Don’t Jump Ship: Love Christ and the Church with Your Whole HeartBy Fr. Daniel E. Doctor:
In St. John’s Gospel for today, we find some of the Apostles and disciples, those closest to the Lord, returning to their former ordinary way of life. Just like us – and the Apostles – the celebration of Easter Sunday has ended, the glory of the Lord’s Resurrection has begun to fade a little. And most especially in our world, we can see that the great mystery of our salvation is being forgotten or denied. Without a doubt, we are definitely in the same boat as the Apostles. Of course that is exactly what St. John expects us to understand.
As I have mentioned to you before – nothing that St. John wrote should ever be taken at its face value because the Gospel of St. John is filled with symbolism intended and designed to pull us into the story so that a much deeper, richer, theological experience can and will enlighten our faith.
So, as St. John shows us, these 7 men (7 because it is the number of perfection and completion) set out in a boat. He wants us to see ourselves in that boat, too, because this boat is a symbol for the Church, of which we are all members.
We can see St. Peter, the first Pope, leading the other Bishops out to fish and by analogy He leads us as well. And what are we fishing for? Not fish, but souls. We can understand this because in the story we see St. Peter, as the leader of the Church, pulling the net full of fish onto shore which is a sign of the power of St. Peter’s papacy to bring souls to Heaven, in and through the Church. Now, the number of fish (153) is also a symbol of every race and nation on earth, because at the time of St. John there was believed to be 153 different countries and cultures in the world. So, from the very beginning of the Church, beginning with St. Peter and the Apostles, down to this very day with Pope Francis and the Bishops, we Catholics, have always been in this same boat.
We are so united in this journey, on this one boat – that if there is a single Catholic suffering in our world, we all suffer. If one is rejoicing, we all rejoice. If we are failing to live the Gospel over here – we fail to live it over there.
As one Church, sailing through life aboard the boat of Catholicism, we have one main purpose, one mission – catching fish. Everything we do, or say, or how we behave in the world either serves or undermines that one purpose.
Catching fish, namely saving souls is our business and our work as Catholics. So much so, that if there is anything that occurs or exists in our world that would hinder anyone from obtaining salvation – this is clearly our business, our responsibility, our right to eliminate it. Now obviously – this all begins on a personal level, we see this in St. John’s Gospel as well, Christ called the Apostles as individuals not as a group and He does the same with us. Conversion is a very personal and individual thing and the reality of our salvation is that if we are not converted, we are not going to convert anyone else. This is why in the beginning of the story the Apostles have caught no fish, because they were refusing to live the life Christ called them to, namely catching souls – not fish.
Another way to look at this – is in the life of married couples. You see, no husband and wife are due children. Children are not owed to a married couple – they are not a right to which the couple is entitled. If that were true, then children would be nothing more than an object, like a hammer or a washing machine – something that could be brought or sold at a whim from anyone with the means. Nor do children belong to the government, state, or community. If that were true, God would be a communist – which He is not. Pope Francis recently made the sad commentary about our postmodern society that “we worry more about our pets and our cosmetics than we do our own children.”
Children are a gift from God and He expects to receive them back one day unharmed and well cared for – because like all gifts they are meant to be treasured, celebrated, cherished, and protected – not controlled, abused, unguarded like some kind of a commodity of human society. Of course the same is true of your spouse, who helps to complete you – or our friends, who enrich our lives, or and the stranger who graces our day. People are not things we push around or bully to fulfill our needs or a means to our selfish desires.
As members of the Catholic Church, it is our duty to get to heaven and to bring as many people with us as possible – to fill that net to its breaking point. But there is only one way we can faithfully and successfully accomplish this – and this we see in St. John Gospel as well – the Apostles become successful because their eyes turn to Christ, who stands on the shore – which is a symbol for heaven. And so, we too, must keep our eyes fixed on Christ, who is calling to us, “Have you caught anything? Have you converted any souls? Included any others in the boat? Or is your net still empty?”
St. John is clearly sending us this message because what happens to the Apostles as they leave that Easter glory behind and go fishing? They fail miserably. St. John even tells us why they failed. They were fishing in the dark, which makes it impossible to see Christ. But also, for St. John, darkness is always a symbol for ignorance, selfishness, and sin.
Once we leave Christ and go off into the darkness, once we have excluded Him from the ordinary, everyday events of our lives, once we no longer invite Him into the boat and incorporate Him in our work, our entertainment, our homes, our relationships, our families – we will always fail miserably. Remember the words of Jesus, “without me you can do nothing.”
The spiritual principle at work here is a very simple one. Once the Apostles come into the light and obey Christ, they enjoy great success. This is the only way we can succeed too. To the measure we are faithfully keeping our eyes on the Risen Lord and living in the light and obeying Him in and though all our work – including the most important to the most mundane – we will succeed too!
At the end of this encounter of the Apostles with the Risen Lord, we get to see the standard and the rule for our salvation – LOVE. This is what St. John reveals to us through St. Peter. It is a question of love, and when we love – we feed others. And we can only feed and love others when we give ourselves completely over to Christ and His way of life.
Superficial CatholicsThe problem infecting our Church now-a-days, is that Catholicism is only lived in a superficial way by Catholics. To use St. John’s analogy, it seems we are all jumping ship to live with the sinners, instead of pulling them out of the filth that most people are swimming in.
Pope Francis, in his homily to the papal household last week, stated, “the end of gossip among Christians would be a good place for us to start” that is if we are serious about being a follower of Christ. The gossip that plagues my ears, is about coming to the Eucharistic chapel at night, “Oh don’t do it – it’s dangerous!!” When we start out spreading such gossip do we really think for one second how offensive this is to our Lord? And how deserving we are of eternal damnation? Do we really think our Lord would not grant us supernatural protection from His angels if we made the effort to adore Him? Do we really think the Lord is not generous to those who make an effort to love Him, most especially at night when most sins are committed against Him? We grossly offend our Lord and truly do the work of the Devil when we speak in such ways that cause others to fear coming to our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration. Anyone, and I don’t care who they are – who openly speaks against Eucharistic Adoration, deters anyone from making a visit, or gossips against our Eucharistic Chapel only reveals himself or herself to be a son or daughter of Satan himself, and deserving of the hottest flames of hell for all eternity.
No one should be made to feel ashamed or afraid to run to Christ in this wonderful Sacrament, or even to call themselves Catholic. Because no institution, group, idea, philosophy, government, religion or spirituality has benefited the world more than the Catholic Church, and history proves this. But as individual Catholics we have stopped calling people to conversion of heart. And, in most cases, we have jumped out of the boat and into the waters of sin and evil while preventing so many souls from ever coming aboard the boat of Holy Mother Church, or to get caught in Her nets, because we have abandoned them and the work that is required of us, which for us and the world is the only means of salvation.
The way most Catholics behave and what the secular liberal media reports would have everyone believing, is that the Catholic Church is an enemy of the people, an enemy of freedom – because most would rather swim in the sea of filth than be free to walk on the shore and enjoy a meal with Christ. We defend life, liberty and marriage, we are absolutely against abortion and birth control, we love Christ who is present to us in the Eucharist and never speak against it.
You Are CalledBecause we believe, in the deepest parts of our souls, where God dwells with us, that there is no true, authentic freedom lived without Christ. Don’t let others, the world, or the media cause you to jump ship or be afraid to love Christ with your whole heart. Yes, we may not be perfect, we sometimes lose sight of Christ, too. But we have many reasons to be proud to be Catholic, because we have Christ waiting for us on the eternal shores of heaven – we can never return to – or have – an ordinary life.
For we, just like the Apostles, are called to authentic freedom and spiritual greatness. And, we can only achieve that within the great design and will of our God – who calls us to come aboard the boat of Catholicism – who calls us then to lower our nets – who calls us to the reward of coming ashore – who calls us out of the ordinary into His own wonderful extraordinary life.
So, stay aboard, lower your nets and enjoy the ride of your life until we all meet Christ on the shores of everlasting life and enjoy the banquet He has prepared for us!