I Have Been Called Many Things

Third Sunday of Easter

Gospel of John 21:1-19

I have been called many things; son, brother, husband, and father are the obvious ones. These titles are mostly universal and, to be honest, do not require a whole lot of effort to obtain. They are assigned more than they are earned. For example, I was born a son and I absolutely had no say in that. I only became a brother when my parents decided they wanted another. As I have learned, becoming a husband is way easier than staying one, and, at its most base, a father is simply a matter of biology.

Though these titles in and of themselves represent goodness and are honorable they are not the titles that I necessarily prefer. For example, I much more prefer when my wife calls me lover instead of husband. Dad carries much more meaning to me than father, and though Daddy typically results in me reaching for my wallet, it is a title that softens my heart and brings me joy.

I would argue that a title earned is more valuable than a title given. Unfortunately, not all earned titles are necessarily good titles.

As much as I enjoy the titles of husband, father, and son I have also earned the titles of liar, people-pleaser, and manipulator. These titles represent the worst of me and though I work very hard to ensure that these titles are no longer applicable, the reality is that for some people I will never be known as nothing but.

At the Sea of Tiberius, in today’s Gospel, Simon Peter, son of John, was also known by many titles. He was first a fisherman, then a disciple, then a coward, when he denied Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest, and finally, through the restorative mercy of Jesus, a shepherd. Not unlike you or I, Peter, had many titles both given and earned.

However, today’s Gospel is less about title and more about relationship. From the beginning, as Peter and his 6 companions insulated themselves from the events of the crucifixion in the comfort of a familiar environment engaged in a familiar task, Jesus sought them out. At day break Jesus stood on the shore of the sea, calling to them, waiting for them to come ashore. There he stood in the early dawn, before the world was fully awake, and waited… waited for his friends.

He waited for them because he loved them.

This Gospel account reminds us that Jesus did not come to earth to condemn it. He came out of love in order to express that love in the only way in which we, in turn, could love him, and love one another. Jesus called the seven men in the boat “children”. A term that implies not only intimacy but also authority. Jesus intentionally sought them out, much like the good shepherd searching for the lost sheep, not merely as a responsibility but because they belonged to him, and he did not want to lose a single one.

To view today’s Gospel as just a commentary on the inability of the disciples to fully grasp the purpose, mission, and meaning of the resurrection, or merely as the restoration of a fallen and disgraced Peter, is to ignore how desperately Jesus desires a personal, intimate, and real relationship with those who follow him.

How easy is it for us, today as modern-day followers of Christ, to forget that reality… the reality that Jesus loves us and wants to be our closest friend! Too often we get caught up in our titles. Our titles of husband, wife, mother, father, employee, boss, or friend. The responsibilities associated with those titles often cloud our understanding of God’s love for us, and, in turn, we readily abandon our relationship with him for the comfort of what is familiar.

Or, which, I believe is even more harmful, we convince ourselves that we are indeed unlovable. We adopt titles of shame and wear them like armor, falsely believing that God’s love is incapable of penetrating the cold hard sin and guilt which burdens us, bends our backs, darkens our vision, and weighs down our steps. Our false understandings and misguided intentions reinforce the deception that Jesus does not want to love us, or worse that he is incapable of loving us.

My brothers and sisters, it would be easy for us to get lost in the subtleties of today’s Gospel. To allow ourselves to be consumed with the symbolic details of the number of fish caught, the significance of the charcoal fire, the call to feed and tend sheep verses lambs, or the different meanings of the Greek words for love would be an opportunity to miss the beauty of the Risen Christ’s call to be his friend. The beauty of today’s Gospel is not in the language, but in the purpose. Jesus arrived on the shore of the Tiberius Sea that fateful morning not to chastise or to discipline. Rather, he arrived there that morning to call his disciples to be his friend. To fellowship with him, to share in a meal with him, and most importantly to follow him.

That reality is as true today as it was 2000 some odd years ago. He is calling to you, to me, to each and every one of us, regardless of title, or sin, or guilt, or shame. He is calling us to fellowship with him, to share in a meal with him, and most importantly to follow him. He is calling us to be his friend.

Found in all three of today’s readings are what I like to call “Christian Chestnuts.”

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. John 6:60-69

Found in all three of today’s readings are what I like to call “Christian Chestnuts.” Phrases or sayings from Scripture that we, as followers of Christ, share with one another typically in times of difficulty or struggle and are intended to encourage and uplift. These phrases oftentimes can be found on decorative wall art in our homes or on cards we share with one another on special occasions. They are part of our vocabulary and though the truth’s they contain are powerful and relevant, oftentimes their familiarity can diminish their meaning.

In today’s first reading we hear Joshua’s final address to the people of Israel as he challenges them and reminds them that serving God is a choice, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” In St. Paul the Apostle’s Letter to Ephesians he admonishes, “husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church.” And in today’s Gospel, in response to Jesus’s inquiry regarding his disciple’s commitment, we hear Peter say, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

In these words, the challenge of Joshua, the admonition of St. Paul, and the profession of Peter, we find the elemental truth of our faith, that faith is first and foremost a choice. A choice to believe in a Truth that is quite contrary to the world and culture in which we live. A choice to love and serve with a sacrificial love that goes beyond reason. A choice to hope in something which we cannot yet see nor entirely grasp. Our faith is a choice. A continual choice that does not come without struggle, doubt, and sacrifice.

In light of recent events (I am referring to the Pennsylvania Attorneys General report on abuse in the Roman Catholic Church) I find today’s theme of choice, especially as it is presented in the words of today’s Gospel, particularly relevant. Once again we, as members of the Body of Christ, are confronted with the fallibility, sinfulness, and intentional harm caused by men who were and are supposed to represent the very best of us.

I have read and heard about the challenges that many are now facing as they struggle with the choice to continue to support a Church that has yet to fully disclose and rectify her secret sins. I myself struggle with the disappointment, anger, and frustration associated with this recent exposure of sin and its systematic denial. Yet, I encourage you all to find hope, just as I have, in Peter’s response to Jesus Christ, “Master to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Today’s Gospel is the last in the series of the Bread of Life Discourse found in the Gospel of John. For the past five Sundays our Gospel has centered on the revelation that Jesus is the Bread of Life and today we read about the disciples’ reaction to this revelation. For some, his proposal that those who follow him must eat his flesh and drink his blood, was too difficult to understand and too difficult to follow. Consequently, as the Gospel writer so succinctly points out, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” However, Peter, speaking for those who remained, answers Jesus’s call by simply stating, “to whom shall we go?… we have come to believe.”

Our challenge today is to emulate the belief and the words of Peter. Recognizing that the struggles and difficulties that we face, as the Body of Christ, are a result of sin, of which none of us are innocent. We must endeavor to live out our faith boldly, confidently, and humbly recognizing that none of us, no not one, merits eternal life. Rather, as so pointedly became evident in the last few weeks, all of us are dependent upon the forgiveness of God, through his Son, Jesus Christ, given to us, his Body and Blood, so that we may live in fellowship with him and with one another.

I would like to share with you the words I shared with a companion earlier this week as we shared a cup of coffee. I was asked, “How? How can you still remain Catholic?” I responded, “Because all of the Gospel, it’s message in its fullness, is contained in the doctrine and the teachings of the Church and I cannot leave that.”

Now, if you would be so kind to let me expound on those words, I would like to add, It would be wrong to allow sin, no matter the sin and no matter the person, to drive us away from Eucharist, which is in fact, the very remedy for our sin. Do not let us suppose for one moment that anyone here in this place is without sin. However, let us not forget that through the forgiveness offered to us, through Jesus’s life, passion, death, and resurrection we too will find hope in the fulfillment of the promises of Christ offered to us through his Body and Blood.

I would ask each and every one of you, myself included, that we do not allow this latest revelation of scandal and sin deter us from our endeavor to live as holy men and women of God. We, now more than ever, have a responsibility to live our faith vibrantly and visibly in a corrupt world. Yet, some of you may be asking, “What can we do, the people of God, to facilitate change in our church and in our world?” I propose that we accept the challenge of Joshua and confidently proclaim in our homes, our church, and in our public spaces, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

St. Mother Teresa started each day in prayer

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

It is said that St. Mother Teresa started each day in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  She is also recorded as saying, “You are called to do more than say, ‘I love you Jesus.’ You are called to be your brother’s and sister’s keepers.”  Her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament combined with her service of others embodies the spirit and purpose of today’s Solemnity, The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or more commonly referred to, Corpus Christi Sunday.

For us Catholics, today’s Solemnity is significant in that it draws our focus towards two manifestations of the Body of Christ:  the Holy Eucharist and the Church.  Much like the previous Sunday’s solemnity, The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we, the faithful, are called to celebrate one of the great mysteries of the Church.  We are called to reflect upon and profess our sacred belief that the Body of Christ is present and real in both the Eucharist and in his Church.

Throughout history, God has called all of humanity to himself.  It is his desire to make men holy and save them, but not just as individuals, but as a people, a people of God.  A people who are bound and connected to one another.  He created this bond through the establishment of a covenant.  A covenant he made with a people whom he called.

In today’s first reading we heard how God established this covenant with his people through Moses (the law) and through blood, the blood of animals.  This covenant was a pre-figure, a preparation for, the New Covenant, the eternal and perfect covenant instituted by Christ though his sacrifice upon the cross.  This New Covenant, ratified in the blood of Christ, allows all of humanity, both Jew and Gentile, to become one race, not in the flesh, but rather, in Spirit.

As the people of God we perpetuate this mystery, this New Covenant, through the celebration of the Eucharist.  As recorded in today’s Gospel, Jesus gave the supreme expression of his sacrifice for the salvation of men at the Lord’s Supper when he proclaimed, “This is my body which is given for you.” “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”  He transformed this Last Supper with his disciples into the memorial of his voluntary sacrifice, which, in turn, has been perpetuated throughout the Age of the Church by his Apostles and their successors.

We acknowledge the physical and mystical presence of Christ in the Eucharist when we stand before the Host and profess, “Amen.”  By our “Amen” we attest that the offering of bread and wine do indeed become, through the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, the real and physical Body and Blood of Christ.  We also attest, as the Catechism states, that those who have been nourished by the Body of Christ then also become the Body of Christ.

The mystical Body of Christ, the Church, are those who have been born of the Spirit and have been baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Through our profession of faith, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we then become the Church, the body of Christ.  Our role as the Body of Christ is to then engage in his work; the mission to make disciples of all nations.

It is my fear that as our society has become more polarized and divided, that we, the Church, have allowed ourselves to mimic, or copy this attitude of division.  We, as the Body of Christ, I fear, have succumbed to the lure of division and isolation and have, instead, turned our attention to the things which divide us, rather than the reality which unites us.  This reality which unites us all, is that each and every one of us are in need of salvation.  The salvation offered through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary.

On this day, this day of celebration, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, I challenge you to not only profess your faith with your “amen”, but that you also profess your faith in this mystery by your actions.

When you receive the Eucharist you are in fact allowing yourself to be transformed by that which you consume.  You are not only professing your faith in the great mystery but you are also committing yourself to be an active participant in the missionary work of the Church.  When you reach out to those who are suffering, to those who are hungry, sick, and imprisoned in doubt, fear, and shame you are in fact reaching out with the very hands of Jesus.

I ask you to reflect upon the example left to us by St. Mother Teresa.  Her daily devotion to prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament manifested in her a daily commitment to be the Body of Christ to those whom she served.  She embodied the reality that those who are nourished by the Body of Christ also become the Body of Christ.  Become the Body of Christ for someone else today.  Let them see in you this mystery…the mystery of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.