Lake Tiberias Encounter
The Resurrection appearances highlight the most revolutionary event in human history providing clear evidence to Jesus’ constant proclamation that he, the “Resurrection and the Life”, would be killed then rise on the third day by the Father’s authority over evil.
Yet the disciples, those chosen by him, lived intimately with him, shared in the Eucharistic meal, and were the first to encounter the risen Lord, are precisely the ones who had the hardest time believing it. The empty tomb confounded Mary Magdalen who later saw the risen Lord, yet thought at first it was the gardener. Only upon hearing him call her by name did she recognize Jesus and embrace him. Her testimony to the disciples “seemed like nonsense and they refused to believe.” (Luke 24:11)
Two disciples travelling to Emmaus did not recognize him arriving to be with them as they talked about all that was going on concerning His Resurrection. When Jesus asked what the discussion was about the two men described the “tale” received from the women who were at the empty tomb, of angels telling them that Jesus was alive. Jesus reprimanded them for their unbelief. (Luke 24: 13-35.)
It’s Better Not To See Yet Still Believe
Thomas demanded to see Christ’s wounds before he gave his heart, his all.
After telling Thomas that those who have not seen yet believe are truly blessed, Jesus headed for Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) where Peter and four other disciples had gone fishing. It is here that Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep, three times asking him, “Do you love me?’
During our 50 days of Easter alleluias launched by the brilliance of the Vigil Mass in the Paschal Triduum, I’ve been spending some time thinking about this struggle of unbelief during the Resurrection appearances. We live in the age of the Holy Spirit who asks us to believe without seeing. Sometimes I feel His silence, especially amid the noise of a relentless social media and endless digital commentaries where empty opinions rule. It seems that He is unseen, unrecognized and not believed wherever the Church’s voice and presence exists. In my own lonely longing for His touch, His love and embrace, or in my longing for those I love to know Him or be healed by Him I feel His apparent distance where the temptation to discouragement creeps toward my heart like rising spring set to overcome the river’s banks.
I long for your love, your touch, your face O Lord, yet you ask me to believe without seeing, without being touched and held. Yes, you do come to me, quietly, but I long for a total embrace like a frightened child longing to be held. I long to see you, especially during these 50 days of Easter Alleluias in which my cross at times is very heavy. I long for the new Jerusalem, the “…holy city Jerusalem coming down from heaven from God…The city had the radiance of a precious jewel that sparkled like a diamond…The city had no need of sun or moon for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the lamb.”(Rev 21: 10-11, 23).
John Paul II On The Meaning Of Jesus’ Miraculous Catch At Lake Tiberias
I returned to a book I read in 2005 called Rising in Christ: Meditations on Living the Resurrection, by John Paul II. The editors Jo-Garcia-Cobb and Keith E. Cobb compiled excerpts from John Paul II’s homilies, addresses, encyclicals, etc. in which he pointed to the Resurrection as the decisive event in human history and indeed the Church’s history.
One of his most penetrating messages he gave during his apostolic journey to Germany in 1987 when he visited the Ruhr area to heal the deep wound of unemployment and loss of a way of life there.
The Ruhr Valley, the most densely populated and industrialized region of Germany with its coal mines and steel mills covering the landscape, powered Germany’s economic recovery after World War II. Once the dominant coal mining and steel manufacturing center in Europe the Ruhr faced a steady and painful decline of coal mining beginning in the 1950s, reaching top gear by the seventies and ’80s, and finally ending completely with the last and largest coal mine of Europe shutting down in 2018.
John Paul II:
Your ancestors joined the world pilgrimage of the Christian faith. They accepted the testimony of the apostles and their ancestors and entered the community of the faithful… The beginning of the Church in your country dates back to the first centuries of Christianity. The oldest tombs of the martyrs, which you keep in some churches of your great homeland date back to Roman times.
He then highlighted a few of Germany’s great achievements and witnesses to the Truth embodied in the heroic life of many such as Edith Stein.
These witnesses, he concluded, encourage each of us to give a courageous witness in the family, in the neighbourhood, in professional life, in school, and in leisure.
From here Pope John Paul II stepped into his piercing insight on the miraculous catch of fish on the shores of Lake Tiberias in order to lead people away from the temptation to discouragement and resignation, calling coal miners, especially, to trust completely in Christ’s victory, and to be strong witnesses to Him:
In order to give witness to Christ and his new life, we ourselves must first let ourselves be completely possessed by him. However, like the disciples at Lake Tiberias, we too are time and again tempted to become weak in faith and give up. Although they had already heard the message of Jesus’ resurrection from Mary Magdalene, although they had met him several times, they returned to their boats as if nothing had happened. It sounds like resignation: ‘I’m going out to fish…we will join you.’ (John 21:3). The desire to set out to new shores seems to have faded. And even in their small fishing world, they are unsuccessful: “All through the night they caught nothing.” Although the disciples struggled all night, their nets remained empty. This experience of failure that easily leads to discouragement is shared by many today in society, in the world of work, but also in the church.”
It appears that the Lord must take our goods, our means away from us so that our vision is cleared for him. For he seeks our company. As we read in the good news of today’s Gospel: “Just after daybreak Jesus was standing on the shore…” First He needed an honest answer from his disciples, an admission of their own hopelessness and powerlessness. He said to them: “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” “Not a thing,” they answered.” Then came God’s help: “Cast your net to the starboard side,” he told them, “and you will find something.” So they made a cast, and took so many fish they could not haul the net in.” (Jn 21:3-6). Suddenly the risen Lord became a living reality in their lives, transforming them and giving them a new meaning to everything filling them with unexpected satisfaction and joy.
Jesus Calls From Our Shoreline
The Pope threw his own net to the world:
Jesus is also on the shore of our time, on the shore of the life of each of us.
However, many have not recognized him. But the witness and recognition of his redemptive presence can no longer be ignored. Without him, there is no support or hope. Without him, all man’s efforts are in vain and the hunger of the human heart cannot be satisfied.
Peter dove into the lake toward Christ giving his all to the risen Lord allowing Jesus to completely take possession of him. “Do you love me, Peter?” “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
Lord help me to plunge into the sea of your Presence where you await my all. I, too, am often burdened by the dry land on which I walk where the weeds of my sins, the failures of my efforts, and the weakness of my faith tempt me to despair holding me from plunging into you, my Ocean of refuge. You always wait for my admission of my own helplessness, poverty, and unbelief. Your love always arrives to dry my tears and strengthen my faith.
Meeting Him in Toronto
Lord, you travelled with me to my hometown Toronto last week where we walked together amid millions of sheep who seemed to be lost without a shepherd. Yet it was in this city that you found me. Carlo Carretto titled a book, “The Desert in the City”. The desert or wilderness is where silence and stillness draw me into contact with you the One who lives and moves and exists in silence. It was in this grand, intense city where you captured me in 1975. The desert exists in this city. You found me there in my youth when I walked without a shepherd, rather where I walked not knowing you were shepherding me. You pulled my searching, longing heart, lost in the abyss of sin, toward you living and moving in the wilderness of Toronto.
Crawling into Saint Maria Goretti Church 44 years ago you came to me flooding my being with the Light of your Presence. I clung to you. Last week in the beating heart of my beloved Toronto I entered St. Michael’s Cathedral to feed my hungry soul with the Bread of Angels. There, with my brothers and sisters we ate, we prayed, we longed with all our yearning. You came to us, each carrying loss in some way and time, a taking away of our goods, our means, as Pope John Paul II told those in the Ruhr valley.
Somewhere, Lord, in this city lives my beloved daughter Rachel who I brought to you in my heart before the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. You are her Shepherd and I know you are shepherding her. Your Body and Blood dissolved into the sorrow of my heart as I thought of my divorce twenty years ago, and the Monica-like yearning for you to bring my seven children home to you, to make their home in you.
John Paul II’s Final Call To The Faithful In The Ruhr Valley and To Us.
John Paul finished his homily on the Lake Tiberias encounter by calling those living and working in the day to day life of the Ruhr to feed on the Eucharist and never let the fire of the Gospel be extinguished in their lives:
Dear brothers and sisters! Our look at the Easter events of Lake Tiberias makes us understand more deeply our Christian life. What the Gospel tells us does not belong to a distant past, but is a living present. “Jesus said to them: Come and eat!… Jesus approached, took the bread and gave it to them (and the fish)”. This happens here and now. As imposing as the coal fires in the Ruhr area are, the mysterious Gospel fires continue to burn on all continents and at all times because love itself is broken in the humble form of bread.
Do not freeze in selfishness and in the struggle for competition…and the pursuit of pleasure, but come to the Easter fire of Holy Mass; let Sunday, the Lord’s day not become empty of meaning…Believe in the risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who assured us that he is always next to us every day until the end of the world.