Bishop Raica - Third Sunday of Easter

By Bishop Steven J. Raica

"Do you love Me"

On May 1, Bishop Raica marked the third Sunday of Easter with Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul. The complete text of his homily follows herein.

Dear friends, the readings the Church puts before us recall again the journey of the disciples to embrace the resurrection of Jesus. It was a bit bumpy at times. They bumped into Him again on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where He was preparing breakfast - some roasted fish! There was no question in their minds that Jesus was raised from the dead. They saw and heard Him right in front of them. It was real, not an illusion or a dream. It was another verification for them as they sorted out their companionship with Christ. Knowing their shortcomings, they knew they had missteps - they flubbed up, for they didn’t always grasp what Jesus was saying to them. Staying with the Lord, what was at one time blurry, now came into greater focus. They were more than convinced. They were eyewitnesses!

Our first reading, too, highlights the significant point that there was an effort afoot to ignore or deny the fact of Christ. The authorities caution the apostles not to speak about this person. Even in our own day, that methodology may vary but the goal is still the same - to make our experience of Jesus so personal, so irrelevant, that there would be no basis in fact of Christ. How important this name would be that it even threatens civic authorities. However, the fact remains that the name of Jesus was known to the disciples and to early Christians, even down to the present day. The ongoing presence of Christ, risen from the dead, is with us in our journey, too. It is a fact that the world continues to grapple with, a fact that cannot be ignored. The fact that Christianity is more than an idea, or a nice way of thinking, illustrates that a real event becomes part of who we are. This is our blessing because those who follow Christ live in a new way – a more complete way, a more fulfilled way even in the midst of tragedy and suffering. Christians find meaning and the means to proceed beyond suffering and pain to the experience of interior joy and serenity right up to the fulfillment of life’s desires.

Then, the Gospel illustrates two episodes that merit a comment. The first is the fishing expedition. Once again, Peter, the master fisherman, never catches any fish. Perhaps, it is a reminder of the fact that our Lord told Peter he would be catching “men”! But, upon hearing the invitation to lower the nets, they do so reluctantly. Suddenly, they recognize the presence of Jesus again! How beautiful this is! Jesus appears at the most unlikely of moments: in our weariness, in our unsuccessful work, our failures and disappointments. There He is! The fish are the reminder of the presence of Christ for them, isn’t it? 

I recall an Easter some years ago when I called up some friends of mine living in Sardegna, Italy: Biagio and Miguela, a couple whose wedding I attended. I wished them a Happy Easter. I said, “I suppose you had lamb or leg of goat for your Easter dinner?” They said, “No”! They recounted this very passage with Jesus roasting fish on the fire on the shore when the disciples recognized His presence. Biagio said, “No! We had fish so we could recognize Christ with us this Easter.” I thought, “How beautiful!” So, for several years, I had fish for Easter! A nice walleye or white fish – freshwater fish up nort – and recalled this Gospel passage that Jesus was with us again!

You see, these are the kinds of things our faith does to us. We take the simple stories of the Gospel and begin to incorporate them into our lives. We recognize the fact that the stories are not about a past, but about us today. We can recognize our Lord with us today just as we do at this Mass with the breaking of bread.

Then, we get to the final part of the story when Peter has a redeeming moment before Christ. Remember the Passion? Peter had denied Christ three times, even when he assured Christ he would “never do such a thing.” Now, I’m sure if I had just denied knowing my best friend and he approached me and said, “Steve, do you love me?” I’d be totally undone! But, here’s Peter before Christ aware of his inadequacy, his sin, his missteps, his failures. Our Lord asks him, “Do you love Me?” “You know Lord, I love You,” Peter replies. “Feed My lambs, feed My sheep,” our Lord urges.

People who are in love ask that question frequently. Once is not enough. “Do you love me?”  “Yes, I do!” It’s as if we can never hear it enough. We want that question asked. It brings back the very reasons we made for loving someone or continuing to love someone: some are by choice; others because of family or relationship. The question is the same: “Do you love me?” 

I often think that the sacrament of penance is such an event in our lives. We go through ,confession and we say, “Bless me, Father … the last time I came to confession was ‘x’ amount of time ago. Here are my sins … I pledge not to do them again.”

We have the very moving format for the confession of sins, but it is not so much about the sin as it is about God’s abundant mercy, God’s love. God, as it were, waiting for us. Why are we afraid of His mercy? His love? It is as though we are hearing these words of our Lord, once spoken to Peter, now spoken to us as penitents: “Do you love Me?” “Yes, Lord, I love You above everything.” “Then experience My love and the caress of mercy for your life.” We need it! We say “I love you” to Christ every time we come to Mass or participate in some action that reflects the Gospel – a fish dinner?

This Sunday, for the disciples and for us, is one more way to connect the dots – the importance of the holy name of Jesus. Do we honor it, or, as one priest would tell me, when we misuse the name, “are we jeopardizing our membership in the Holy Name Society?”  

We recognize the fact that Jesus is at work in our lives in the most subtle but clear ways – the unexpected catch of fish; cooking breakfast on an open fire on the beach. But also in the sunrise, or in the most needed words I stumble across in my reading, or hear something someone says to me today. We need it all to help us on this beautiful and exciting journey of life.

We recognize our need to hear the words asked of us, “Do you love Me?” It will be for each of us to respond with what is truly in our hearts and where the desires of our hearts are.  

May we look for Christ in the events of this week and answer those questions He poses to us, especially in the midst of this believing community or, if you are visiting, the one which you belong to – priest and people, a family of faith with Christ at the center. May we treasure the Holy Name of Jesus we carry in our hearts through baptism. After all, we are Christians who have met our Risen Lord!