Saint Peter's Perfect Imperfection
"....so they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name"
Politicians, celebrities (wannabe and otherwise) and anyone else whose livelihood depends upon remaining relevant in the eyes of the public are quickly schooled to one of the major tenets of doing just that:
Any knock is a boost.
It's the reason that seemingly intelligent people make outlandish statements on this curiously popular "feed" we call Twitter, or why a celebrity would adorn themselves in bizarre and downright garish clothing on the precious Hollywood Red Carpet, or even leap from a high diving board into a swimming pool despite minimal training and an unnecessary element of risk while judges and an obsessed American Public anxiously look on. Perhaps this is the modern day definition of a "leap of faith?" How things have changed.
As long as they're talking about you, apparently that's all that really matters.
It appears as though the Apostles understood this as well, however their motives weren't tied to a book deal, a spin-off reality TV program or an elected position. To the contrary, they knew that their outspoken ways would eventually lead them to walk the same road as Jesus. They were right, each and every one of them, with Judas of course being the lone exception. Having been moved by the Holy Spirit and inspired by Jesus, who of course set the example that remains to this day the benchmark, their motivation was to teach, serve and glorify Jesus' name on the heels of His victory over sin and death.
As we learned at the very beginning of the Easter journey, this message of redemption and oneness with God was meant for each and every one of us. In this Sunday's Gospel (John 21:1-19), a follow-up reinforcement to the first "fishers of men" invitation that Jesus extends to Peter and the Apsotles a few weeks prior, the author of the Gospel goes out of his way to point out that 153 fish were hauled in on that day. Some Biblical Scholars tie that figure to the exact number to nationalities (or tribes as the case may be) on the face of the Earth at that time. Each tribe was represented and it's equally important to note that the net did not tear despite the tremendous catch, perhaps symbolic of God's desire for all people to live and act within the confines of the "spiritual mesh" of his loving net without the plague of war, prejudice or intolerance of any kind, all of which certainly serve to slowly erode and inevitably shred the strands that should instead unite us in the carefully woven, unique tapestry that is God's creation. .
Those of us with the extreme good fortune of having been brought up in a faith-based environment as well as those prudent and wise enough to embark on their own journey of redemption and spiritual enlightenment through Jesus must find a way to become fishers of men and women in our day-to-day lives as well. To simply leave that task to our priests and the many other fine religious leaders who have dedicated their lives to be fishers of people is a mistake born of spiritual apathy mixed with short-sightedness. As a matter of fact, Diane Houdek had this to say on that very topic in her always insightful and thought-provoking "Bringing Home the Word" weekly essay:
Too often we think that only professional religious people - priests, nuns, theologians, Catholic writers - can preach the good news. But sometimes the professionals are at a disadvantage. They can get bogged down in a specialized language and academic fine points. Jesus understood this. This is why he focused his parables and actions on the most basic aspects of the daily lives of his listeners and followers. He strove throughout his time on earth to forge a connection between the message he preached and the way people lived that good news in their lives.
Jesus foreshadows Peter's fate at the tail-end of today's Gospel as he tells him "when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone will dress you and lead you to where you do not want to go." This of course speaks to Peter's evolution from that of a flawed, at times even reluctant disciple, to The Rock upon which Jesus built the foundation of our Church today, a Church that continues to evolve and change just as Peter did. A perfect story of redemption, he himself having "stretched out his hands" upon the cross that he too would be crucified, upside down no less. Jesus refused to give up on Peter, just as He refuses to give up on us. Even when we give up on us.
Jesus knows that it is only through redemption that we can go on to live the life He wants and needs from us, a life defined by service to others and obedience to God - the life Jesus Himself chose ("Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness." - Philippans 2)
Our focus must be centered on God and not some modern-day Sanhedrin seeking to usurp power and influence over our lives and all the lives of the faithful. Perfection in our lives, spirtiual and otherwise, need not nor should not be strived for as it will only lead to inevitable disappointment. A day-by-day approach works best; spiritual nourishment through Sunday worship....reading the Bible in quiet times....seeking out opportunities to volunteer, serve and be there for friends in need. The Sacrament of Reconciliation. Going our own way doesn't tend to work at all.
In selecting Peter in the way that He did, Jesus proves that He is forever willing to ignore the sins and missteps of the past in favor of looking ahead to the future. We in turn however must do our part to earn and justify this spectacular grace. In the increasingly secular world that we are challenged to negotiate, the righteous path can oftentimes be lonely.
St Ignatius of Loyola once commented that very few of us can truly understand what God could accomplish within us if we were to abandon ourselves without hesitation to Him and allow His grace to mold us accordingly. In reality, I don't know that any of us can truly grasp the magnitude of choosing this path. That's where faith comes in, and the fostering of faith is of course is a gradual process. Setting our ways aside and believing that God has a definitive plan for us a good first step. From there we take it as it comes, the good, the bad, the in-between.....much like Peter did.
The Readings over the next few weeks leading up to Pentecost will continue to shine a steadfast focus on the Acts of the Apostles. Observe carefully, for as events unfold you will be able to draw a parallel to the acts and lives led by the Apostles to the lives that we could lead.