|“The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection” by Eugene Burnand|
Recently I was asked to list some good books written by Catholic authors. The names that immediately came to my mind were Georges Bernanos, Flannery O’Connor, Shusaku Endo and Graham Greene. Each of these authors wrote fiction and each one in his or her own way courageously delved into the psychology of sin, grace and faith. These authors did not seek to present faith in simplistic black and white categories and neither did they need to explain away the struggles and doubts of life. Rather, each author was able to present the reality of grace found within the very struggles, doubts and even times of darkness that can comprise moments in life that we all experience.
In many ways, their writings mirror the very gospel passage that we are given this third Sunday of Easter (Jn. 21:1-19). In this resurrection appearance we are told that Peter and six other disciples went fishing on a boat in the Sea of Tiberias. Seven disciples in a boat – a concise symbol of the Church. It was night. Christ has not yet appeared to them. They were relying on their own self-sufficiency and their own ability to catch the fish but (we are told), they caught nothing. When we rely solely on ourselves then we remain in the darkness of night and we catch nothing, the work is futile.
When it was already dawn … Jesus was seen standing on the shore, yet not recognized. Whenever Christ comes to us the darkness already begins to flee. It is helpful to note that Christ does not need to consult our calendars. Christ comes to us when he so chooses and it is in that moment that the dawn begins to break.
Probably with a bit of a smile and fully aware of his disciples’ exercise in futility the risen Lord slyly asks, Children … have you caught anything to eat? No, they admit and then upon his instruction they cast their nets again and make a great haul of fish.
John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, is the first to realize it is the Lord. John was the one who leaned his head on the breast of the Lord at the last supper, John was the one who stood by the cross of the Lord and did not run away. John is the one whose heart is attuned and attentive to the beating heart of the risen Lord. Yet, John did not hide within his realization, only to enjoy it for himself, rather he turned in respect to Peter – the “rock”, the one on whom the Lord said he would build his Church – and said, It is the Lord.
Peter, continually surprising – ancient, yet always surprising – in his eagerness and love for the Lord jumps out of the boat and into the water and swims to shore! The Lord feeds his friends and then he has this wonderful exchange with Peter. Three times, the Lord asks Peter; do you love me? Three times Peter responds “yes” and the Lord instructs him to feed and tend his sheep.
Why did the Lord give this command and why specifically did he entrust Peter with this task? Peter had denied the Lord, Peter had run away and now the Lord is entrusting his very flock to this man? What had changed? What had changed is that now Peter had accepted love. Where before he had relied on his own strength of faith – Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death. (Lk. 22:33) – now Peter, after his denial, can only hold on to the love of the Lord. Peter’s heart, healed by the light of Easter, had come to truly understand and grasp the words of that beautiful Lenten hymn; What wondrous love is this? Peter had accepted the love of the risen Lord and now Christ says to him; feed my sheep.
The Gospel does not need to explain away the weakness of the human heart nor the struggles and doubts of life. Rather, the Gospel proclaims the amazing truth that grace has entered into our very human and limited and sinful reality. The Lord is risen! He does not deny our humanity, rather he fulfills it through love and friendship!