Third Sunday of Easter – Year C – May 5th, 2019
Acts 5:27b-32; Ps 30; Rev 5:11-14; Jn 21:1-19
Christ is love that asks to be followed
Acts 28:16-28; Ps 96; Rm1: 1-1-16b; Jn 8:12-19
Christ is the light of charity for the world
To explain today’s Gospel passage, I ‘ll use the Fisherman’s Ring. Since the first Christian millennium, the ring is the Bishop’s own sign. The Ring, which is delivered to the Pope on the day of the beginning of his Petrine ministry, is called the Fisherman’s Ring. Carrying the image-seal of Saint Peter and the boat with the net, it has the meaning of the seal ring which authenticates faith, and of the task to confirm the entrustment of his brothers to Peter (cf. Lk 22:32). It is called the “Fisherman’s ring” because Peter is the fisherman Apostle (cf. Mt 4, 18-19; Mk 1: 16-17) who, having had faith in Jesus ‘word (cf. Lk 5, 5) has brought ashore the nets of the miraculous fishing (cf. Jn 21: 3-14).
Christ’s mission becomes that of His Vicar and ours so that we filially recognize in him the primacy of love: fishing our brothers from death. The institutional aspect of the church, represented by Peter, is founded on love and accepted and granted forgiveness. The charismatic aspect, represented by the beloved disciple, is the soul and measure of every institution: it is love which lives forever. Everything else is “functional”: it is to be accepted or rejected whether it is useful to love or not. The Church has the freedom of love as its principle and end.
“Mass in communion with the Pope is a memorial of the immense love of your Son. Let the entire human family, through the missionary activity of the Church, be able to enjoy the fruit of redemption” (Prayer above the offer in the Mass of the beginning of the Pontificate).
What applied to the first Christian community, gathered around Jesus and called by him to bear witness to God’s mercy by bringing conversion and forgiveness to “all peoples”, applies also to the present Church. Even today the vocation of the Church is to make God’s merciful face shine in the world, to bring the peace of the risen Christ to a humanity that has never been denied but assumed with all its wounds and risen by the joy of forgiveness.
- The risen Christ is always present among his own
Three Sundays ago at Easter, the first of Sundays, we have celebrated the victory of the Word of Life that is Light. This light has conquered darkness. It is the beginning of a life that is not subject to the wear and tear of time because it is in the eternal youth of God. We have celebrated the victory of a Love that is stronger than death and stronger than the sin that has let death and its darkness enter the world.
Last Sunday, the second Sunday of Easter, we have been reminded of Jesus’ tenderness toward Thomas, his passionate disciple who was not there when Jesus appeared for the first time after the resurrection. The apostle, confronted with the concreteness of the Redeemer’s presence, recognized him and pronounced the most beautiful words of the Christian faith: “My Lord and my God”. Then Jesus looked at Thomas with eyes full of mercy. Later, with a look that gives peace and trust, instills courage and audacity, and unleashes irresistible passion and strength, He invited all the apostles to go to the limits of the earth to announce the Gospel, the best and most beautiful news that men need in any place and in any time.
In this third Sunday of Easter Jesus manifests his presence only to some of the apostles to confirm their vocation to be taken on board in and by an infinite, merciful, and faithful love like the fish of the miraculous catch. It is not only an apparition to confirm them in the certainty of His Resurrection. It is also a renewal of the mission to be fishermen of men.
With his apparitions, Jesus shows a saintly and loyal Presence. As He did then, today Jesus invites us to be with him (Jn 21:4) on the lake’s shore.
With his Presence Jesus shows that the given Love conquers death for him and for his friends, Judas included. Let’s not forget that when Judas betrayed Him, Jesus called him” Friend”. How could we not think that this word had pierced the traitor’s heart? Maybe in the last minute of his life Judas, remembering the word and the kiss, felt that the Master still loved him and would have welcomed him among the others in the new life.
At the Last Supper, Jesus said to all the Apostles “I will no longer call you slaves; I’ll call you friends” (Jn 15:15). Jesus gives to us the same gift, He calls us “friends”.
Because we are his friends, Jesus speaks to us as a friend does. He asks us to love one another presenting his love as the source, the example and the measure of our reciprocal and brotherly love. (Jn 15:12)
In conclusion, we can say that the Resurrected invites his Apostles and us to be with Him. We must” be” with Him, grafted in Him, as the shoots of the vine, to be able to have eternal Life. “We must be with Jesus to be able to be with the others” (Benedict XVI to the Fraternity of Saint Charles Borromeo, February 13, 2011). Pope Francis completes this sentence inviting us to choose to trust Jesus” Peter says “Well, alright! At your word, I will let down the nets”. Be careful! He does not say at my strength, my calculations, my experience as an expert fisherman, but rather “at your word”, at the word of Jesus! And the result is an incredible catch, the nets are filled to the point that they almost tear. And when I say this, I want to be sincere and to tell you that I do not come here to sell you an illusion. I come here to say there is a Person who can keep you going, trust in him! It is Jesus! Trust in Jesus! And Jesus is not an illusion!” (Pastoral visit to Cagliari, September 22, 2013)
Being with him, let’s partake of the love that lasts forever and is for everyone.
- Power that comes from love: Do you love me?… I love you…Feed my flock.
After the meal, with the bread offered by Jesus and the fish of the miraculous catch, the dialog between Jesus and Peter begins. Jesus reminds Peter of his betrayal. It was enough to have some words spoken by a gossipy servant to make him fall. This reminder is painful for Peter, but Jesus asks neither clarification nor justification. He asks him only if he loves Him because it is not important that his future pope is strong or consistent. He wants only to know if he loves Him and if he still wants to follow him. The one who will become the Bishop of Rome who presides over charity receives his assignment through a “test” on charity. To Peter who was offering his pain, Christ confirms his love.
Our journey toward sanctity is not done without betrays but it is necessary that we renew everyday our friendship with Christ.
Jesus’ three questions are different because Jesus follows Peter’s answers.
To the first question Do you love me (from the Greek agapas me from agapao) more than these? Peter answers not using the right word. In fact, while Jesus uses a verb seldom utilized, agapao the verb of the absolute love, Peter uses a simple verb, the one indicating friendship and affection (from the Greek fileo ): I love you(filo se) and doesn’t make any difference between him and the other apostles.
The second question is “Simon, son of John, do you love me (agapas me)?” Jesus has understood Peter’s difficulties and asks less. There is no comparison with the other apostles, but the request for absolute love (agape) is still there. Peter answers again that he loves him, but in using again the verb fileo (the one more reassuring, more human: I’m your friend, you know, I love you) he demonstrates that he doesn’t understand well what Jesus is asking. Peter doesn’t dare to speak of love, he prefers to speak of friendship and affection.
In the third question, Jesus changes the verb and lowers his expectations on Peter. He comes closer to his unsure heart, accepts his limits and uses Peter’s verb “Peter fileis me?” He asks him affection if love is too much, or at least friendship if love is too frightening. Jesus demonstrates his love lowering three times the requirements of love and slowing down his pace (as He does on the road to Emmaus) to match the one of the disciples.
Jesus accepts that Peter “loves” Him in the only way the disciple thinks he can do it. Since Jesus knows that Peter truly and completely loves him, he gives him the supremacy of love to take care of the Church. Jesus put on Peter’s shoulders the power that comes from charity (agape). Peter, who was able to recognize his misery and to receive Christ’s love, will be able to serve and to take care of his brothers in need of love and truth. Peter is ready, he will know how to help his poor brothers, because he has accepted his poverty and has asked for the love of the Master who invited him to be forever his follower.
- What about us?
To Peter and to every one of us Jesus says the final word of today’s gospel: “Follow me”. Together with Peter let’s follow Christ without forgetting a fundamental fact: Jesus Christ appears first to the women, his loyal followers, not to the disciples or to the apostles whom He had chosen to be the carriers of his Gospel into the world.
To the women, He gives the mystery of the Resurrection making them the first witnesses of this truth. Perhaps He wants to reward their sensibility to his message and their strength which had taken them up to the Calvary.
Perhaps He wants to show a fine side of his humanity. With grace and kindness, He approaches and helps the ones who counted less in the world. We can read this in the gospel of Matthew 28:9-10 “And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” In fact, this will happen, as we can see in today’s Gospel. Even the apparition to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:11-18) is of a remarkable finery either from the side of the woman, who reveals her passionate and reserved dedication to Jesus and from the side of the Master who treats her with kindness and goodness.
The Church will have to take inspiration from this priority given to the women at Easter. Over the centuries it had been able to count on them for their life of faith, prayer, and apostolate.
I think that the consecrated Virgins are the example that a life offered to God in consecration makes sure that love is the completion that makes faith and charity alive and operative. (Gal 5; 6) This is what Saint Augustine wrote “This means, in the end, to believe in Christ and to love Christ” (Exposition in Ps 130, 1; Pl 37, 1704). The consecrated Virgins with their life show that the love for God pushes us to transfer this love to all our brothers and sisters. “Because of their particular vocation, women who receive the virginal consecration in the Church also draw from God’s love: for the love of Christ, supremely loved, they renounce the experience of human marriage to be united to Him with a marital bond, to experience and to bear witness in the virginal condition (1 Cor 7, 34) to the fruitfulness of this union, and to anticipate the reality of definitive communion with God to whom all humanity is called (Lk 20, 3436) “(Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Society of Apostolic Life, Instruction on the Ordo Virginum Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, No. 18, 8 June 2018).
Practical advice: I’d like to invite you to repeat often this prayer by Saint Augustine: “Lord, guard our hearths united forever so that in following your path our affection becomes charity”
Saint Augustine of Hippo
Exposition on Psalm 130
- “Out of the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice” (ver. 1). Jonas cried from the deep; from the whale’s belly. He was not only beneath the waves, but also in the entrails of the beast; nevertheless, those waves and that body prevented not his prayer from reaching God, and the beast’s belly could not contain the voice of his prayer. It penetrated all things, it burst through all things, and it reached the ears of God: if indeed we ought to say that, bursting through all things, it reached the ears of God, since the ears of God were in the heart of him who prayed. For where hath not he God present, whose voice is faithful? Nevertheless, we also ought to understand from what deep we cry unto the Lord. For this mortal life is our deep. Whoever has understood himself to be in the deep, cries out, groans, sighs, until he be delivered from the deep, and come unto Him who sits above all the deeps . . . . For they are very deep in the deep, who do not even cry from the deep. The Scripture said, “When the wicked hath reached the depth of evils, he despised.” Now consider, brethren, what sort of deep that is, where God is despised. When each man sees himself overwhelmed with daily sins, pressed down by heaps and weights, so to speak, of iniquities: if it be said unto him, Pray unto God, he laughs. In what manner? He first said, If crimes were displeasing unto God, should I live? If God regarded human affairs, considering the great crimes which I have committed, should I not only live, but be prosperous? For this is wont to happen to those who are far in the deep, and are prosperous in their iniquities: and they are the more plunged in the deep, in proportion as they seem to be happier; for a deceitful happiness is itself a greater unhappiness . . . .
- “Lord, hear my voice. O let Thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint” (ver. 2). Whence doth he cry? From the deep. Who is it then who cried? A sinner. And with what hope doth he cry? Because He who came to absolve from sins, gave hope even to the sinner down in the deep. What therefore followed after these words: “If Thou, Lord, will be extreme to mark what is amiss, O Lord, who may abide it?” (ver. 3). So, he hath disclosed from what deep he cried out. For he cried beneath the weights and billows of his iniquities . . . .He said not, I may not abide it: but, “who may abide it?” For he saw that nigh the whole of human life on every side.was ever bayed at by its sins, that all consciences were accused by their thoughts, that a clean heart trusting in its own righteousness could not be found.
- But wherefore is there hope? “For there is propitiation with Thee” (ver. 4). And what is this propitiation, except sacrifice? And what is sacrifice, save that which hath been offered for us? The pouring forth of innocent blood blotted out all the sins of the guilty: so great a price paid down redeemed all captives from the hand of the enemy who captured them. “With Thee,” then, “there is propitiation.” For if there were no mercy with Thee, if Thou chosest to be Judge only, and didst refuse to be merciful, Thou wouldest mark all our iniquities, and search after them. Who could abide this?
Who could stand before Thee, and say, I am innocent? Who could stand in Thy judgment? There is, therefore, one hope: “for the sake of Thy law have I borne Thee, O Lord.” What law? That which made men guilty. For a “law, holy, just, and good,” was given to the Jews; but its effect was to make them guilty. A law was not given that could give life, but which might show his sins to the sinner. For the sinner had forgotten himself and saw not himself; the law was given him, that he might see himself. The law made him guilty, the Lawgiver freed him: for the Lawgiver is the Supreme Power . . . . There is, therefore, a law of the mercy of God, a law of the propitiation of God. The one was a law of fear, the other is a law of love. The law of love gave forgiveness to sins, blotted out the past, warned concerning the future; forsaked not its companion, by the way, became a companion to him whom it led on the way. But it is needful to agree with the adversary, whilst thou art with him in the way. For the Word of God is thine adversary, as long as thou dost not agree with it. But thou agreed when it has begun to be thy delight to do what God’s Word commanded. Then he who was thine adversary became thy friend: so, when the way is finished, there will be none to deliver thee to the Judge. Therefore, “For the sake of Thy law, I have waited for Thee, O Lord,” because thou hast condescended to bring in a law of mercy, to forgive me all my sins, to give me for the future warnings that I may not offend . . . . “For the sake,” therefore,” of” this “law I have waited for Thee, O Lord.” I have waited until Thou may come and free me from all need, for in my very need Thou hast not forsaken the law of mercy . . . . “My soul hath waited for Thy word.” . . .
- We, therefore, trust without fear on the word of Him who cannot deceive. “My soul hath trusted in the Lord, from the morning watch even unto night” (ver. 5). This morning watch is the end of night. We must, therefore, understand it so that we may not suppose we are to trust in the Lord for one day only. What do you conceive to be the sense, then, brethren? The words mean this: that the Lord, through whom our sins have been remitted, arose from the dead at the morning watch, so that we may hope that what went before in the Lord will take place in us. For our sins have been already forgiven: but we have not yet risen again: if we have not risen again, not as yet hath that taken place in us which went before in our Head. What went before in our Head? Because the flesh of that Head rose again; did the Spirit of that Head die? What had died in Him, rose again. Now He arose on the third day; and the Lord as it were thus spoke to us: What ye have seen in Me, hope for in yourselves; that is, because I have risen from the dead, ye also shall rise again.
- But there are who say, Behold, the Lord hath risen again; but must I hope on that account that I also may rise again? Certainly, on that account: for the Lord rose again in that which He assumed from thee. For He would not rise again, save He had died; and He could not have died, except He bore the flesh. What did the Lord assume from thee? The flesh. What was He that came Himself? The Word of God, who was before all things, through whom all things were made. But that He might receive something from thee, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” He received from thee, what He might offer for thee; as the priest received from thee, what he may offer for thee when thou wish to appease God for thy sins. It hath already been done, it hath been done thus. Our Priest received from us what He might offer for us: for He received flesh from us, in the flesh itself He was made a victim, He was made a holocaust, He was made a sacrifice. In the Passion He was made a sacrifice; in the Resurrection He renewed that which was slain, and offered it as His first-fruits unto God, and said unto thee, All that is thine is now consecrated: since such first-fruits have been offered unto God from thee; hope therefore that that will take place in thyself which went before in thy first-fruits.
- Since He then rose with the morning watch, our soul began to hope from hence: and how far? “Even unto night;” until we die; for all our carnal death is as it were sleeping. . . .
- And he returns to this,” From the morning watch let Israel hope in the Lord.” Not only “let Israel hope,” but “from the morning watch let Israel hope.” Do I then blame the hope of the world, when it is placed in the Lord? No; but there is another hope belonging to Israel. Let not Israel hope for riches as his highest good, not for health of body, not for abundance of earthly things: he will indeed have to suffer tribulation here, if it should be his lot to suffer any troubles for the sake of the truth . . . .
- “For with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption” (ver. 7). Admirable! This could not have been better said in its own place, on account of the words, “From the morning watch.” Wherefore? Because the Lord rose again from the morning watch; and the body ought to hope for that which went before in the Head. But, lest this thought should be suggested: The Head might rise again because It was not weighed down with sins, there was no sin in Him; what shall we do? Shall we hope for such a resurrection, as went before in the Lord, whilst we are weighed down by our sins? But see what followed: “And He shall redeem Israel from all his sins” (ver. 8). Though therefore he was weighed down with his sins, the mercy of God is present to him. For this reason, He went before without sin, that He may blot out the sins of those that follow Him. Trust not in yourselves, but trust from the morning watch . . . .