April 28-29, 2001, 3rd Sunday of Easter, Cycle C
It is easy to look at these young people making their first communion today and just see them as children, dressed up so nicely, hair combed, faces scrubbed. They are excited to be able to join in our communion. We are excited to see them receive for the first time. But each child, and perhaps more importantly, these children are more than that. They are part of a story of salvation that is unfolding in Godís time. They didnít get here by themselves. I would like to ask the parents to stand. Thank you for caring for these children and for nurturing their call to this table. Grandparents, godparents, friends, teachers, fellow parishioners are all instrumental in bringing them to this point. And it doesnít stop here. With all that help, they come here today, and every time they receive from now on, not just for themselves but for the salvation of the world.
Did you ever notice that whenever Jesus does something with food or drink, he does it abundantly? 150 gallons of exquisite wine at Cana, baskets of bread and fish left over after feeding thousands, nets stretched to the limits in todayís Gospel story, always an abundance that symbolizes Godís overflowing love for us.
See, God is like an Italian mother and food. I hope all of you get to experience the graciousness of an Italian mother with respect to food because it is such a wonderful image of God's graciousness.
My wife Betsy is half Italian, half Irish but all Italian when it comes to food (praise God). When the older kids, who no longer live with us, come home, she can't feed them enough. Just this week, my oldest daughter and one of my sons came over for dinner. I asked Betsy what we were having and the answer was "Barnyard on the Grill": steak, chicken and pork. One meat was not enough! Most of the time, with our kids, that is not a problem; they love to eat at our house, where the food is good (and free). But even if their appetite is not up to Betsy's standard, that is not a problem either. She just packs up a doggy bag and makes them take some home. So that later, when they realize they need more nourishment, they have it. Or more importantly, they share it with others who need nourishment but weren't able to come to our house. Betsy's love is expressed in this very basic need to eat.
John the evangelist is always on guard against us taking discipleship, following Jesus, as an intellectual or simply spiritual activity. He consistently tells us stories that are grounded in the fundamental needs of this world: food, clothing, shelter, dignity. Todayís gospel passage is no exception. The two stories of the encounter on the seashore with Jesus, and Jesusí dialogue with Peter are told together because it is only together that we can understand either of them. Here we have a capsule version of our life in faith. It all starts with Jesus providing an abundance, even though we may not recognize who he is. Before the disciples even get to shore, there is a fire going with fish already on it. And like us so many times, the disciples think that there are no fish around them since they have tried all night. But Jesus encourages them to try one more time and they discover the abundance that was there all along. And when Jesus call them in, what does he offer them? Prayer, kind words? No, he offers them breakfast. Only when he has taken care of their physical hunger does he call them to respond to his love by loving him back. Then he invites them to follow him in making Godís love real in this world by sharing themselves with others, for some of them, to death.
Our life in faith starts in that baptismal font, to which we are called by name by God. In those waters we vow to become Christ like, to put on Christ. We are anointed priest, prophet and king. In the Eucharist we are invited to deepen that vow over a lifetime, gradually replacing the vow someone made for us, or that we made at the start of our faith, with a deep personal commitment of love of Jesus. Gradually we allow this love to transform us into the body of Christ that feeds his sheep.
In a few minutes we will bring up the gifts of bread and wine. What do they represent? They represent us. Like us, the bread and wine start as natural creations of God, wheat and grapes. But to get bread and wine, human effort is involved. That human element is crucial to Godís plan. So when the action of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of Fr. Butler transforms the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ, it is symbolic of the transformation of our humanity into the body and blood of Christ through the Eucharist. As Jesus fed Peter on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius so that Peter would have the strength to answer Jesusí call to feed his sheep, so we are fed at the table of the Eucharist so that we will have the strength to feed Godís people here and now.
My dear children, are you ready? Not just to come up and receive communion for the first time, but to come again and again so that you can feed someone you see who is hungry, so that you can be a friend to someone who is lonely, so that you can answer violence with love? Are you ready to start to understand how much Jesus loves you and cares for you? Be careful before you answer; because if you start to realize how much Jesus loves you, you will start to love him back and that will change your life, and the world around you.
Do you love Jesus? (see why Jesus had to ask Peter three times. Peter probably mumbled his first answer as well.)
Do you love Jesus?
[to the whole assembly] Do you love Jesus?
Then feed his sheep, with your body and your blood, which have become the body of Christ.