I would love to have my 22-year-old body again, for sure, but I have no desire to be 22 again emotionally or spiritually. At that age, I was a train wreck in so many ways. I did not yet know myself nor was I comfortable with myself. I had to figure out social situations, professional life and who was harmful in friendships and romances. If you are or were more put together at that age, my hat is off to you, but I had a lot to learn about loving and being loved. I see those same struggles in my college students. Recently I read their reflections on “What I Bring and What I Seek” in personal relationships. I was saddened when many declared they need relationships where other people focus on them; they cannot afford to give more than they get. As I made encouraging comments in the columns, I kept repeating the wise words of my dear, late neighbor Judy: “You can’t put an old head on young shoulders.”
[This Sunday’s] Gospel is an invitation to enter the aging process, because it helps us be aware of what is involved in mature love. We find the disciples back at their former occupation, fishing. Really? They apprenticed with the Son of God, for Pete’s sake, witnessed His Resurrection from the dead and were commissioned to forgive sins and they just go back to work as if the last three years never happened?!? Yep, that’s what we humans do sometimes. Notice that the disciples fish in darkness. While the secular fishing industry recommends this, darkness always symbolizes being apart from God in John’s gospel. No surprise then, they are unsuccessful. At dawn, Jesus redirects their efforts and they are overwhelmingly successful. I love how gently Jesus redirects them: “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” Little ones, have your efforts brought you nourishment or satisfaction? Where is your focus? When life has beaten us up, we may revert to the familiar of even the numbing, but Jesus prods us to evaluate if that brings us any fulfillment.
Mature love acts within the presence of Jesus. As we go about our daily tasks — fishing, nursing, driving, selling, nurturing — Jesus creates for us a tremendously effective “catch.” We do not know for sure what the number 153 symbolizes here but most theories point toward totality and universality. So many people will be drawn in by our efforts if we do them in cooperation with Jesus! However, we may frequently feel as if we have worked hard to be loving and do not have much to show for it. This is that problem with seeing properly that the Easter readings held up. Do we recognize Jesus when He appears to us? Do we notice the good that is happening all the time around us? Do we celebrate the love we are able to bring to others every day? Perhaps instead we operate in darkness, despairing and wringing our hands. Perhaps we have given up on loving and chosen selfishness, security and comfort instead. Are we fishing in the light or in darkness?
“Jesus said to them, ‘Come, have breakfast.'” So tender! So practical! Jesus feeds them as He did the 5,000, a story which, for the early Church, centered their lives on the Eucharistic meal. IF we are to love maturely, we need to be fortified with the Eucharist. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
Lastly, we hear the exchange between Peter and Jesus. Jesus gives Peter an opportunity to declare his love for Jesus three times before a charcoal fire, just as he denied his love for Jesus three times before another charcoal fire. We are each of us sinning and broken people throughout our lives. And we are still capable of love and leadership. Jesus gives us the chance to show that our love, not our sin defines our relationship with Him. Note too that Jesus gives Peter the job of being a good shepherd, a servant who is humble, caring and dies for the sheep. There is no prestige or power here, just real love. We are called to lose the freedom of youth, to do as we please. We replace it with the freedom of old age, to give our lives in love. I cannot check my phone every five minutes like my students do. I have people to talk with, meals to be made, hands to hold. I am not great at it all the time, but I do feel myself getting better with age. How about you?
- Where have you made a successful “catch” recently, i.e. where have you loved well with Jesus’ help?
- Have you or someone you know screwed up at something repeatedly, as Peter did? Create an opportunity for you or that person to show love repeatedly instead.