May 1: Recruits for Christ (Easter 3C)

“Cry out with joy to God, all the earth; O sing to the glory of his name. O render him glorious praise, alleluia.” Psalm 66:1-2.

Today’s gospel passage brings us to the Sea of Tiberias, and the fishermen are back at work.


Jesus joins them at the shore and calls out: “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” At first sight, he’s a man of mystery, and they don’t recognize him. Jesus urges: “Come, have breakfast.” Only then did his presence take hold. 


As early as Chapter 6 of John’s gospel, these scenes of breaking the bread appear in six or more versions throughout the four gospels. Perhaps this last one is a point of emphasis.


We are at the very end of John’s gospel, Chapter 21, and Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?”


A friend of mine told me recently that 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: “Do you love me?” 


What struck me as odd were their backgrounds. Jesus, the rabbi and carpenter’s son, asks these fishermen to tend sheep. Here’s a career change for you. Jesus’s enlightened eyes see into these disciples and their potential to continue his mission of healing, service, and sacrifice.  

Jesus instructs Peter: “Feed my sheep… and follow me!”


This observation marks a profound change in Peter’s life’s work and launches the care for souls. Here, the emphasis is long-term on how best to feed the lambs and tend the sheep as a good and patient shepherd would. Yet, what Peter and the apostles accomplish even to death rests on one profound question: “Do you love me?”


So Jesus is attentive to the hunger of all people in need — he sees with “enlightened eyes” the conditions for everyday nourishment, the healing of wounds, and food for the soul.


Do we have such life-changing encounters? Do we have moments of genuine commitment? These flashes might be called “tipping points” or miracle moments when we see things differently.


Recently I came across the writings of a college professor/theologian Sister Ilia Delio, who asks: “Where is the risen Christ?” In this Easter season, Sister Ilia reminds us to lean on the power of God and says:

“The risen Christ is everywhere and all around us: in you, your neighbor, the dogwood trees outside, the budding grapevine, the ants popping up through the cracks. We are Easter people, and we are called to celebrate the whole earth as the body of Christ.”


Let these fifty days of Easter be a time of “restorative grace.” Not so much an Easter duty or obligation, but rather a time to celebrate the presence of Christ, his healing vision, and mercy.


Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.


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Thanks, Father Mike Russo


Sunday to Sunday Witness: My John Madden Story

By Wednesday night, I’m always in a panic over the composition of my Sunday homily. In fact, the deadline is Friday morning when it goes into the publication office at Santa Catalina, to be magically emailed at 2 AM on Sunday morning.

Sitting in front of my wide-screen Samsung, I watched the Warriors and switched to the NFL Draft at commercials. I wondered whether the apostles and disciples of Christ ever got signing bonuses?

This last scene in John’s gospel with Jesus and his fisherman has always puzzled me. Here’s Jesus’s recruits — these men so expert at fishing and asking them to become shepherds. Fishers catch fish, while shepherds herd and tend sheep carefully. He’s asking them to change their lives for his sake.

Here’s a story for you.

When I arrived at Saint Mary’s College over thirty-eight years ago, I was the Chair of the Communication Department. There was little by way of video equipment. Thanks to a generous donor, the President of the College and its chief development officer obtained an enormous gift to afford, a newly designed video truck. In those early years, we could do all forms of video production, including recording drama, musicals, and sports events, including football and basketball.

While my student and I were ready for prime time, faculty and staff were not exactly enthusiastic and, in some cases, downright hostile to this invasion of cameras. One of my teaching colleagues had nightmares that our academic department might become a “school for broadcasters.”

Of course, the Athletic Director himself expressed serious concerns. His chief issue was how the attendance at basketball games and its revenue might drop off once audiences grew accustomed to watching local access cable television. Let’s be clear —  he was a throw-back to a previous era. His vision was no television. Even if this addition might create a more prominent and engaging marketing plan for college sports.

All of this changed one night in January, at the height of the basketball playoff. Saint Mary’s faced a decisive game. We were there with our cameras and our on-air cub reporters. Since we had no micro-wave links, the basketball game was essentially “live on tape.” Which meant that I would be in the video truck until half-time and then take three copies of the 3/4 inch tapes to three cable television locations in the area, namely to facilities in Martinez, Walnut Creek, and Pleasanton. If you know the precise directions, it took fifty minutes to make the stops.

On this night, I completed my rounds, I returned to the campus, and the game came to a close. I handed the second half tapes to my student intern, who was new to me, and gave him the printed directions to these head ends. So this was the tricky part, and what I should have done was accompany him on a route that I considered routine. We found out later that the Pleasanton tape had never arrived.

The following day, at precisely 7:08 AM on KNBR sports radio, the most familiar voice in broadcasting and former NFL coach commented:

“You know, last night I watched the Saint Mary’s basketball game, and it was a cliffhanger. But no second half? What happened?”

The tape never arrived, he was told.

Yes, this one observation from the now legend John Madden awakened the Gael Nation. By 7:15 AM, the college president was on the telephone with me, later the Development/Fundraising Director, the Vice President of Student Affairs, and the startled Athletic Director himself. Collectively, they got the message.

In biblical terms, they were no longer fishermen. They were playing something altogether different and had to get ready for a new era in college sports. Television had arrived, and within weeks, the College signed a deal with the local cable television provider to wire the entire campus.

Could I say, “Come follow me!?!”


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