What Else is Offered?

A friend recently was told that they didn’t get a job and it seemed to them that this setback, in a series of setbacks, was simply overwhelming.

“I’ve got to come to terms with the fact that maybe this just isn’t going to happen this year,” she said to me.

I replied, “True enough. So if that’s the case, what else might God have in mind?”

I think that’s actually a powerful spiritual question to explore. What if in our darkest hour, when our deepest fears may in fact, be realized, we can look deeply to see if there’s something else that might be calling us.

I remember when I was thinking about the future when I was in my 20s I thought I was never going to meet someone and never be able to have children. I was really distraught about those future plans seemingly going awry. And while some of those fears were never realized, some indeed were. A friend who was rejected for the priesthood once said to me,

“All my life, I wanted to be a priest. Yesterday, I was told no. I now have to come to terms with the fact that I may NEVER be a priest.”

And indeed he did. And indeed while that moment was disappointing, something else was offered.

What if all your plans DON’T come to fruition?

In today’s age where school shootings capture the tragic headlines, I think many people, especially young people, think that the world is indeed over when their plans go up in smoke. Maybe the cause of much of the violence we see amongst young people are because they can’t deal with the fact that they messed up the 10th grade?

What if we always asked the question “What else is offered?” What kind of world would this be?

Nations might avoid peace instead of retaliating into war.

Families might let go of resentments instead of holding onto pain.

Broken relationships might lead us into new ways of seeing ourselves instead of looking only at a sorrowful past.

An academic failure might focus us on other scholarly endeavors that are more suited to our gifts and interests.

Painful experiences would still be painful, but we’d also be able to see healing, new hope, growth, and how resilient we really are.

The question is not how do we avoid pain and mistakes, rather it is what does pain and out mistakes lead us to also consider?

And we have nobody to look to to epitomize this than to Jesus. For looking at the cross reminds us that even when we make all the right decisions, pain and suffering will still await us. There is no life without some sacrifice. And Jesus who lives for us perfectly, shows us indeed that we can hold nothing back from each other in our quest to truly live.

So look at that cross again today. What do you see? Do you see a pathetic, broken, bloodied criminal? Or do you see God? A God who is willing to show us what lies beyond pain and suffering and accepts our imperfectness and refuses to be separate from us.

What else beyond death is offered on Calvary?

Everlasting life. And that sure and certain hope leads us to see that beyond our own cross much more is offered to us.

Do we dare to look?

Caught in Jesus’ Net

You can’t be something that you’re not.

It sounds like an easy platitude to follow–be yourself. But quite often we choose to be something other than who we really are. Something other than who God calls us to be.

Many of us try to choose a career or a way of life that will make us comfortable rather than something that we think will fulfill us. And when it doesn’t, we put on the mask. The mask that tells everyone that I’m doing OK. I’m just fine right here in my nice little life.

In fact for about ten years of my own life…I wore that mask.

I always felt like I should be working in the church. I was afraid to admit that I felt more alive when I was running retreats, participating at mass, doing community service, or going on a mission trip. I was afraid to even explore the idea of doing some form of ministry, so instead I chose broadcasting, a career that I thought was glamorous and lucrative and exciting. And I was pretty good at it too. But each day I went to work I found myself being less and less excited about who I was. I even interviewed Michael Jordan one day and found myself less than taken with the experience.

“You should be much more excited about this than you are!” a friend noted.

But I wasn’t.

I was a lot like Peter. Because Peter thinks that he’s fisherman. But Jesus knows that Peter is a Pope.

And I thought I was a broadcaster but Jesus knew that I was really a preacher and lay minister.

And like Peter, I had all the excuses, “I’m not good enough to minister to God’s people. Or smart enough. Or holy enough. Peter denied Jesus three times and I have my own sins that I sometimes still think make me unworthy.

And like Peter I know that Jesus is alive. Peter has witnessed the resurrected Jesus twice and this still hasn’t gotten him past his own fears and guilt and sin.

So Peter quits.

The Greek translation of the words “I’m going fishing” in today’s gospel can also mean, “I’m going back.”

I can just hear Peter…“It’s over. I’m not anything more than a simple fisherman. And a fisherman fishes!”

This is the one who ran, not walked, but ran to that tomb when he heard he was alive. He is the one who saw Thomas put his finger into his wounds and his hand in his side. Peter is the one who jumps into the water at the very sight of Jesus. But he’s also the one who decides to just go fishing–despite the good news of Jesus resurrection.

Now Peter and the others have been fishing all night and no fisherman that is worth his salt ever wants to be caught with an empty net. It seems that if Peter is a fishermen, then he is not very good at it. And if we remember back to the time when Jesus first called Peter and the disciples they weren’t too good at fishing then either.

And Peter seems to have learned nothing from that time when he said “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

But who is the real fisherman? Isn’t Jesus is the one who fishes for all of us time and time again? And when he catches Peter, just as he catches all of us, he catches a sinner.

But Jesus shows him that his net has enough room to love the entire world. 153 fish is no accident. It represents each country that was known to man at that time. There is room for all people, even sinners in Jesus’ net.

And then, Jesus asks Peter to come over to that charcoal fire–talk about awkward. When Jesus tells him to come over to that fire you can almost hear the hesitation…

“The charcoal fire, Lord?”

“Yes Peter, you know like the one where you denied me by three times while you warmed yourself.”

But it is there where Peter brings those denials with him, that he finds that Jesus love is strong enough to hold those sins and to forgive them. The net unlike that first catch at the call of the disciples does not tear this time—for this is the resurrected Jesus, who defeats sin and division and even death and whose love for us despite our own failings still reaches out again and again.

Sins sometimes weigh us down and cause our nets to be too heavy for us and we can feel like we’re drowning. But Jesus is able to bring our nets to the surface–he sees these sins for what they are and he dispenses with them –and feeds us with new life here each week, just as he feeds Peter by that charcoal fire.

When we experience that kind of love—shouldn’t we be transformed? Shouldn’t that kind of love make us all want to go out and bring that same love into the world?

Or are we content to just sit in a boat?

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

What Jesus is really asking is, “Simon—you love me more than FISHING, don’t you?”

Then feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Stop running away from me! I have already forgiven you. I will be all you’ll ever need. I will feed you so that you won’t ever be hungry so why are you FISHING?

Simon gets offended when Jesus asks that third time–because Simon is still simple Simon. And that Simon is not much of a Peter.

Simon is still too afraid to believe his love for Jesus will be enough. He is too afraid that he’ll deny Jesus all over again. He’s too caught up in his own sinfulness to be able to become the man that Jesus knows he can be—the man we see in our first reading today who when threatened with even prison and death goes right back into the temple and preaches about the Jesus who has indeed transformed Peter and who can transform all of us. And Peter even boasts that he stirred the place up so much that they considered him a troublemaker.

t’s an easy thing to buy into this idea that Jesus’ love might not be enough. Especially the past few weeks when we continue to hear about the sins that has weighed our church down. The cold, hard facts of our church’s pedophillia scandal has been all over the papers and it’s caused many people to question what we are all about. It’s a fair question, I suppose. Perhaps some of you have heard it from your friends too. It’s been a trying time and I know that I have had to answer many questions from people who wonder just how I can even call myself a Catholic without dying of embarrassment. And while many should be brought to justice for what they’ve done–it is up to each one of us to also believe that through us Jesus can heal this division. That we can reach out in love to those who have suffered at the hands of our own clergy. That our hands and feet can be those of Jesus reaching and walking with those caught up in anger and pain and sadness.

What is it that keeps us from thinking that we are not enough? What sends us back to the fishing boat? Fishing for more than Jesus and ending up feeling empty.

If we believe that Jesus is all that we need–what would others say about our faith then? Can’t we proclaim that Jesus is indeed all we need with our lives of commitment that will inspire others to see that our faith is not based in human beings who are doomed to make mistakes, but rather, our faith is based in the one who continues to defeat death and suffering and sin.

Our faith is based in the one who asks if we can love Him more than everything else?

Our faith compels us to come here each week and eat from this table and know that this meal–this Jesus, is enough for us to overcome anything.

And Jesus asks us “Do you love me enough to believe that?”

I hope we can believe that. Because if we can, the power of that love can indeed transform us into all that God knows we can be.

“Do you love me more than these?”

I do believe Lord, help my unbelief.

Peace Be With You

Today’s gospel places the disciples in the upper room after hearing about the two disciples who were on the road to Emmaus.

Jesus appears before them and utters those words of comfort: “Peace be with you.”

We say those words rather casually when we offer the sign of peace at mass but in this context can you imagine what they truly meant. The disciples thought they were seeing a ghost! Moreover, they were stuck immobile in the upper room unable to move, even with the Good News given to them by the women and by the two on the road to Emmaus. Indeed fear can keep us paralyzed.

So those words of peace are what calms their troubles. When I do imaginative prayer with this gospel I place myself as one of the disciples, I want to believe that Jesus is really there but then I doubt it.

But when he eats that piece of baked fish–I can almost hear myself saying “That’s the Jesus I know! He’s the one who was always eating and drinking with us! Those people threw him on the cross and killed him but he’s back and he’s still hungry! Somehow that figures!”

I could almost hear myself teasing Jesus, “Oh sure, save some for us will ya?” And Jesus would smile back at me and maybe even break a piece of fish off and hand it to me and perhaps even offer it and then chomp it down instead of giving it to me. “You want a piece, Mike? I’ll bet you do! Gulp! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

I also noticed in the reading of this gospel that Jesus merely says to look at his hands and feet–but there are no mention of any wounds here. Could he NOT have wounds? Could this Jesus be completely healed of those wounds and could that be what he is pointing to–so that the disciples believe that ultimately death cannot kill God and that resurrection makes one whole again?

When we are in our darkest moments do we believe that Jesus can enter into our dark fortresses that we build to try to isolate ourselves and keep others at bay? Do we believe that there is no door that Jesus can’t open and when he does, even when we aren’t expecting it, are we ready to accept the peace that he offers with that entrance and offer some small token of hospitality?

Or do we try to slam the door? We can try to keep God out but somehow the strong driving winds of Pentecost find us eventually. It seems to me that the peace that we all crave can be found if we just open ourselves up to not hiding from God–especially when we feel shameful or alone. We need God then more than ever and instead we decide to go into that upper room and stay there.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus utters. And we hear that.

What do we do when that invitation comes to experience the peace that comes along with realizing that God can defeat death and calm all our fears?

Do we start celebrating by eating and drinking with Jesus or do we just stay put in our own misery and faithlessness. Thinking that God couldn’t possibly do anything for us?