My Dear Friends:
Today the liturgy presents us with one of my favorite gospel scenes: the Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Why was Jesus waiting for the disciples on the shore? St. Gregory the Great offers an explanation:
We may ask why, after Jesus’ Resurrection, he stood on the shore to receive the disciples, whereas before he walked on the sea. The sea signifies the world, which is tossed about with various causes of tumults, and the waves for this corruptible life, the shore, by its solidity symbolizes rest. The disciples then, inasmuch as they were still upon the waves of this mortal life, were laboring on the sea; but the Redeemer, having by his Resurrection thrown off the corruption of the flesh, stood upon the shore.– St. Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Gospel of John
So, after being sent out earlier to “put out into the deep” to labor for the gospel and to find our true calling, now in the light of the resurrection, Christ is calling us to the security of the shore to find rest and to be fed by him. “Come and have breakfast,” he tells his disciples. Imagine spending those intimate moments with the Lord evocative of the Holy Eucharist where Christ breaks bread just as he did by that shore. Yet, after being fed, just as at the end of Mass, we are sent back out into those tumultuous waters to go into the deep waters to spread the word and to go deeper into our faith.
The verse from this gospel passage that has resonated the most in my vocation as a priest is found on the lips of St. Peter when he boldly proclaims, “I am going fishing (John 21:3).” I remember reading this gospel in my first weeks of seminary some 29 years ago along with a reflection written by a cardinal whom I had never heard of: Joseph Ratzinger. I remember sitting in the stillness of the oratory of our seminary and reading these lines from the future Pope Benedict XVI:
Rarely in a biblical passage can one detect the Easter joy of Jesus’s disciples so directly as in the gospel of Christ’s appearance by the [Sea of Galilee]. The freshness of the morning by the sea of Galilee gives us some inkling of the morning joy of the emerging Church in which everything is a matter of departure, beginning, hope. The [sea], with the broad expanse of its waters merging at the horizon with the blue of the sky, becomes an image for the Church’s open future in which the distance [between] heaven and earth come into contact: it is with confidence and full of hope that one can dare to set sail on the sea of the time that is to come, because Jesus is standing on the bank and because his word accompanies the journey.– Ministers of Your Joy, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 1988
I remember how way back then reading those words as a 17-year-old, first year seminarian, I could only dream about the great adventure that was to come. Now this month, I will celebrate my 20th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, and those words of St. Peter still resonate, and those dreams are still big: to rescue lost souls from the tumultuous waters of the world, to bring them to the safety of the shore, and to break bread for them just as Jesus did. God willing there will be 20 more years and 20 more after that, so there is plenty of fishing left, plenty of souls to rescue, and plenty of mouths to feed. In the light of the Resurrection, the great adventure of the priesthood, and our faith, is always just beginning…
God bless you all,