Pastor’s Column May 4-5, 2019
“So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord."
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." The Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter is one of the “must see” places in the Holy Land. This squat building of black basalt, built in 1934, is a simple Franciscan chapel with remains of the original church from the 4th century. It is located in Tabgha, which is a small village on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias. The church is dedicated to the place of the third appearance of Jesus to his disciples after his Resurrection which we hear about in this weekend’s Gospel, that morning when Jesus had a fish breakfast with them and welcomed Peter back to the “fold” after his denial of Jesus to the crowd after his capture.
Our Gospel begins with the Apostles going back to something familiar and comforting to them after the Resurrection. Upon their return to Galilee, Peter, ever the leader, announces, “I am going fishing,” and a bunch of the other disciples, including James, John, and Thomas, agree to join him. After fishing all night and catching nothing, at dawn Jesus appears on the shore but the disciples do not recognize him. Jesus asks them if they have caught anything to eat. When they say no, Jesus tells them where to cast their net, and when they pull in an enormous number of fish, 153 large fish to be precise. John, known as the disciple whom Jesus loved, recognizes him and says to Peter, “It is the Lord.” Arriving back to land and dragging the net filled with fish ashore, the disciples see a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread, and Jesus invites them to bring some of the fish they just caught and have breakfast.
In the 9th century, the Church of the Primacy of Peter was referred to as the Place of the Coals. That name refers to the charcoal fire on which Jesus cooked the fish. And the church contains a projection of limestone rock in front of the present altar which is venerated as the "Mensa Christi", Latin for Table of Christ. According to tradition, this is the spot where Jesus is said to have laid out that breakfast of bread and fish for the Apostles.
This Gospel story affirms the reality of Our Lord’s Resurrection. There are many who claim that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus were just visions that some of his disciples had. But the gospels go out of their way to insist that the risen Jesus is not just some vision, or even a spirit, but a real person; a person who kindles a charcoal fire and who cooks and shares a meal with his friends. The disciples encounter the risen Jesus in the ordinary course of their daily lives. But like us, they fail to recognize Him until they hear and obey Him and then see the positive effect that Jesus has on their lives. And while Jesus is ready to feed and nourish his disciples with a meal he has prepared, he also invites them to contribute their own resources by bringing some of the fish they have just caught with his help. Jesus feeds us and nourishes us with his own body and blood which is why coming to Mass is so essential, and he also urges us to contribute those gifts of time, talent and treasure he gives to us so that we can put them at his disposal in order to build up his body, the Church.
The long version of this gospel ends with Jesus asking Peter three times to declare his love for Him, giving Peter the opportunity to make up for the three times he had denied Jesus, and Jesus then asks Peter to demonstrate his love for Him by feeding His lambs and tending His sheep. The primacy is a grace conferred on Peter and his successors, the popes. By virtue of this primacy, Peter and each of his successors, is the shepherd of the whole Church and Vicar of Christ on earth, in order to guard and protect that the faithful might be kept secure in the oneness of faith and communion. On this weekend we celebrate First Holy Communion with our children, let us never take for granted this great Sacrament of Unity, nor the apostolic succession which guarantees its authenticity.