In the first reading, St Peter, when being interrogated before the Jewish leaders, said, “that it was by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the one you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name and by no other that this man is able to stand up perfectly healthy, here in your presence today.” We cannot but wonder where Peter got such enthusiasm, courage and joy to proclaim the Good News. Even when under threat and intimidation from the authorities, St Peter saw it as an opportunity to witness to Christ.
What about us? Why is it that many of us do not have that great enthusiasm and urgency to proclaim Christ and be His witnesses? Some of us lose the zeal to live out the Catholic Faith only a few years after our baptism. Catholics who have been active in Church ministry also lose their interest and commitment after some time. How have we become jaded so quickly, losing our sense of mission and apostolic zeal?
This is because we have been hurt. To live an authentic Christian life surely involves many sacrifices. Quite often, we are misunderstood and unappreciated. People say all kinds of things about us. As humans we tend to react by withdrawing our services and our love. Perhaps, we had a tiff or row with the priest in charge, or some fellow Catholics. As a result, we become angry and resentful. Indeed, most of us are broken in many ways and we need healing. We are like Peter who was feeling depressed and guilty for denying Jesus in His hour of need, but also hurt that Jesus was innocently crucified, and disillusioned at His death. Indeed, as we have read in last Sunday’s gospel story of the empty tomb, when Peter went into the tomb, he was silent. He could not understand the significance of the empty tomb. The stone of unbelief had not yet been rolled away from him. When one is wallowing and indulging in self-pity, weighed down by sin and guilt, one cannot see beyond oneself. Consequently, today, the liturgy invites us to recognize the need for healing in our lives.
What, then, are the stages in the healing process?
Firstly, in such a situation, it is only natural to seek an escape route. Peter wanted to get away from it all. Being so demoralized and losing all hope, he went back to doing what he had always been good at, namely, fishing. So too, when we are discouraged, we want to go back to our familiar background and situation. Yet, going back to his fishing was but an occasion forpersonal reflection. It is said that fishing is truly a meditative hobby. It gives us time to mull over our lives in a relaxed environment. Peter needed time to go through the tragic events that happened. We too, when we are broken and feeling hopeless, we need to withdraw and be alone with God and ourselves to reflect over our lives.
What is notable in this healing process is the support that his friends gave to him. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, already recognized Jesus as the Risen Lord. Yet, he knew that Peter needed support and so when asked, he went with the other disciples and followed Peter to the sea. Perhaps, this tells us that friends can play a great part in the healing process. Whilst such support can help, without Christ, one will continue to remain lost. It is important to note that it was dark when they went fishing. We read “they went out and got into the boat but caught nothing that night.” Night is a symbol of being lost and broken. Their efforts did not bear any fruit because they were in darkness. Without Christ, we are all in darkness and hence lost. Hence, we do not bear fruit.
But the good news is that Christ has come to reach out to us in our darkness. Hence, the gospel tells us “it was light by now and there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.” In St John’s understanding, Jesus is the light of the world. He had come to show us the way to life. Once again, we must realize that for John, the scene of Jesus standing on the shore is a symbol of stability. Jesus was standing on safe ground whereas the disciples were in the sea, which is a symbol of uncertainty because of the storms of life and where Satan lurks. It is interesting to consider how Jesus helped Peter to heal himself. Jesus began the process of healing by inviting them for reconciliation. He called out to them, “Have you caught anything, friends?” Note how He called them friends and even enlightened them as to where they could find the fish. Jesus was not resentful that they had betrayed Him. He took the initiative to reach out to them.
But for Peter to encounter the Lord, he needed to be freed from his fears. He could not see Jesus if not for John, the disciple Jesus loved, who prompted him by saying, “It is the Lord!” Again, if John could notice Jesus so quickly, it was because he was without any guilty baggage. When he saw the catch, he was immediately reminded of an earlier incident in the life of Peter at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he called Peter to be one of His disciples. Hence, we read that “Simon Peter, who had practically nothing on, wrapped his cloak round him and jumped into the water.” The significance of this jumping down the water was actually a kind of baptism. St Peter needed to be washed clean of his guilt and sins. And thus, with a little help from John, he took the plunge of faith in Christ’s forgiveness. It is good to note that we did not read of the other disciples doing the same.
The next stage of reconciliation was the breakfast scene. Of course to have a meal is truly a sign of friendship. So once again, Jesus allowed the disciples to know that they had been forgiven by inviting them to a meal with Him. And so Jesus said, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’” What was the significance of the charcoal fire, the bread and the fish? The charcoal fire would have reminded Peter of how he had denied Jesus that night at the charcoal fire in the presence of a maidservant. It was a most humiliating moment when he cried for not having had the courage to admit that he was a disciple of the Lord. In contrast now, Peter showed that he was now more than a disciple, for we are told that “Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore, full of big fish, one hundred and fifty-three of them; and in spite of there being so many the net was not broken.”
What about the bread and the fish? The fact that Jesus invited them saying, “Come and have breakfast”, implies that they were now reconciled with Him. Of course, it was also to remind them of the paschal meal and the multiplication of loaves earlier on in His ministry. So, like the loaves being multiplied and how He gave Himself in the Eucharist, the disciples were now called to increase the membership of the people of God by feeding them the bread of life just as Jesus did.
What can we surmise and learn from all these? It gives us the process for inner healing. The healing process requires the healing of memories so that the healing of the heart can take place. This healing takes place by returning us to our past, especially our psychological pains. The necessity of reenacting the past is necessary so that the wounds can be reopened for healing. The truth is that suppressing our guilt and our hurts will not liberate us. Only what is exposed can be healed.
In the case of Peter, Jesus led him to remember his past by first and foremost helping him to recall his first encounter with Him through the miraculous catch of fish. So inner healing begins with the recalling of God’s prior love and mercy. Next, Jesus helped Peter to recall his sins and relive his psychological pain by going back to his moments of failure when he denied Him. In tomorrow’s gospel, we read how Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to redeem himself by overriding his threefold denial with a threefold affirmation of love. So the steps of healing are to recall God’s mercy and love, followed by confession of sins and forgiveness. With freedom, the Lord is then encountered.
Finally, what must be noted is that the end process of healing and reconciliation is always the call to mission. In the first reading, we read how St Peter, having been healed of his pains and past, was so elated to be given the great joy of proclaiming Jesus as the universal saviour. Because he himself was crippled by his sins and his past and now set free by faith, he could now also heal others through the same power that he was given. His own experience told him that Jesus is the cornerstone. He is the one who can deliver us from our sinful situation and even the past that continues to weigh us down. Hence, he declared, “This is the stone rejected by you the builders, but which has proved to be the keystone. For all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved.’” Truly, Peter was a wounded healer.
Consequently, if find ourselves unable to reach out to others or go beyond ourselves, it is because of our brokenness. Many of us, especially in ministry and in Church involvements, often become jaded because of hurtful experiences, especially from within our Catholic community. As a result, we lose our zeal and desire to proclaim the gospel. When such a situation exists, when we find ourselves lacking a sense of mission, it could be that our sins and pains prevent us from seeing Jesus as the Good News in our lives. This means that we need to pray for healing.