The times we live in are certainly filled with challenges! Every once in a while – maybe even more than that, I find myself in need of reassurance. I am sure each of you would say the same thing. Sometimes, the cause of my distress might prove to be only a little thing, on other occasions, the trouble might be much greater. Sometimes, I don’t even realize just how great my need is for a simple word of encouragement. Life is like that.
The Apostles were no different from you and me in this regard. As we continue the celebration of this Easter season, I am discovering that it helps me face the challenges of my life when I learn from Scripture about the Apostles’ lives following the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
St. John’s Gospel has always been my favorite and in it are recorded three occasions where the Risen Lord appeared to His Apostles.
In Chapter 20, He appears to them in a closed room, possibly the upper room in Jerusalem, apparently entering through a locked and closed door. The first time, on that first Easter Sunday night, St. Thomas was absent; the second, a week later, Jesus came to that same room, this time with St. Thomas present as well. You know the story. In these first two appearances, Jesus gave them His peace, told them to not be afraid and told them to be prepared to preach the good news with zeal and courage.
In Chapter 21, He appears to seven of the Apostles along the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. And in this brief appearance, He speaks to them both literally and with the rich symbolism of the occasion to prepare them – and us – for the life He has called us to live.
There is so much the bible has to teach us if we approach it prayerfully. Remember, if we are to truly love God, then we must be a people of prayer. The Church teaches that meditation is to be a staple of the beginner in prayer.
As you pray each day, do you set aside time to meditate on the Persons of God, the truths of the faith, the lives of the saints, the mysteries of the Rosary that recall the events of Our Lord’s life on earth, the Stations of the Cross, the Five Wounds of Christ, the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady?
Do you allow God to speak to you as you meditate on the words of Sacred Scripture? The appearance of Jesus to the Apostles at the Sea of Tiberius can teach us much if we allow the Holy Spirit and the Church to guide our minds and our hearts as we read or listen to this passage.
Think about the scene… seven of the Apostles are together and Peter decides to go fishing and the others follow his lead. They enter the boat and fish at night.
Remember, these are the men who had abandoned Jesus at what appeared to be His darkest hour. They were afraid of the authorities and they were discouraged, first by what had happened to Jesus, and then by their own lack of faith and courage. But when Jesus first appeared to them, He did not condemn them as they might have feared; He gave them His peace and told them to not be afraid.
But here they are, after having seen the Risen Lord twice… Pentecost has not occurred in its fullness yet so they are still afraid but not so much as before. And so they fish at night. Do we do likewise? Are we not prone at times to hide who we are? Maybe we have acted this way so often that we are even afraid of the Lord. Here again, the Lord appears and He encourages them… and at another level, He encourages us as well.
We don’t have time to look in depth at the many images in this passage to be meditated on, so let me summarize just a few.
On the literal level, these men were fishing… just fishing for fish. But on spiritual level, these images take on a different meaning.
The ship, which belongs to Peter, represents the Church, the seven disciples who fished represent fullness, particularly the fullness of time to the end of the world. The sea represents the world of woe through which we journey. The number of fish caught represents the fullness of the people who are to receive the Gospel. Note that it is by obeying Christ that the catch is made successful. And it is to the Lord Who stands on the glorious shores of eternity (at the end of time) that we make our way as pilgrims. There is so much more to be discovered here, but let’s just look at John and Peter for a moment.
John, the Beloved Disciple, who loved Jesus so deeply, is the first to recognize the Lord. See how important it is to develop a strong prayer life to be close to the Lord so as to recognize His voice and manner when He appears? And Peter – you have to just love Peter – the impetuous one, who upon realizing Jesus is on the shore casts himself into the waters to rush back to the Lord whom He had so recently denied and from Whom he had run away.
The Lord has a special message for Peter to whom the Church is entrusted. He reminds him that love overcomes everything. Can’t you hear the Lord speaking to you as well? Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?
We know that these words of teaching and encouragement were received well. In the opening of Acts, we see the apostles once again gathered in the upper room, this time devoted to prayer and of one accord. We too can be devoted to prayer and of one accord with Christ and His Church if we want it and will it.
But the real evidence of the power of Christ’s Word and the Holy Spirit is seen in fifth chapter of Acts. The Apostles had been arrested and thrown in prison for refusing to stop preaching the good news. That night an angel released them and instructed them to return to the temple and continue their preaching. The authorities were so mad and flabbergasted they arrested them again and dragged them before the Sanhedrin.
Ordered to stop preaching again – Peter and the apostles refused… “We must obey God, not man!” So the authorities repeated their order… flogged them… and then released them with a warning. But preach again they did… and you and I are believers today because of their courage and zeal. But not only that, the Apostles left the Sanhedrin bloodied from their flogging, yet rejoicing in their suffering for the Holy Name of Jesus.
How wonderful and glorious it is when God’s children live their lives in such trust and joy. That joy can be ours. It is ours for the receiving!
Being a faithful follower of Christ does not exempt us from the hardships and trials of this world, but it does bring a peace and a joy that only the Lord can give to you.
These are difficult and dangerous days in which we live. Increasingly, the world is attacking not just what Christians believe, but is attacking the Christian as well. Take a moment today to meditate on these passages and receive the reassurance and word of encouragement Our Lord wants to give to you.
He said He would not leave us orphans but would be with us even unto the end of time. He is with us still, particularly in the Most Holy Eucharist. Pray to worthily receive Him. Surrender your life to Him. And then with great joy and peace, share His Holy Word with others in charity.