Hi everyone – here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER – April 14, 2013. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/041413.cfm . Many thanks as always for reading, for your comments, feedback and for sharing the link to this blog. Really amazed at the number of visitors every week. God Bless, Fr. Jim
A couple of weeks ago, the front cover of the NY Post had a story with the headline screaming “SON BURN.” It uncovered how the son of the commissioner of the FDNY, who was hoping one day to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming a firefighter, had been found to have posted some tweets on twitter that were racist and anti-Semitic. After a few days of continued coverage and media pressure, the guy left his job with the FDNY EMT squad, and more than likely saw his dreams of working with the FDNY go up in smoke.
Around the same time, Tiger Woods also started getting some media attention, and once again not for golfing. It seems he has a new girlfriend. Dutifully the media interviewed other women that he had cheated on his wife with in the past to get their reactions, and issued warnings to this new woman about what a philanderer he is. There were “stories” (if you can call them that) asking, “What was wrong with her? How could she date such a person?”
It’s a weird thing . . . So often it’s easy to forget that these stories are about people, whose bad behavior was very public (or thanks to the media, became very public). And I’m not excusing those bad choices, bad decisions. The messages written by that aspiring firefighter were stupid, immature, and yes you can say even hateful (it’s a good reminder to all of us that use social media that, whatever you post, even something you think is just for your friends or relatives is really out there for public consumption). Tiger Woods cheating on his wife and kids, well, I don’t know him or his family, but from talking to people who’ve gone through similar incidents, the wounds that the entire family experiences in these incidents are devastating (and that’s without it being on your newspaper’s front page).
But what is equally disappointing is how both of these people have been tried, convicted and sentenced in the court of Public Opinion. And it’s almost like they have nothing to look forward to … quite simply they’re being portrayed as being “done.” They are seemingly forever remembered for their failures. You get the sense that there’s an expectation the one guy should never be able to get a job (how could anyone in their right mind hire someone who wrote such things?) or ever be in a relationship again.
Sadly, that’s how the world seems to operate today, isn’t it? It’s bad enough that people make mistakes … but it’s amazing watching how vindictive we can become. With these types of unforgiving attitudes, people become trapped in their pasts. .. they are defined by their faults and failings. Constantly reminded of their mistakes. There’s no opportunity for forgiveness, or healing or growth. Which is incredibly ironic considering all of us are sinners, all of us have failed, all of us need redemption.
With these types of attitudes I wonder, if Saint Peter had been one of the candidates in the papal conclave that took place a few weeks ago, how likely would it be that our first Pope would even have gotten a single vote this time around? Throughout the Gospels, we see him talking without thinking (on one occasion, Peter so misunderstands what Christ is saying to him that Jesus tells him, “Get behind me Satan”). Peter is a bit impulsive at other times, which earns him further rebuke. Most damning of all – during the Passion of Jesus Christ – Peter, who is supposed to be the “rock” upon which Jesus was hoping to build his Church, denies even knowing Christ.
It’s hard to recover from something like that. Which is why today’s Gospel has always been such a moving and hopeful one for me. Because God doesn’t treat us like we sometimes treat one another. God doesn’t look at our failures, our mistakes. He knows about them, surely; but the Lord doesn’t look for reasons to disqualify us. He’s constantly looking at our potential. He’s constantly looking at us as the beloved sons and daughters he created us to be. He knows that when the reality of our bad choices, our mistakes and missteps finally occur to us; when the shame, the embarrassment, the pain comes rushing in from those things, we can become isolated and alone – believing the lies of that master liar, the devil (who helped us make those bad choices in the first place) to now believe there’s no hope, there’s no chance… that we, too, are “done.”
Which is what’s happening here. Think about it, the apostles had already received and even experienced the amazing, glorious news that Jesus has come back from the dead. The man they witnessed being brutally tortured, crucified and killed on the cross was alive again. You would think that such an experience would be welcomed, would be exhilarating, would be life changing… But look at the beginning of today’s Gospel. Not long after this event – which forever changes human history – happens, what’s Peters reaction? I’m going fishing? What’s up with that?
Perhaps he’s feeling guilty … perhaps he’s feeling ashamed. He knows that Jesus must realize by now what a failure he is. One of the most brutal lines, to me, in the Passion narrative is when Peter denounces Christ for the third time saying, after being asked “You know this guy Jesus, don’t you– you were with him”Peter responds “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” Just as he says this, the cock crows, and the Lord turns and looks at Peter. Right then (a second too late) Peter knows he’s let Jesus down… So, after the resurrection, Peter is probably figuring that Jesus has just been too nice not to bring that up. And, maybe in his mind and heart, he feels his opportunity to be that leader, that rock ended as soon as the cock crowed. And no wonder, really. So he returns to what he knew before he met Jesus. To the life had had before he found his life with Christ. He returns to the life of a fisherman.
But Jesus doesn’t see it that way. He’s not stuck in the past, or hampered by Peter’s (or our) past failures… He meets Peter right there, in his isolation. And, beautifully, first Christ reminds Peter – that he will accomplish great things when he listens to Jesus and does what Jesus asks him to do – he demonstrates this by repeating the same miracle that got Peter’s attention 3 years earlier, with that huge catch of fish. And then, with Jesus’ repeated question to Peter, “Peter do you love me?” he gives Peter the chance to, three times, acknowledge him – canceling out, if it were, the three times Peter had denied him … Three times Peter professes “Yes Lord, you know I love you” – not to convince Jesus of anything – Jesus already knows Peter’s heart … but so that Peter himself can come to that deeper awareness that his Love is greater than his past doubts, and failures… Peter is reawakened to the potential that the Lord once saw in him. He remembers what it was that Jesus desired for him – to be that rock, to be the first Pope of the Church. And he can then attempt to fulfill that call (albeit a bit more humbled than he was before).
God doesn’t look at our failures, our mistakes – or, at least, it doesn’t end there. The Lord isn’t looking for reasons to fail us, or exclude us or cast us aside as unworthy. Instead, He’s constantly looking at our potential, at our innate goodness, at our best tries, our near misses, our clumsy attempts at doing His will. He’s constantly looking at us as the beloved sons and daughters we are to Him. Unlike Judas – who believed that final lie that for him there could be no hope, no second chances, no forgiveness – through God’s grace, Peter was able to have a second (third, or fourth — who’s counting???) Another chance, to start over; and he found that Jesus was serious when he commanded us to forgive 70 times 7 times… And was serious that He was willing to forgive us that many times, as well. Will we continue to let our pasts and our failures define us? Or, instead, will we allow that radical love of Christ to restore us, to transform us, to bring us to Him?