by Father James Rodriguez
People don’t change. That is the lie that most of us have been trained to believe, perhaps from our own personal experience, or from the brokenhearted warnings of others. People don’t change. It is easy to believe. After all, who among us has not been hurt before? Who among us finds forgiveness and change easy or even desirable? Over and against this lie, stands a simple fisherman who met God, a man formerly known as Simon.
On the boat, this man cast a wide net. He failed to catch anything, until he obeyed the Fisher of souls, then cast out into the deep waters and brought up a great catch of fish. This man, this rock, our Petros, changed. Today’s first reading shows just how much of a difference Jesus can make in the life of an ordinary fisherman. Preaching to the very ones who handed over and denied the Lord, Simon the coward gives way to Peter the brave. Simon the fearful opens his mouth as Peter the warrior-poet, and out comes the challenging promise: the author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.
Witness. In this single word is enshrined centuries of blood, shed for the name of the Lord. In Greek, it is marturion, which is also translated as martyr. On the first Christmas night, as the Holy Innocents sang for the Lamb under Herod’s terrible hand, there were witnesses. In present day Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq, China, and countless other areas of persecution, there are men, women, and even children who have served the King of Kings as witnesses. These martyrs love the Lord with hearts that transcend this world, making a mockery of the slings and arrows of His self-styled enemies. Peter was one such witness, challenging the very ones who only a short time before had been the objects of his dreadful fear. What a difference Pentecost made!
People can change. The change that we all desire is difficult because it is locked in the heart of Jesus. The twin keys to this heart are prayer and obedience. John reassures us: the way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Once again, the beloved apostle teaches us the hard-learned lesson of all apostles: prayer and obedience go hand in hand. It is not enough to pray or even read the Bible when we refuse to go to Mass. It is not enough to confess one’s sins privately to God, in the safe comfort of silence. We can all experience the true freedom of bowing in humility before the Lord of life and his Bride, his Church, through whom he bestows this life on us. In the sacraments we experience the divine life he desires to lavish upon us, so that we might walk through this world not as individuals, disconnected and brokenhearted, but as sons and daughters made whole in the breaking of the bread.
Thus begins today’s Gospel. The disciples of the Lord from the Emmaus story see Him again and are afraid. He repeats those reassuring words so often heard in the readings of this holy season: look at my hands and my feet. So often, we as Catholics are criticized for keeping crucifixes. “He is risen,” we are told, “he is no longer on the cross!” While it is true that he is indeed risen- inspiring the deep joy of this season- we forget. We need a constant reminder of the extent of God’s love and the price of our freedom. We need a God who suffered to give our suffering meaning. A sick or grieving person looks at the Crucifix and sees not a work of art, but a mirror. That is the kind of King we revere, the God we adore and praise, who by His Holy Cross has redeemed the world.
In the light of Easter, may we renew our devotion to Him, our willingness to suffer for the Name. We fear suffering, we avoid distress, and rightly so. However, when these are no longer avoidable, when the persecution comes to our doorposts, what will the enemies of the Cross see? May they see nothing less than the blood of the Lamb smeared on the lintels of the doorposts of our lips. May they see good works inspired by the God of Jesus Christ who calls us continually to cast our gaze on his pierced hands, feet, and side; to never forget that Sacred Head surrounded by thorns and mockery. May we never forget what Simon saw before running from the pillar, what Peter saw through closed, tear-filled eyes at the tomb: the love of God. It is a love so powerful and profound that it changes everything, even our broken hearts.[hr] Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Luke 24:35-48[hr] Fr. Rodriguez is currently assigned to Most Precious Blood Parish in Long Island City.