This is an excerpt from a homily given at Holy Rosary Cathedral in April at the installation Mass for members of the newly formed Council of Filipino Ministries.
Following Jesus’ rising from the dead, the women have seen the empty tomb, and Mary Magdalen and the disciples have experienced Jesus’ appearances to them: by that tomb, in the upper room and on the road to Emmaus.
By the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, the disciples returned to fishing for a living. Back to everyday life – or was it? Their hopes for success on that occasion were dashed; “that night they caught nothing” (Jn 21:3). Not, it seems, a great beginning after witnessing their risen Lord and master.
But, at daybreak a stranger on the shore beckons them to give it once last try: “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (Jn 21:6). At first, as always in the post-Resurrection encounters, the disciples failed to recognize who this was shouting to them from the shore. Even so, they obeyed him and were rewarded with a net full of fish!
Until Jesus’ word, the disciples had worked tirelessly but unsuccessfully. Only at the word of the One whom the beloved disciple recognized as “the Lord” did they meet with success. Their own efforts proved to be worthless, but obedience to his word brought fruitfulness. Obedience to his word. That’s the key.
Here the Gospel reminds us once again that it is the risen Lord’s presence with us, his word at work in the world, that is the cause of all good. He – and only he – is the source of grace and abundance. Indeed, the Evangelist’s mentioning the precise number of fish caught – 153 – makes this very point that abundance – or true success – comes only from God. And the number also represents all the species of fish known at the time. Now is fulfilled what Jesus had promised them: that they would be “fishers of men.” And not just a select few, but from every race, tribe, people, and nation.
The Gospel tells us God is with us in everyday life, in the midst of our labours, whatever they may be.
Recall the first words of Peter: “I am going fishing” (Jn 21:3). Not very earthshattering. Even so, these words remind us the most extraordinary things happen in the ordinariness, in the daily grind of everyday life.
Discipleship, following Jesus, is rarely spectacular. Rather, holiness is a road that passes through everyday realities. It is having a heart that loves in all circumstances, even the seemingly trivial.
We cannot, however, give this love to others if we first do not encounter that love in the person of Jesus. As Pope Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est, “Being Christian is … the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
Think now for a moment about the great apostle, Peter, who appears in this scene, as enthusiastic as ever. Except for Judas, no disciple in the Gospel is portrayed more harshly than Simon, son of John. At the outset of Jesus’ ministry, Peter had said: “Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8) – but little did he realize then just how sinful he could be! Full of fervor and enthusiasm, gruff Peter later even announced to everyone he would never abandon his master: “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Mt 26:35). Nevertheless, disown him he did – not many hours later, and not just once, but three times.
Even so, this shoddy betrayal, this lived experience of his own weakness, was an occasion of grace for Peter. Through it Peter acquired the humility later to entrust his whole self to the Lord.
Unlike the despairing Judas, Peter did not succumb to the temptation to give up. Confronted with his sin, he went out and wept bitterly after Jesus had looked upon him.
Peter is the model of the repentant disciple. From that day forward, he “followed” the master with a clear awareness of his own fragility. Admitting his own sin did not discourage him. Rather, it enabled him to move forward and do great things for his Lord, leading the apostolic community with prudence and courage. Like Peter, we are – all of us – ever in need of the Divine Mercy.