“Jesus said to them, “Come have breakfast.” (John 21:12)
Two weeks ago, the Lord called home Mother Angelica, and in the wake of her death, I was watching some of the highlights of her show. During one particular Bible Study she turned to her audience and said as only Mother Angelica could: “Have you every noticed what terrible fishermen the disciples were? They only caught fish when Jesus was around!” This is totally true as we hear about another miraculous catch, but this time after the resurrection. There is so much going on in today’s gospel that I leaned on our dear friend Father Benedict, as he likes to be called these days (you may also know him as Cardinal Ratzinger or his most famous name, Pope Benedict XVI). When I entered seminary, my parent’s gave me a book written by Cardinal Ratzinger and I must admit that I didn’t know who this cardinal was at the time. Yet I was transfixed by the reflections in this book, particularly his reflections on today’s gospel which he calls a morning of Easter joy for the disciples: “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, and hope.” Peter decides to go fishing, which brings him full circle (we’ll come back to this later), and the disciples join him not knowing they would all have an encounter with the Risen Christ. Our former pope focuses on two aspects of this narrative: “First is the encounter with Jesus after the long night of wasted effort. He stands on the bank; he has passed through the waters of time and death, and now he stands on the bank of eternity, but it is precisely from there that he sees his own and is with them. He asks the disciples for something to eat. This is part of the mystery of the Risen Christ, of the humility of God: he asks men and women for their contribution. He needs their assent. The Lord asks us to set out for him. He asks us to become fishers for him.” That is the beauty of our God, the humility as Pope Emeritus Benedict puts it, that he wants us to cooperate with him in the work of salvation. Just like he wanted to the Virgin Mary’s assent, he asks for ours as well as he sends us out to be fishers of men.
“But then something remarkable happens,” Pope Emeritus Benedict adds. “When the disciples return Jesus does not need their fish. He has already prepared breakfast and now invites the disciples to eat it, he is the host who provides them with food. The gift is mysterious but nevertheless not too hard to decipher. The bread is he himself. `I am the bread of life.’ He is the grain of wheat that dies…Jesus is the bread, and he is also the fish that for our sake has gone down into the water of death to look for us there and to find us. This is the lesson of the breakfast to which Jesus invites his own on the borderline of time and eternity, the eucharist. `Come and eat,’ he says to us and thus enable us already to cross the boundary of time and death.” Again, so many things happening in this gospel: discipleship, gathering of fish, recognition of the Lord, and ultimately participation in the Divine which we experience every Sunday: the Eucharist.
I promised I would come back to Peter’s full circle journey, so here we go. Remember that a few months ago in the gospel, Jesus used Peter’s boat to teach the crowds and then asked the reluctant fisherman to put out into deep waters for a catch after another wasted night. Peter protested but he obeyed and the result was the first of the miraculous catches. Jesus assured him that he would soon be fishing men, which brings us to today. Post-resurrection Peter is emboldened. He sets out to fish on his own even though it is fruitless, yet Jesus makes it fruitful. “Follow me,” Jesus says at the end of the gospel as almost to remind Peter that the fishing will only be bountiful if he follows in the Lord’s footsteps. This emboldened Peter is seen in the first reading when he stands up to the Sanhedrin who orders him and the apostles to stop preaching about Jesus. Peter who just two weeks ago denied he even knew the Lord and was afraid when we gathered to hear the gospel on Easter morning, is now standing up to the authorities: “The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree (Act 5:30).” So Peter goes from the cowardice of Good Friday to the boldness of Easter in proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. This is what love does. This is what being asked, “Do you love me?” three times does to a man. It takes Peter’s denial, his redemption and affirmation of his love for Jesus by the lake this morning to bring him to the boldness that he exerts in the first reading where he is willing to risk his life to proclaim the Risen Lord.
This is the boldness that all of us need as we gather to have breakfast with Jesus this morning. He needs us. He counts on us. Yet so many times we have those pre-Resurrection moments like Peter where we deny that we even know the name of the Lord. May this breakfast set us down the journey of true discipleship where we follow Jesus even where we “do not want to go.” We need the courage, the boldness, and the love that Peter expressed during that fateful breakfast on the shore. Let me ask Father Benedict to bring it home for us: “We want to ask the Lord that he will grant us to be in the shoal of the hundred and fifty-three fish of his unbroken net. We want to ask him to grant us to let ourselves be bound and led by him even against our will. We want to ask him that our eyes may be opened and that like Peter we recognize him and learn to say, full of joy: `It is the Lord.’ Amen.”*
*(“Ministers of Your Joy” by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 1988, pp.55-66)