Have you had the experience of getting committed to something that really moved your heart and then, for whatever reason losing that fervor and then realizing how empty your life had become as a result, returning to that original commitment with newfound gratitude and zeal?
For example, many teenagers who make a sincere commitment to the Lord at a Search retreat or as they prepare for confirmation maybe even feel a tug in their heart to consider the possibility of a religious vocation — and then wham! They leave home for the first time and quit going to Mass. They party on Saturday nights and feel too sick to go to Mass on Sunday — such a terrible headache. Maybe they suffer this Sunday morning malady so often that they get out of the habit of going to Mass.
Some of you may have experienced this in your younger days. Or maybe they're doing things they know are immoral, but for now, they don't plan to quit, so going to Mass would make them feel like a hypocrite. Maybe something has happened that causes them to question their faith — scandals they read about that left them feeling disheartened and confused.
In today's Gospel, we see this in the life of Jesus' disciples. They had been following him for three years with great fervor; they had left everything to follow him. But then all this came crashing down on Good Friday in apparently hopeless defeat. Where was Jesus' kingdom of love and peace? Now it all looked like a big mirage.
The fact that Jesus didn't use his miraculous powers to save himself and establish the Kingdom of God left them confused. And worse, they were also very ashamed of their own cowardice, and they knew they'd be hypocrites to pretend otherwise. So, they went back to Galilee disillusioned, like dogs with their tail between their legs, and returned to their former way of life, fishing fish again, not men. Well, Jesus wasn't going to settle for that. In this Gospel, we see that their effort to take comfort in returning to what they did before Jesus entered their life wouldn't work: They caught no fish.
And so, Jesus reaches out to them, and when they do what he says, they once again catch an enormous number of fish. Then Jesus feeds them not from those fish but rather from fish and bread that he provides them — to remind them to trust in God's providence.
And then he rehabilitates Peter, getting him to profess three times that he loves Jesus to erase the three times he had denied even knowing him, and then he entrusts to Peter the care of his flock — the Church — going forward. In this way, Peter and the others return to their original commitment to Jesus with far greater maturity and humility, not to mention gratitude and appreciation. Their commitment is now unshakeable and for life — as we see recounted in the Acts of the Apostles and what we know of Peter's martyrdom in Rome, which is alluded to at the end of today's Gospel.
How about you? I'll bet many of you here can share a similar story of realizing how empty our life can become when we stray from Jesus and his body, the Church — no longer catching any fish, so to speak, or at least not any good fish. But Jesus wouldn't settle for that in our life either. He reached out to us, perhaps through some upsetting, tragic or even unexpectedly happy event, or perhaps through some other person whom, out of pride, we had been ignoring because we knew they were speaking the truth, a truth we didn't want to hear — because to take it seriously would require us to change the way we were living. And by the grace of God, we somehow gave in and returned to the Lord. And we discovered that our gratitude and joy at finally coming home filled us with even more zeal and commitment than we had had earlier in the good days before we had strayed.
Now our commitment is unshakeable and for life. Because Jesus has rehabilitated us, too, getting us to profess our love for him repeatedly to erase the repeated times we had denied him through our words or actions. And then, like Peter, he sends us forth too: to fulfill our role in his plan.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily May 1.
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