Fireside Chats by Rev. Paul D. Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." they said to him, "We also will come with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?" They answered him, "No." So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something." So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish.
When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you just caught," So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come, have breakfast." And none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they realized it was the Lord. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.
When the had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." He then said to Simon Peter a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." Jesus said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch our your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."
Peter drew near the charcoal fire. It was a cold night and the fire offered him the warmth he desired. So he approached and warmed himself. (Jn 18:18) By so doing, he put himself in the the company of his Lord's persecutors - who soon became his. The eventually recognized him as one of Jesus' followers and began to accuse him. He denied being in Our Lord's company and soon denied Our Lord Himself. The cock crowd and he wept bitterly.
Unlike Judas, St. Peter trusted that he could be forgiven. He persevered in his sadness and contrition until such a time that he could ask forgiveness and be restored to Christ. Our Lord's resurrection begins forgiveness for Peter. And His appearance at the Sea of Tiberias is the occasion for Peter's rehabilitation. Once again peter draws near a charcoal fire. (Jn 21-9) This time, however, the fire promises not sin but redemption.
The very beginning of the scene already hints at something of a renewal for St. Peter. Our Lord first called Peter while he was fishing and by way of a miraculous catch of fish. (cf. Lk 5:1-11) So also now, as if to signal a new beginning, Our Lord comes to him. He appears on the shore and, unrecognized by the Apostles, commands them to cast their net off the right side of the boat. With that they "were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish." (Jn 21:6) The whole event reminds Peter of that moment years before when a similar miracle prompted him to leave everything and follow Jesus. With that, he leaps from the boat and rushes to Our Lord.
When Peter reaches the shore he sees a charcoal fire, which reminds him of a less inspiring moment in his discipleship. But as Peter's fall occurred before a fire, it is fitting that his redemption occur there as well. The rehabilitation undoes the fall. Peter approached the first fire, seeking creature comfort (i.e. warmth). He approaches the second for supernatural reasons - to find Jesus. He came to the first at night, under cover of darkness. He comes to the second in the light of a new day. At that first fire he found himself among his enemies and, fearing shame, denied Jesus. At this second fire he finds himself with other disciples - and he is strengthened.
Within this context, then, Our Lord invites Peter to atone for his denial. It is as though Our Lord takes Peter back to the scene of the crime and gives him the opportunity to undo his sin. As Our Lord's persecutor's had asked Peter three times about his devotion to Christ, so now Jesus Himself does the same: "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" (cf.Jn 21:15-17) By his threefold affirmation of love - "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." (Jn 21:15-17) - Peter undoes the knot that had kept him from the Lord. He then receives anew the invitation to discipleship. "Follow me." (Jn 21:19; cf Lk 5:10, Mt 4:19)
At that second fireside chat,
Jesus provided Peter an opportunity to participate in his own redemption.
He has the chance to undo some of the harm he had done. What we see in St.
Peter's rehabilitation holds true for each one of us: God desires to associate
us in His work of salvation. He alone redeems, but He desires that we
participate. He alone forgives sin, but He wants to associate us in His
work. He enabled Peter to do so by bringing him again to the fire and
asking him again about his devotion. He enables us by way of confession,
by acts of penance, by mortifications, by apologizing to those we offend,
praying for those we have hurt. It is a glorious work that Jesus has
accomplished in His death and resurrection. More glorious still that He
associates with with His work.
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