This is one of those great Gospel passages (John 21:1-19) that plays through our minds like a video. It is so vivid! They had spent all night working hard fishing, and caught nothing. Then on the shore a man asks if they caught anything. No. So He tells them to cast the net on the right side of the boat. He must have spoken in such a way that inspired them to immediately respond! So they cast over the net. The number of fish was so great that they could not pull it in. Saint John recognized our Lord. The Church Fathers comment that because of His love that He saw clearly. Saint Peter, in an act of Faith, tucks in his garment, and jumps into the water to run to the shore.
The number of fish was so great-153–which has been noted to represent the entirety of the world. The net was not torn, and the boats struggle to carry in the nets full of fish. Peter goes himself and gathers in the nets to bring them ashore. He must have been a pretty strong man! Anybody who thinks that St Peter or the Apostles were these wimpy lazy kind of men is proven wrong.
Saint Gregory has a beautiful and profound understanding of this scene while they are fishing. He notes “The sea signifies the world, which is tossed about with various causes of tumults, and the waves of this corruptible life; the shore by its solidity figures the rest eternal. The disciples then, inasmuch as they were still upon the waves of this mortal life, were laboring on the sea; but the Redeemer having by His resurrection thrown off the corruption of the flesh, stood upon the shore.” It is so easy to lose sight of this reality in our lives! We begin to lose a supernatural sense and start to mis prioritize things in our lives. Our Lord has conquered death, and he calls us to this life as well. However, we must respond to this call. It’s easy to get lost in the haze that we lose sight of the shore. We forget that we are passing through this stormy sea.
Saint Augustine notes that John indicates that the net is on the right side. “But they who belong to the resurrection of life, i.e. to the right hand, and are caught within the net of the Christian name, shall only appear on the shore, i.e. at the end of the world, after the resurrection: wherefore they were not able to draw the net into the ship, and unload the fishes, as they were before. The Church keeps these of the right hand, after death, in the sleep of peace, as it were in the deep, till the net come to shore.”
This is a deep call to conversion—to really live for Christ, to orient our whole lives looking toward this shore of eternity. Those who live for Christ are the ones in the net. Those who struggle, and never quit getting back up after a fall. To remain safely in the net that is the church brought to the shore by St Peter. When he stood at the first charcoal fire, it was as if he was warming himself with worldly pleasures. He had forgotten the supernatural call from our Lord. We must not warm ourselves with the fake fires of vice or pleasures in the world. We do not live for comfort. No, we must be warmed by that second fire—the fire that our Lord had made on the shore.
Then our Lord takes Peter aside. This is where it “gets real” as they say. Our Lord had waited on the shore by a charchoal fire. The only other time in scripture we see a charcoal fire is when Peter denied even knowing Him as our Lord was beginning His passion. That was the other time Peter was at a charcoal fire. Notice He doesn’t reprimand Him. He doesn’t even remind Him of His sin. He knows his repentance—Peter had wept tears of sorrow after the third denial. Our Lord asks him three times “do you love me”? Peter responds “yes” each time, and the third time Peter is distressed: “Lord you know all things. You know that I love you.” We can imagine Peter was pretty choked up by this point. Our Lord confers the task of being the Shepherd to Peter. Our Lord is the one true shepherd of the flock, and He entrusts this task to Peter and his successors-weak men who must trust in our Lord’s plan. He then indicates that St Peter too will be crucified and die for the Faith.
Our Lord calls St Peter, the Apostles, and all who receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders to love exclusively-to live entirely for Christ and the sheep entrusted to them. Yet this call is also to each single person. We can see our Lord raised up two weak men: Thomas who struggled with Faith, and Peter who denied Him, to great summits. We can learn something from our Lord’s talk with Peter: to forgive those who have trespassed against us, without demanding explanations, without imposing conditions, without reserve. That is how our Lord forgives Peter. Peter can teach us how to respond to this forgiveness.
“The Lord converted Peter, who had denied him three times, without even a reproach, with a look full of Love.—Jesus looks at us with those same eyes, after we have fallen. May we also be able to say to him, as Peter did: “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you”, and amend our lives.” (St Josemaria Escriva, Furrow, 964)
When we confess our sins to our Lord in the Sacrament of Confession, He does not remind us of our sins, but looks at you and I with a look of love, and He asks the same question he posed to Peter. We must not fear this look. Yes, it will call up those things in our lives we are not proud of, but when we confess them they are burned up in His heart. If we wish to live, we allow Him to look at us. This look calls up a conversion of life. We turn in sorrow to our Lord and we amend our lives.
There is a story of St. Claude de la Colombiere, the spiritual director to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. At this time of this story, he was not yet her spiritual director. St. Margaret Mary is the one to whom Jesus appeared in the apparitions of the Sacred Heart, and He said to her, “These things are going to be happening to you, so you need to have a spiritual director, somebody who is going to help you through this.” He told her that He wanted her to go up the street and talk to Father Claude de la Colombiere and that he was to be her spiritual director. Well, Father Claude was no dummy. She comes trooping in and says that Jesus appeared to her and that Father Claude was supposed to be her spiritual director. He did not go for that idea too well. All you have to do is ask yourself what you would think if your next-door neighbor came over and said, “Guess what, Jesus appeared to me!” You would probably say, “Sure He did. Uh-huh.” You are going to be skeptical; at least I hope you are. St. Margaret Mary was rather insistent, and so finally after a while he said, “Fine. If Jesus appears to you again, ask Him what my last mortal sin was. If you can tell me my last mortal sin, then I will be your spiritual director.” So she went off, and sure enough Our Lord appeared to her. You can only imagine the conversation, but she got her answer and she went back to Father de la Colombiere. He asked, “Did Jesus appear to you?” “Yes, He did.” “Did you ask Him what my last mortal sin was?” “Yes, I did.” “What was His answer?” “When I asked what your last mortal sin was, Jesus looked at me and said, ‘I don’t remember.’” And so Father Claude said, “I’ll be your spiritual director.” He had confessed his sin and it was gone, so when Jesus looked at his soul, it was not there and He could say, “I don’t remember.”
Let us respond to the great call of our Lord, allow Him to look at us with love, to respond to that love. To go often to confession-never being ashamed of confessing this or that sin. To remain close to Him in the Blessed Sacrament—where the fire from Heaven burns ardently for us. To have great reverence for the Blessed Sacrament—preparing well by going to confession and praying before and after mass. That is the charcoal fire we should love! Always we go to the Blessed Mother who can fan the cold ash in our hearts. She can fan away that ash to help the fire of God’s love burn brightly. That fire will give us great energy, will burn away our worldly desires, and keep our eyes on the eternal shore.