“The disciples recognized the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread, alleluia!” (John 21:12-13)
Our gospel passage brings us to the very conclusion of John’s gospel, and the fishermen are back at work. Jesus joins them at the shore, offers them breakfast, and they recognize him.
There are two-themes that I wish to explore today, the first is the presence of Christ after the resurrection, and my second theme is the “attentiveness” of Jesus toward his Apostles, disciples and all his followers.
First, let’s consider Jesus at the Sea of Tiberias, where he calls out to the disciples, “Children have you caught anything to eat?”… And later, he urges them, “Come, have breakfast.”
This appearance of Jesus reminds us of the permanent personal presence Jesus had on his followers, so much, so they had to adjust to this new life in him and in themselves.
John Steinbeck takes up this idea of “life out of death” and the new presence that left an indelible mark on the character of Tom Joad in the “Grapes of Wrath.”
You may recall the highpoint of the novel about California and the Great Depression, and, of course, in the performance of Henry Fonda as Tom in the John Ford film classic.
The death of Joad’s friend, the preacher Jim Casy, completes Tom’s transformation. Casy acts as John Steinbeck’s moral compass, this character calls readers to pay attention to the sanctity of human life and the unity of all people.
In Chapter 28, Ma Joad, Tom’s mother, played by Jane Darwell in the film and who won the Academy Award for her performance, is worried about Tom’s safety. Like mothers universal, she is the glue that keeps the family and the narrative together. Tom assures her, whatever the outcome – his and Casy’s spirit will continue.
Tom tells her:
“Wherever they’re a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’re a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ – I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry n’ they know supper is ready. An’ when our kids eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the house they build – why, I’ll be there! See? God, I’m talkin’ like Casy. Comes of thinkin’ about him so much. Seems like I can see him sometimes.”
This is a moment in great literature and film art that gives us a glimpse of what is the “would be life.” Those persons who have loved us and brought us to life – remain deeply woven into our being, and its afterglow is what I call the resurrection.
Years ago, I took a film course in high school, with a teacher, Father Bill Keller, who reminded our class that literature and film do precisely this. A film can remind us of how we too can be transformed with an indelible presence, personal insight, and even possess sight or vision.
Back to the gospel, with the everyday life experiences of the disciples, they recognize him in the breaking of the bread as early as Chapter 6 of Saint John’s gospel; and this action repeats in six or more versions throughout the four gospels.
At the very end of John’s gospel, Chapter 21, Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?”
A friend of mine told me recently, there are one-hundred and fifty questions about Jesus and his mission spread throughout the four gospels; this question comes last, and it’s the most personal and intimate of all.
Jesus is attentive to Peter and helps him put aside doubts and denials, and instructs him: “Feed my sheep… and follow me!” All of what Peter and the apostles do even to death — for the mission of Christ — rests on this profound love.
So Jesus is attentive to the hunger of his apostles, disciples, and all people in need — he sees with “enlightened eyes” the needs for everyday nourishment, the healing of wounds, and food for the soul.
This brings me to my second theme of “attentiveness” and more directly Pope Francis’s most recent exhortation, very much in the news this week, entitled “The Joy of Love,” where he considers how the mission of Christ and the Church embraces families today.
Pope Francis writes:
“I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a mother who while clearly expressing her objective teaching, always does what good she can, even if, in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.” (Para. 308)
In his three years, Pope Francis has already become a commanding figure on the world stage and more important the most accomplished parish priest to have graced the papal office.
Frankly, his publication of the three exhortations on evangelization, the environment, and now on family life and the Church is a remarkable feat in itself. The pope has gained a worldwide following for his ideas but more importantly for his personal ministry.
With this document, and in a process that rests on the two years of dialogue and discernment, Francis has moved the Church in the directions set by Pope John and Pope Paul at Vatican II, as well as honoring the memory of Popes John Paul and Benedict who, you will recall, were active participants of Vatican II.
Francis’s insistence that bishops and priests more carefully listen to the genuine needs of real people, and take steps to meet this challenge with great compassion and genuine respect for individual conscience.
For many of us who read this document, and we will be carefully reflecting on its import in our lives as a community of faith, I believe we will see a slow but steady movement toward true discernment with outcomes yet to be achieved.
Mind you, there are some who may take the position that the document is too far-reaching and others who feel that it is not bold enough. To my mind, Francis’s personal achievement as a unifier and as a bridge-builder recognizes the complex of religious and political cultures today, thus making his leadership engaging and effective. Additionally, he draws on the world culture that exists in the works of such a diverse set of references and footnotes, including Gabriel Marcel, Eric Fromm, and his particular film favorite “Babette’s Feast.”
Lastly, the message of today’s gospel, that of presence and attentiveness is on the mind of Pope Francis.
On April 16, Pope Francis will travel to the island of Lesbos. And along with Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Patriarch Hieronymus II, the Greek Orthodox primate will meet with the Syrian refugees and other “orphans of the storm” in order to provide comfort as well support for the international humanitarian workers and volunteers on that troubled island.
The final page of the “Joy of Love,” concludes with Pope Francis’s prayer which summaries his concerns for families everywhere and models for us how our own concerns must be advanced with actions.
Prayer to the Holy Family
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendor of true love; to you, we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth may families never again experience violence, rejection, and division, may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth makes us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, on 19 March, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, in the year 2016, the fourth of my Pontificate.
Saint Timothy’s, Morro Bay, CA.