Several years ago during Lent I preached in two New York parishes. Even with 14 inches of snow the locals were talking about the upcoming baseball season. The Yankee fans were rather smug and confident about their prospects. But the long-suffering Mets fans had a hint of fatalism about them. At the door of the church a departing worshiper was wearing a Mets cap and I asked him if he had thrown in a prayer for the Mets enduring mass. "You bet," he said, "I hope they get it right this time!"
That baseball fan could have been speaking about the disciples in today’s gospel. The story seems to be a replay of an earlier moment when they first responded to Jesus’ invitation, "Follow me." Well, they did follow him, but it was not the best "season" for them – it started well, but ended terribly. Peter, who is featured in today’s narrative, had struck out by denying Jesus three times (John 18:17, 25-27). (Hope I am not pushing the baseball metaphor too far!) Let’s hope Peter and the other disciples get it right this time.
At first, Jesus’ questions to Peter sound like an ego trip. Why would Jesus need to be reassured three times of Peter’s love for him? But when we reflect on the gospel story, especially the Passion narrative, the answer is obvious. The one who denied Jesus three times is now being offered reconciliation by a triple affirmation of love.
We may find ourselves Peter’s boatmates. As we look over our recent past we too might count one, two or three times we have denied Jesus by our words or actions. At the beginning of today’s Eucharist we had an opportunity for a three-fold request for mercy when we prayed, "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy." That was our Peter-moment, our chance to be reminded of Jesus’ love for us, even though we are sinners. It was also an opportunity, despite our recent missteps, to say in return, "Lord you know everything, you know that I love you."
But the conversation with Jesus doesn’t end with their reconciliation, nor does it stop there for us. With Peter we listen in to what follows. Jesus gives Peter a life plan for the future: he is to feed Jesus’ lambs and tend his sheep. Peter will do just that and, as we hear in today’s first reading, he will be dragged before the Sanhedrin for witnessing to Jesus’ name. Actually Peter didn’t have to take on the mission Jesus gave him all by himself. He had the presence of the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus with him, as well as the company of the other disciples. Like Peter we also have others who work with us in the church. They give us example, encouragement and support as we try to respond, in our own unique ways, to Jesus’ mandate to feed and tend his flock.
But let’s remember that Peter and the others didn’t do very well in their first attempts to follow Jesus and his way. Are they being set up for another "strike out?" Not according to the selection from Acts, as we hear about Peter’s courageous stand before the Sanhedrin. What made the difference? It certainly wasn’t just teamwork with the others. This time Peter was not on his own. He tells the Sanhedrin that he has another witness with him – the Holy Spirit. Last week when the risen Christ appeared to the disciples locked behind closed doors, he bade them peace and then breathed the Holy Spirit into them (John 20:19-31). And that made all of the difference in Peter and the disciples’ lives. Standing with him, as Peter tells the Sanhedrin, was another witness, the Holy Spirit, "whom God has given to those who obey God."
What a change the Spirit would make in Peter’s life! He would go from guilt to reconciliation with Christ, and under the Spirit’s influence, now he and the other disciples could offer the same forgiveness they had received. They would do for others what Jesus had done for them. And more! Like Jesus, they would heal the sick; reach out to the Gentiles; eat with society’s outcasts and offer peace to friends and opponents as well.
Does the large catch a fish symbolize all those of us who would be caught up in the net the once-fishermen and women cast out in Jesus’ name? We recognize and understand the significance of the food Jesus offered the disciples at the Sea of Tiberius, don’t we? The bread is reminiscent of the bread Jesus multiplied earlier in this gospel. It is his life given for our nourishment and offered again to us at this Eucharist in his Body and Blood. All of us are forgiven and nourished here – and still more! We, like the disciples, will receive the life-giving and renewing Spirit again when our presider extends hands over us and the gifts and prays, "...we humbly implore you: by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration."
If we met the risen Lord today, as the disciples did that day by the lakeside, I wonder what he would ask us church folk first? "How many people have you enrolled in this parish?" "How is the renovation of the church hall going?" "How is the new principal working out?" Etc. While these are not insignificant concerns still, I think he would first ask his triple-question, "Do you love me?" At this Eucharist we are making Peter’s response, as best we can, "You know everything Lord, you know that I love you." Based on today’s Scriptures I think I know what Jesus would do next. He would give himself to us as food and renew us in his Spirit.
Then, because love always involves responsibility, he would add, "Since you love me, now go out and tend and feed my sheep." If we respond, "Yes," when he asks if we love him, then how can we refuse to also say "Yes" when we encounter another’s need – the sick, lonely, or wounded, sorrowing and defeated? "If you love me, take care of my people...," should echo in our spirits. And there in our spirits the Holy Spirit waits to help us witness to Jesus’s words and deeds.
There is a cost to responding to Jesus’ renewed invitation today. He names it for Peter and for us. He tells Peter that when he gets older someone will tie his hands and lead him to a place he would not go. The allusion seems to be to Peter’s future suffering and death because of his witness to Christ. The first reading hints to what’s ahead for Peter and the others. So many of them were martyred for their faith. And what about us, are we willing to be taken where we do not always wish to go because of Jesus and his invitation, "Follow me?"
As we mature in faith, ("when you grow old"), where might the road take us? Forgiving long-held hurts; reaching out to the least popular; rejecting the current majority opinion; simplifying our lifestyle to provide for others; shifting our schedules to include helping others; sharing our professional skills with those who can’t pay; forgoing career opportunities in favor of our families, etc.?
We have almost 2000 years of examples of those who were stellar in their response to Jesus. Each of us also has up-close examples of family members, neighbors and other parishioners whose Christian lives have also been stellar – perhaps not on the world’s stage, but certainly in the spotlight of our lives. We know how profoundly these people have responded to the invitation Jesus gave his disciples, "Follow me... feed my lambs... tend my sheep." Many of them made sacrifices and went to places they might not otherwise have gone. But by their example they showed us what good can come to the world because faithful ones, accompanied by the Holy Spirit, gave witness to Jesus’ name – as Peter reminds the Sanhedrin and us today.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
to Saint Joseph , persecuted and courageous migrant
(Pope Francis, Catechesis on Saint Joseph, December 29, 2021
Quoted in the Houston Catholic Worker Newsletter Jan-March 2022)
Feed my lambs. . .tend my sheep. . .
"Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation"—1971 Justicia in Mundo (6). This proclamation that the promotion of justice is an essential part of the mission of the Church is probably the most famous quote from Catholic Social Teaching.
The 1971 World Synod of Catholic Bishops’ statement, Justicia in Mundo, "Justice in the World," is regarded as one of the major international Catholic Social Teaching documents. Bishops from all over the world gathered to produce the first major example of the collegial exercise of teaching authority in the Post Vatican II period. Its relevance has not diminished in 2022.
The quote above is worth rereading. With this Catholic Social Teaching, the Church proclaims that the promotion of justice is an essential part of its mission. Justicia in Mundo categorically states that Christianity cannot be purely other-worldly but requires social engagement and that Christian social morality cannot proceed in isolation from the Gospel, grace and redemption. As the Synod Bishops write:
"The present situation of the world, seen in the light of faith, calls us back to the very essence of the Christian message, creating in us a deep awareness of its true meaning and of its urgent demands. The mission of preaching the Gospel dictates at the present time that we should dedicate ourselves to the liberation of people even in their present existence in this world. For unless the Christian message of love and justice shows its effectiveness through action in the cause of justice in the world, it will only with difficulty gain credibility with the people of our times" (35).
Charity and justice are two very different tasks that we are to do as Christians. Take time this Easter season, to read the bishops’ prophetic and inspiring words from 1971. In the light of current racial injustice, environmental injustice, economic injustice and a host of other contemporary injustices, I plan to cover some of the main points from "Justice in the World" in future Justice Bulletin Boards
The link for the document: https://www.cctwincities.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Justicia-in-Mundo.pdf
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time,
"Do you love me?" and said to him,
"Lord you know everything, you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep."
Perhaps, like Peter, we too might count one, two or three times recently when we have denied Jesus by our words or actions. At the beginning of today’s Eucharist we made a three-fold request for mercy – "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy." That was our Peter-moment – our chance to be reminded of Jesus’ love for us, even though we are sinners. It was also an opportunity to add, "Lord you know everything, you know that I love you."
So we ask ourselves:
I don’t want a moratorium on the death penalty, I want the abolition of it. I can’t understand why a county [USA] that is so committed to human rights doesn’t find the death penalty and obscenity.
----Bishop Desmond Tutu
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, P.O. 247 Phoenix, MD 21131
Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:http://www.pfadp.org/
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