April 9, 2013 // Uncategorized

Come Holy Spirit!

We continue our spiritual journey through the season of Easter. This coming Sunday, the Third Sunday of Easter, we will hear another of the appearances of the risen Jesus to the disciples, the third such appearance according to the evangelist, Saint John. This one takes place not in Jerusalem, but back in Galilee, where our Lord’s public ministry began. It is at a familiar site, the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. We remember that it was there that Jesus originally called most of his apostles who were fishermen on that sea.

Hearing this Sunday’s Gospel, we naturally remember a similar miracle at the Sea of Galilee earlier in Jesus’ ministry. We read about it in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 5. Like the miracle in this Sunday’s Gospel, there is a miraculous catch of fish after the apostles had spent all night fishing, but catching nothing. Jesus told Peter to put out into the deep, to let down the nets for a catch. And they caught a great number of fish. It was after that miracle that Jesus had told Peter that he would be a fisher of men.

Now, after the resurrection, Peter and the disciples are again out fishing through the night without success. Jesus appears to them from the shore. They don’t recognize Him. He tells them to cast the net over the right side of the boat. They catch so many fish that they couldn’t pull the net into the boat; they had to drag it to the shore. It was at that moment, the moment of the miracle, that the beloved disciple recognized Jesus and said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” It is interesting that it is the beloved disciple who is the first to recognize Jesus. On Easter Sunday morning, he was also the first to believe in the resurrection when he saw the empty tomb. It is significant that the one who loves the most is the first to believe and to recognize the risen Jesus.

What does this miraculous catch of fish mean? Well, if we think back to the first miraculous catch, when Jesus told Peter that he would become a fisher of men, the meaning becomes clear. It symbolizes the Church’s mission to gather people into His Church. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church often dwelt on the mystical meaning of this episode, seeing the boat as the Church, whose unity is symbolized by the net which is not torn. The sea is the world. Peter in the boat stands for the supreme authority in the Church.

But what about the fish? The evangelist tells us that they caught 153 fish. This is a symbolic number and there are dozens of possible interpretations of the number 153. Saint Augustine says the number is a great mystery. Saint Jerome tells us that Greek zoologists had identified 153 different species of fish, so the number represents all the peoples of the world, of every nation. There is no question — the fish represent people, the elect, from every people and nation, who come into the Church, at the invitation of Jesus, through the ministry of the apostles and their successors who are indeed “fishers of men.”

Through the centuries, since the resurrection of Jesus, the Church has grown. There are now over a billion Catholics in the world. The embrace of the Church is universal, as universal as the love of God in Jesus Christ. Today we are called to be fishers of men, to bring people to Christ, to welcome them to His Church. Our mission is one of evangelization in the world, in the great sea where there are multitudes of fish. We carry out this mission from the boat which is the Church, with Saint Peter’s successor, Pope Francis, at the helm, and with the bishops, the successors of the apostles, at his side. But the mission belongs to the whole Church, to all of you. It is the mission of bearing witness to the Lord Jesus and to His resurrection from the dead.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of the Church’s wonderful evangelizing work in the early decades of our history. In this Sunday’s first reading, we hear of Peter and the apostles being brought before the Sanhedrin for questioning. They had been preaching the resurrection. They were warned not to speak any more about Jesus. But they courageously replied to the high priest: “We must obey God rather than men.” They explained that they were His witnesses, as is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enlivened their apostolic commitment and sustained them in their trials. The Holy Spirit enlightened them in their decisions and assured the effectiveness of their mission. The Holy Spirit gave them courage to witness to their faith in Christ, even when it entailed suffering, and even martyrdom.

My brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit continues to strengthen the Church in her mission. I am reminded of this truth during these weeks of celebrating the sacrament of Confirmation throughout our diocese, as our young people receive an increase of the gifts of the Holy Spirit through this beautiful sacrament. They receive the special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as witnesses of the Risen Lord. We rejoice with them as they are more firmly united to Christ and His Church through Confirmation. Let us pray for them during this holy season of Easter.

May the Holy Spirit guide us and continue to bestow His gifts upon the Church in our diocese and throughout the world!

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