The Church, as the gathering of God’s people throughout the world, is the living and abiding sign of Christ’s Resurrection.
The Church must therefore continue to display the qualities that characterised the Resurrection communities described in the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles.
These young churches were, above all, distinguished by the welcome they extended to all. As people heard the preaching of the Apostles, and witnessed lives transformed by the power of the risen Christ, they responded with enthusiasm. During this Year of Faith we are called to proclaim the Gospel with the same joy, and, through the warmth of our welcome, to welcome a world that is searching for meaning.
Another characteristic of these early churches was the opposition that greeted the Gospel. Peter and the Apostles were dragged before the authorities on many occasions. They gladly suffered such humiliation, always giving an account of their faith. We, in our turn, should be always ready to give an account of our faith to a sceptical world. We should not hide the values that give meaning to our lives.
The concluding verses of John’s Gospel are a wonderful illustration of the constant renewal that must accompany the Church if she is to live with the vitality of those early churches. Christ showed himself to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. The preliminary verses introducing the scene give the distinct impression that the assembled apostles had lost their initial enthusiasm. They did not know what to do. A downhearted Peter suggested that they return to what had been their occupation prior to their first encounter with Jesus. “Simon Peter said: ‘I’m going fishing.’ They replied: ‘We’ll come with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but caught nothing that night.”
We also shall live through times when we feel far from Christ’s presence. Like the Apostles we shall be tempted to return to old ways, to lives untouched by faith.
As night gave way to day, Jesus greeted the frustrated Apostles from the shore, inquiring about their fruitless labours. At first they did not recognise him. Could it be that this details was deliberately included to remind us that the Risen Lord frequently comes to us in new and unexpected ways. When Christ reveals himself to us in new ways we do not always recognise him. Only in prayerful reflection do we recognise that Christ is present in the changed circumstances of our lives.
Jesus invited his disciples to cast their nets again to starboard. It was as if Jesus was taking them back to the beginning of his ministry, to that first encounter on the shores of Lake Tiberias. On that occasion Jesus had brought about a miraculous catch of fish after a night of sterile labour. The repetition of that miracle reminded the disciples that without the Lord we labour in vain.
With him everything becomes possible. When the disciples stepped ashore at the invitation of their Lord, they were reminded again of what would be their enduring strength. Jesus blessed bread and fish to feed his hungry Apostles. Surely they remembered that Christ had revealed himself as the Bread of Life when he had fed the multitude with a few loaves and fishes. Now they knew that he was with them always whenever they gathered for the Breaking of Bread. The celebration of the Eucharist, despite its inevitable familiarity, will always be for us an encounter with our Risen Lord.
Finally, Jesus sought out Peter, the Peter who had denied him three times in the hours before his crucifixion. Three times he confronted him with the same question. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Like Peter, we shall abandon the Lord. Only one thing has the power to bring us back: the love that Christ puts in our hearts.