on my thoughts that he would not quite approve of. I am not afraid to let him know me – as I am, for I know he accepts me as I am. I don’t have to hide things from him. I feel his love, a love that embraces all of me – just as I am–warts and all. When we allow ourselves to get close to Jesus, we get to know ourselves better too. We don’t hide things from ourselves so much.
Some people, on the other hand, keep Jesus on the periphery of their lives because they know that if they let him in close, they’ll have to change and they’re not ready to change, so they keep the Lord at bay. Sometimes Jesus comes knocking at the door of our soul and we turn him away. What indignities we put the Lord through!
What I’ve found, however, that Jesus will be for us, as he was for the woman caught in adultery. He accepted the woman as she was and allowed her to change because she realized his love.
To know the personal love of the Lord is a wonderful, exhilarating experience. It’s an experience that you too can have – perhaps on your own with the Spirit’s help, or with the help of a friend and guide.
Then you’ll want to live your whole life in friendship with the Lord. You don’t have to wait until you die to live fully reconciled with Christ. You don’t have to wait until you die to experience holiness and wholeness. Jesus offers his very own life and love to you right here, right now!
Now let us take a closer look at today’s gospel. There are three sections that are appropriate for our discussion. As I said, it’s still part of the Last Supper discourse.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and make our dwelling with him.
Our own soul becomes the dwelling place for God and God will abide with us forever.
St. Thomas Aquinas says that three things are necessary for a person who wants to see God: we must take a step to draw near to God; and we must lift our eyes in order to see God; and we must take time to look, for spiritual things cannot be seen if we are absorbed by earthly things. Where do you look? In the Scriptures. In nature. In your own family. In the people you meet every day. In the slightest little thing. In the present moment.
Accepting the reality of God’s dwelling with us and within us is the heart of the gospel.
It’s an invitation we should not decline lightly.
I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
The Spirit consoles us in our sadness over our past sins. He leads us to the Son. He makes us sharers in divine wisdom and knowers of the truth. In a hidden way he aids our remembrance because, being love, he excites us. He teaches us the hidden ways of God. He inspires us. He is the source of all creativity and the bestower of manifold gifts.
Even more intimate than Jesus’ abiding with us is the Holy Spirit who is as close to us as our own breath. Let us prepare ourselves to celebrate once again the feast of Pentecost in which we celebrate the Spirit’s work in us and among us.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
A true and abiding relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit brings an abiding peace. Even though all the issues of our life may not be totally resolved, we will be at peace with ourselves, we will be at peace with God. In the Bible the word for peace, shalom, never means simply the absence of trouble. It means everything that makes for our highest good. The peace Jesus offers us is the peace of conquest. No experience of life can take it from us and no sorrow, no danger, no suffering can make it less.
In another Easter gospel, Jesus says,
I am the Vine and we are the branches.
Live on in me, as I do in you.
No more than a branch can bear fruit
of itself apart from the vine,
can you bear fruit apart from me.
I am the vine, you are the branches,
The one who lives in me and in him
Will produce abundantly,
For apart from me you can do nothing.
There you have it. We are called to a real intimacy with Jesus. He can be a part of us and we, a part of him.
Let him into your life.
Talk to him about matters of your heart.
Let him in on your most secret thoughts.
Let Jesus be your friend – all the days of your life.
To bring others to Jesus and to bring Jesus to others has been at the heart of my priestly ministry, as I celebrate the fifty-three years since my ordination this next week. There has been no greater work for me than this.
I pray as you prayed that night with your friends.
I thank you for your love and friendship all these years;
I pray for all the people I’ve served through the years,
bless them, Lord, wherever they are.
And I thank you for wonderful inspiration of the Holy Spirit that has informed my life in so many ways.
I ask you, Jesus, to draw someone who’s reading this blog to yourself.
Let them know your love; touch them and draw them to yourself.
And send down your Spirit upon us once again; renew your Church,
and splash the Spirit all over our country and our world, for we surely need a good dose of it as on the first Pentecost!
To You, Jesus, be all Glory and Honor and Praise! Amen.
Now, before you go, here’s a beautiful song with a slide show to accompany our theme of Intimacy with God. Click here, Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full-screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
Acknowledgment: Magnificat Liturgical Magazine / May 2016 / Lectio Divina notes for the Sixth Sunday of Easter / p. 21.
The Fifth Sunday of Easter–May 16, 2022
“I give you a new commandment—Love one another as I have loved you.”
The scene is the Last Supper . . . .
When Judas had left them, Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him . . . .
Our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay will unpack these rather mystifying words of Jesus for us.
The glory of God has come and that glory is the Cross. The tension has gone out of the room because Judas has left; any doubts that remained have finally been removed. Judas has gone out and the Cross is now a certainty. The greatest glory in life is the glory that comes from sacrifice.
In Jesus, God has been glorified. It was the obedience of Jesus that brought glory to God. And God will glorify Jesus. The Cross was the glory of Jesus; but there was more to follow—the Resurrection, the Ascension and the full triumph of Christ in his Second Coming. The vindication of Christ must follow his crucifixion; the crown of thorns must change into the crown of glory.
This passage begins Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to his disciples as recorded in the gospel of John . . . .
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
It is not an insult to be called my children by the Lord Jesus, but a privilege (1 Jn. 3:1) Jesus is a father to us because receiving everything from the Father (Jn 16:15) he generates within us the new life of grace. We delight in being called children, freed from the burden of having to be independent or self-sufficient. In Matthew 18:1-5, Jesus teaches his disciples that becoming the true way to greatness is through spiritual childhood, of being shamelessly dependent on him–according to Magnificat–Lectio Divina on the Gospel of this day.)
Jesus was laying out his farewell commandment to his disciples. The time was short; if they were to hear his voice they must hear it now, Scripture scholar William Barclay dramatizes. He was going on a journey on which they could not accompany him; he was taking a road that he had to walk alone. He gave them the commandment that they must love one another as he loved them.
What does that mean for us, and for our relationships with others? How did Jesus love his disciples?
Barclay says he loved them selflessly. Even in the noblest human love there remains some element of self. We think of the happiness we will receive, along with what we give. But Jesus never thought of himself. His only thought was to give himself and all he had for those he loved.
Jesus loved his disciples sacrificially. There was no limit to what his love would give or to where it would lead. If loved meant the Cross, Jesus was prepared to go there . . . .
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Jesus loved his disciples understandingly. He knew his disciples intimately. We never know people until we have lived with them. Sometimes we say that love is blind. Real love is open-eyed. It loves, not what it imagines a person to be, but what that person really is. Jesus’ heart is big enough to love us as we are.
Jesus loved his disciples forgivingly. The Apostle’s leader would deny him. They were all to forsake him in his hour of need. They never, in his days in the flesh, understood him. They were blind and insensitive, slow to learn and lacking in understanding. In the end, they were cowards. But Jesus held nothing against them; there was no failure that he could not forgive.
The love that has not learned to forgive cannot do anything else but shrivel up and die. Barclay concludes by suggesting that we are poor creatures and there is a kind fate in things that makes us hurt those who love us best. For that very reason all enduring love is built on forgiveness, for without forgiveness, love is bound to die.
I had written seven letters to friends asking for reconciliation and forgiveness. Two were returned for insufficient address; the others did not responded–except one who wrote that he forgave me, but still holds a grudge fifteen years later. I continue to pray for them and hold out hope for reconciliation and if not, that they have accepted my best wishes.
Jesus, You have given us a New Commandment,
To Love one another as You have loved us.
That’s a tall order.
And I know I fall short all the time.
I have hurt people and have tried to make amends to some.
If we would just rely on your strength and grace, Jesus,
we would do better in our loving.
For they say—
They will know we are Christians by our love.
They did in the early Church.
Allow us—allow me—the grace to do so in the Church
and in our world today.
To You, Jesus, be all Glory and Honor and Praise
And now, before you go, here’s one of the first “guitar Mass” songs from the Sixties! “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Click here.
And here’s another song from our Mormon friends that brought tears to my eyes when I first heard by the lovely soprano Sissel Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
Acknowledgments: The Image: Salvador Dali’s The Sacrament of the Last Supper
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 – Revised Edition / The Westminster Press: Philadelphia 1975 (pp. 147-9)
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The Fourth Sunday of Easter ~ May 8th, 2022
Good Shepherd Sunday
Have you ever thought about how shepherds handle their sheep? In many places even today they follow their shepherd, who walks in front of them. They’re not goaded like cattle. Cowboys herd cattle from behind, pushing them forward. Not so with sheep.
Muse a bit about Jesus as the Good Shepherd – Jesus walking ahead of us along the way. He shows us the way. He’s been there ahead of us. In Mark 10:32, we are told that the disciples were going up to Jerusalem “and Jesus was leading the way.” And of course, along the way, he was teaching and forming them. And that’s how it can be with you and me!
Apparently, it is the voice of the shepherd that controls the sheep. “My sheep hear my voice,”says Jesus. The sheep pick out the voice of their one only shepherd from that of others. They only follow the one whose voice they recognize.
In another place in the text, Jesus distinguishes between true and false shepherds. The false ones are hired hands that won’t go out of their way to help the sheep. The good shepherd is the one dedicated to his sheep and his care.
The concept of the Messiah as the Good Shepherd appeared frequently in the Old Testament, notably in the prophet Ezekiel. All of Chapter 34 is dedicated to the good shepherd. Ezekiel warns of the peril of following false shepherds who lead their flocks astray. He admonishes to seek the good shepherd: “The Lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal. . . . Thus shall they know that I the Lord, am their God, and they are my people.”
And, of course David was the Shepherd King of Israel, having written our beloved Psalm 23 ~ “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
The words of Ezekiel were as familiar to the Jews in the time of Jesus as they can be to us in our own difficult times: the lost, the injured, the sick, the war-torn and those who are struggling to care for them. The Jews, too, recognized the difference between a good shepherd and a hireling, who was more interested in his pay than the welfare of the flock. (And isn’t that the same in our time, with politicians who don’t seem to care.)
While we love the image of the Good Shepherd, most of us lack firsthand acquaintance with either a shepherd or with sheep. But picture this as shown to us by Professor Barclay . . .
The life of a shepherd in Palestine was very hard. He was never off duty. The sheep were bound to wander, and had to be constantly watched. On the narrow plateau the ground dipped sharply down to the craggy deserts below and the sheep were liable to stray away and get lost. The shepherd’s task was not only constant but dangerous, for he not only had to guard the flock but to protect them from wild animals and thieves and robbers. He was out there with them in all kinds of weather, day and night.
As Barclay writes, quoting Sir George Adam Smith, who travelled in Palestine, “On some high moor, at night hyenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, and looking over his scattered sheep, everyone of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why the Jews gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of Providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.” Constant vigilance, fearless, courage, patient love for his flock, were the necessary characteristics of the shepherd.
And so listen for the Voice of your Shepherd. What greater blessing could there be than this: The shepherd knows your voice and you know his. You will have instantaneous, constant communication as you seek to become one with this Good Shepherd. The closer, the more intimate that relationship, the better you will comprehend the words of our Shepherd: “No one can take them out of my hand.”
In another place, Jesus says he is not only the shepherd, but he is the sheep-gate. The sheep go in and out of the pasture and are safe.
When the sheep came into the enclosure, the shepherd would lie down at the entrance, thus, literally becoming the Gate, or the Door!
Jesus is the Gate to the spiritual world. Because he claims us as his own, we are safe.
There’s another meaning here, too, I think. A lot of people experiment with other matters in the spiritual world that are not so safe. Like hallucinogenic drugs or seances and tarot cards or fortune-telling, or calling on the spirits. These are not protected and can be dangerous. Only through Jesus are we truly safe.
William Barclay has this to add about this passage . . . .
~ Jesus promised eternal life. If someone became a member of his flock, all the bitterness of life would be gone and they would know the splendor and magnificence of the life with God.
~ He promised a life that would know no end. Death would not be the end but the beginning; they would know the glory of the indestructible life.
~ He promised a life that was secure. Nothing could snatch them from his hand. Not that it would save them from sorrow or suffering. Even in a world crashing to disaster they would know the serenity of God.
Jesus says it was the Father who gave the sheep to him. And thus Jesus received his confidence from the Father. He was secure, not in his own power, but in God’s. And the Gospel passage ends with the words,“The Father and I are one,” which calls to mind his intense prayer at the end of the Last Supper, according to John, “Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)
But let’s look at another side of this. The Good Shepherd seems to be doing all the giving, all the caring, all the protecting. The sheep just receive.
Now isn’t that the relationship we strive for with our God? We have received everything from God; should we not give all in return? Our love, too, should be unconditional, our loyalty without compromise, our thoughts, words and deeds in accord with the will of God.
And so ask yourself this question: Am I not, in turn, a good shepherd?
If you have children or others under your care, ask yourself: Do I shepherd well those who are under my care? Do I shepherd by leading? Or by goading? How can I adapt my leadership style to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Then, and only then, will we be able to say, “I know my Shepherd, and my Shepherd knows me.”
Christ is Risen!
Now, before you go, here’s a version of our beloved Psalm 23, “Shepherd Me, O God,” that has the flavor of Jesuit spirituality as well. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series – revised edition / the Gospel of John: Volume 2 / The Westminster Press Philadelphia – 1975 / pp. 55-60.
This is the third Resurrection appearance in the Gospel of John and it’s a charming story.
The guys had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Heard this story before? This is a replay of their very first meeting in Galilee. Jesus suggests they cast their nets to the starboard side. (They don’t recognize him quite yet.) When they do as he says, they haul in a great number of fish.
And John says, “The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”
Then good ol’ impetuous Peter hastily throws on a tunic and jumps into the water dragging the net full of fish.
John, who uses symbolism all through his writing, notes that there were 153 large fish and the net was not broken. (We’ll discuss this a bit later.)
Then John writes, “Jesus said, ‘Come and have some breakfast.’ And he took bread and gave it to them, and gave them fish in the same way.” And he adds, “ This was the third time Jesus showed himself to the disciples after he had been raised from the dead.
Barclay notes that the catch is not described as a miracle as it frequently happens on a lake. A person standing on the shore can often see a shoal of fish more clearly than those in the water. And it may have been because of the grey dark that they didn’t recognize him. But the eyes of the youngest disciple John were sharp.
Now to the meaning of the 153 fishes. In the Fourth Gospel, everything has meaning. Barclay gives lists of “many ingenious suggestions for this symbolism.” But I will choose only the one that makes the most sense as given by St. Jerome.
He said that in the sea there were 153 kinds of different fishes; and the catch is one which includes one of every kind of fish; and therefore the number suggests that some day all men of all nations will be gathered together in Jesus Christ.
We may note further that all these fish were gathered in this net and it wasn’t broken. The net stands for the Church; and there is room for all people of all nations in the Church–or as an alternative prayer recently has it–“in the kingdom”.
Here John is telling us in his own vivid yet subtle way of the universality of the Church. There is no kind of exclusivity in her, no kind of color bar or selectiveness. The Church–or the kingdom–is as universal as the love of God in Jesus Christ.
But there is more.
“ When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
Jesus said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
First, we must note the question Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me more than these?” As far as the language goes, it could mean two things equally well.
It may be that Jesus swept his hand around the boat and its nets and equipment and the catch of fishes and said to Peter, “Simon, do you love me more than these?”
Are you prepared to give up a steady job and reasonable comfort in order to give yourself forever to my people and my work? This may have been a final decision to give all his life to the preaching of the gospel and the caring for Christ’s flock.
Or it may be that Jesus looked at the rest of the little group of the disciples and said to Peter, “Simon, do you love me more than your fellow disciples do? It may be that Jesus was looking back to the night when Peter said, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” It may be that he was reminding Peter how once he thought he alone could be true and how his courage had failed. It is more likely that the second meaning is the right one, because Peter does not make comparisons anymore; he is content to say, “You know that I love you.
Jesus asks the question three times—as Peter denied the Lord three times.
Jesus is gracious in his forgiveness. He gave Peter the chance to affirm his love and to wipe out the memory of the threefold denial by a threefold declaration of love.
Thus, we must note what love brought Peter.
~ It brought him a task. “If you love me,” Jesus said, ”then give your life to shepherding the sheep and lambs of my flock.”
We can prove that we love Jesus only by loving others. Love is the greatest privilege in the world, but it brings great responsibility.
~ It brought Peter the cross. Jesus said to him . . . .
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
The day came when, in Rome, that Peter did give his life for his Lord; he, too, was nailed to the Cross, and he asked to be nailed upside down, for he said he was not worthy to die as his Lord had died.
Love brought Peter a task, and it brought him the cross.
Love always involves responsibility, and it always involves sacrifice. We don’t really love Christ unless we are prepared to face the task he has prepared for us and the Cross he has given us.
Lord Jesus, you know that I love You.
As your priest, I have tried to bring spiritual nourishment to the people I’ve served as best I could.
Sometimes, I have failed, as Peter did.
You have given me crosses to carry throughout my life.
Sometimes, I was petulant and didn’t carry them graciously.
I have tried to love, Lord.
Increase my capacity to love and to serve, even as I grow older.
This evening, Lord—as always, Lord Jesus,
I just want you to know that I love You.
Please be with those who do not know Your love.
And now, before you go, here’s the beloved Latin American song about the Jesus on the seashore ~ Pescadores de Hobres. Click here.
Or “Worthy is the Lamb” from Revelations taken from today’s second reading that truly honors our Risen Lord. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay /The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John / Volume 2 revised edition / The Westminster Press / Philadelphia / 1975 -pp. 284-6.