Why Were So Many of Our Lord's Disciples Fisherman?
The Seventh Saturday of Easter; or, the Memorial of Saints Marcellinus & Peter, Martyrs.*
Lessons from the feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Acts 25: 13-21.
• Psalm 103: 1-2, 11-12, 19-20.
• John 21: 15-19.
The Saturday after the Ascension; and, the Commemoraion of Saints Marcellinus & Peter, Martyrs, and Erasmus, Bishop & Martyr.**
Lessons from the Feast of the Ascension, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Acts 1: 1-11.
• [The Gradual is omitted.]
• Mark 16: 14-20.
The Otdanije (Leave-Taking) of the Ascension.***
Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Acts 27: 1-44.
• John 17: 18-26.
8:40 AM 6/2/2017 — Here at the Shrine—and I think in most places—the First Friday of the month honors the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus; and, as is our custom, after Holy Communion we will expose our Eucharistic Lord, then, because it is the Easter Season, we’ll pray together the Litany of the Resurrection, with the rest of our Holy Hour given to you to converse with our Lord or make use of the confessional, and we’ll conclude with Benediction at 1:30.
There are three occasions on which our Lord appears to his disciples after rising from the dead. The first is our risen Lord's encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, during which the two disciples our Lord meets fail to recognize Him, and at the end of which He offers Holy Mass for them then promptly vanishes since the presence of the Blessed Sacrament makes His human manifestation superfluous; and, we used that episode to emphasize the fact that the Blessed Eucharist is, in reality, our Blessed Lord in every respect. The second is His first meeting with His own Apostles in Jerusalem, who do recognize Him, during which He does not offer Holy Mass because the Apostles are priests and don't need Him to do that for them; and, we used that occasion to explain the unique relationship our Lord has with His priests. Both of those episodes came from Saint Luke. Today's episode is from John, and it's the one that I've referred to as the “clam bake” episode. Today we hear only the second half of it, but you may remember when we heard the whole episode early in Easter Time.
The reason they don't recognize our Lord on this occasion in spite of being priests is simple enough: they are gathered together on the beach at night, and Saint John tells us, in that portion of the passage which is left out of today’s lesson, that they are approached by our Lord just as day is breaking; so, it's dark out, and they're just not seeing Him clearly. It’s in the first part of this episode that Jesus repeats the miraculous catch of fish after the disciples tell him that they’ve been fishing all night and have caught nothing.
On both occasions—when they first met Him in Jerusalem and in this episode where they meet Him for the third time after His resurrection—as long as they labored at night, apart from our Lord, they labored in vain. In the absence of Christ, every day is an empty night, and everything we do is useless; but, when we labor side by side with our Blessed Lord, night becomes day, and everything we do bears fruit, because everything we do is really done by Christ working through us.
All of this you’ve heard before, and I will repeat the same question I had asked some weeks ago: why are so many of our Lord's apostles fishermen? Why was our Lord was so particularly attracted to men who made their living on the sea? I think it might be because, to be a commercial fisherman, you have to have patience.† Long hours of waiting throughout the night, casting your nets again and again and again, sometimes catching something and sometimes not. There's never a guarantee of success, but there is certainly a guarantee of failure if you give in to discouragement and stop casting your net.
Which brings us to the focus of today’s lesson. Why does our Lord ask Peter three times whether he loves Him? The Fathers of the first three centuries, who were always looking in the Gospels for poetic symmetry, said it was to make amends for the fact that Peter had denied our Lord three times, and that makes sense. At the Last Supper, Peter had protested to our Lord that he would never betray Him, that he would in fact lay down his life for Him. He didn't on the night of Good Friday, but that was by our Lord's own design because Peter had important things to do first: he needed to defend the resurrection of Christ before the Sanhedrin, he needed to guide the establishment and organization of the early Church in Jerusalem, he needed to preside over the Council of Jerusalem and confirm the Apostle Paul's mission to the Gentiles, he needed to go to Rome and plant the seed of the faith in the heart of an empire that would one day take the Gospel to the farthest ends of the earth.
At the end of the passage, after recording our Lord's cryptic sounding prophesy to Peter about being led where he will not go and having his arms stretched out, John mentions in an editorial comment that it was said to signify the manner in which Peter would die, but this was not because John was clairvoyant. Keep in mind that, at the time John is writing all this from his exile on the Island of Patmos, Peter had already been crucified on the Vatican Hill; his Gospel is a reflection on the whole spectrum of events he witnessed as a young man, and which he's recalling from memory in his old age and been praying about for many years. The Book of Revelation, which he wrote shortly after this, was the same thing. The take-away of all of this for us is the simple fact that nothing really worked out the way Peter had envisioned, assuming he envisioned anything at all. But the fact that Peter was being led point by point, to one event after another which seemed to him totally disconnected and unrelated in his own mind, didn't mean that there wasn't a plan.
There was, but it was a plan only in the Mind of God, and John's Gospel is the blueprint of that plan, the narrative of which begins with the Son of God existing from all eternity and coming down to earth, and which ends with this episode on the beach; but the clam bake is not the end of the story, and certainly not the end of the plan, as we know. It was, in fact, only the beginning, and it's not over yet, because we have yet to write our stories into the narrative. We are doing it now, we just don't realize it. And when we find ourselves in Peter's shoes, seeming to be led from one event to another, from one crisis to another, from one difficult decision to another, from one confusing dilemma to another, perceiving ourselves lost in some chaotic maze of total in-coherency, that doesn't mean there's no plan. There is. It's just not our plan, and that's why we can't see it.
So, what do we do? It's very simple, really. We do what our Lord told Peter in the very last two words of today's Gospel lesson: “…and with that he said to him, 'Follow me'” (John 21: 19 Knox).
* Mentioned in the Roman Canon, Marcellinus and Peter were martyred in 304 under Diocleian. When their memorial is observed during Easter Time, the prayers from the Common of Several Martyrs during Easter Time may be used, but the ferial lessons are always retained.
** The Bishop Erasmus was martyred in 303. In the extraordinary form, the commemoration is made by an additional Collect, Secret and Postcommunion added to those of the feria; a Mass for the commemoration is not permitted.
*** In the Byzantine Tradition, major feast days are marked by prefestive and postfestive periods. While there is no corresponding tradition in the West regarding prefestive days, the postfestive period is concomitant with the concept of an octave in the Latin Church, though it's duration is not necessarily eight days depending on the importance of the feast. The last day of the postfestive period is called the "Leave-Taking," Otdanije in Slavonic, actually a verb meaning "to return." The liturgy on the day of Otdanije mirrors that of the feast with minor variations.
† Cf. Msgr. Ronald A. Knox, Sermon on the Feast of Ss. Peter & Paul, June 29, 1947.