Fr. David Keegan’s Homily, Sunday, May 5, 2019
I was asked by a number of parishioners if it would be possible to share my homily from last weekend. As you know, I don’t use a written text, but I do record them. Here is an edited transcription:
We know that often times in our Christian Life we face paradoxes, such as when Jesus says that in order to save your life, you have to lose your life, or the last shall be first … we see this often in the scriptures, and we have all known it in our own lives as well. And even in the life of a priest there are times that we face conflict. Even in the middle of this joy-filled season of Easter that we are in; there is conflict in my heart…
We prayed in the opening prayer that we are waiting with the confident hope of the resurrection. Yesterday morning, I was at the Cathedral where 4 of my brothers were ordained to the sacred priesthood, and earlier today at 11:30 am, newly ordained Fr. Eric was here for his Mass of Thanksgiving and newly ordained Deacon Jared preached at the 9:30 am Mass. We are basking in the joy of the resurrection; we pray every day that we are “overcome with paschal joy”.
But also, every day we are overcome with news of the persecution of the church. We know about the bombings in Sri Lanka, and now Mass is cancelled there indefinitely because it is not safe to come together as Catholics. In Nigeria something like 900 churches have been destroyed recently. There is constant persecution all throughout the world; every day we are reading about this in the news. And every day as your pastor I hear from you about the pain that you carry because of the sex abuse crisis in the church. And the absolute failure of the bishops’ and their response then and even today. I hear you, I know your pain. This heaviness that I carry with me and that I know many of you are carrying seems to weigh more than the joy of the Easter season. This is what we bring some times to the Mass. I have heard from many parishioners who have left the Church: “I’m not coming back, or I’m coming but not supporting in any way.” So many people are hanging on by such a thin thread of faith.
But when I come and read the scriptures that we have today, I am filled with hope, in spite of the darkness and the pain. When I hear this story about Peter and Jesus; basically this episode is what we call, “the primacy of Peter”, when Peter is entrusted with the mission of the Church to feed and tend the sheep.
There was a catch of 153 fish and somehow the net that didn’t tear. This signifies the 153 known nations at this time. The symbolism is that this net is the Church, and that Peter is in charge of caring for and feeding the whole world. Peter is clearly the leader, and is given this charge and this command. And this is one of the reasons why the sin and the crime of the priests and bishops hurts so bad. Because they are supposed to be tending us and feeding us. And we know the prophecy from Ezekiel where he says, “woe to you shepherds who feed yourself on the flock.” So many of my brothers have done just that, and it makes me angry and sad for all of you who you have to face this.
The one thing the devil wants to do is destroy our hope, to put us in despair, to think it is all for nothing and just to give up. But I am filled with hope
Yesterday 4 men laid down on the floor to give up their life for you, so that you can go to heaven. And just a few weeks ago at the Easter Vigil, I baptized 9 people and confirmed 19: I have hope. I have hope because Peter who so completely rejected Jesus on Holy Thursday was restored in the very passage we have today. And that this man who was afraid to even admit that he knew Jesus, is very same man in the first reading who tells the same people that he cannot not speak the name of Jesus, that he can’t obey man, and that he must obey God.
And this is what we are celebrating in this Easter Season and every day. We are celebrating because Christ has conquered death, and sin has no more reign over us; no matter how dark it may look from the persecution from the outside, or the rotten filth on the inside – no matter what, Christ wins!! And this is our hope, and this is why we can pray that we look forward with confident hope to the Resurrection. Because we know how it ends. It ends with the reading of the Book of Revelations today, with the whole world praising around the altar in heaven. St. John was writing during a time of persecution, and way before the disciples went to the ends of the world. And still John had the vision that every creature was around the altar praising God. This is our hope and this is what we look forward to. And every time we come to Mass this is what we enter into. Because the story about Peter is our story. Who among us hasn’t denied Christ is some way or other?
The scriptures today are so layered with imagery: (1) Jesus is standing on the stable shore, while the apostles out on the water, rocky, turbulent, uncertain – Christ is our rock of certainty; (2) these fishermen go out and catch nothing – in Luke Chapter 5 same thing happened: Jesus was there for the miraculous catch of fish. (3) Charcoal file – there are only two times in the new testament that we have a charcoal fire – Peter denies Jesus at the charcoal fire on Holy Thursday and he is restored with Jesus at a charcoal fire today. We can say in a way that Christ has taken Peter back to those moments, that moment when he was called on the shore when he caught nothing, that moment when he denied Christ, to remind him that Christ has been with him this entire time.
Because this is the trap that we so often we fall into, thinking that is that it is too late for me. I’ve done too much; I’ve gone too far there is no way back. Peter gives us hope today. In this beautiful conversation between Jesus and Peter: Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me? Do you love me more than these? Whenever Jesus asks these questions in the Gospel, we must allow Him to ask them to each one of us. So, “Fr. David, do you love me more than these?” “What these are you talking about, Jesus?”
To Peter Jesus asks, “Do you love me more than these other disciples love me? Do you love me Peter, more than you love these other disciples? Do you love me Peter more than you love these fish? We don’t know what the “these” is. But we all have a “these”. What are the “these” in your life that Christ is asking you about? Can he be your number 1 regardless of how many times you rejected him in the past?
And even when we look at the original text, the Greek words here are very telling for us. You know in English there is only one word for love. I can love God with my whole heart, mind, and strength, and I can love Oreos. The same word is used but with completely different meanings. Greek has four words for love. So, when we read what Jesus says, he says “Simon, do you love me with a crucifixion type of love? Do you love me to the point where you will give your life for me?” And Peter/Simon says, “Yes Jesus, you are my friend.” The second time Jesus says “do you love me with a crucifixion type of love? Peter says “yes, I love you like a friend.” The 3rd time, Jesus says “Simon, do you love me like a friend?” “Yes, Lord, you know everything, I love you like a friend.” and Jesus responds to Peter and to each one of us, “Maybe you are not ready for crucifixion kind of love, maybe you just simply are hanging on by a thin thread of faith and barely making it to Mass. And you don’t know what it will take you to drive you off the edge, but Christ is coming to you today, and he says “walk with me, let me walk with you”.
This is who Jesus is. He calls us to greatness but he walks with us from wherever we are and brings us to greatness. Because this is what that ending of the passage means. “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 out your hands, someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. He says what kind of death he would have to glorify God;” We know that Peter was crucified: he eventually got to that point where he was ready for a crucifixion type of love.
So I beg, don’t give up. Don’t give up on yourself, don’t give up on the Church, don’t give up on Jesus. Yes, it is dark. It is dark outside, and it is dark inside. But the light of the Easter Candle is shining. Just like on Easter Vigil when this church was pitch black and the light of Christ came and illuminated the entire building – this is what Christ will do for your life.
We are a people of hope, this is what it means to be a Christian, to be a Catholic, to have my life re-orientated towards Christ towards the promises of heaven trusting that they will come true no matter what. So, like the apostles in the first reading I can count on pure joy when I get to suffer for the sake of the name. That is the crucifixion kind of love. That’s the love that Christ has invited each one of into, with our baptism and every day we live this life of faith.
“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?” Allow Jesus to ask you that question, and pray for the grace that we too can say “yes Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” Amen.