Conversion

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I'm over six feet tall.  If I wear my cowboy boots, I can add another half inch or so and get pretty close to 6'2".  I guess that makes me above average height.  Yet when it comes to following Jesus, I sometimes feel short in stature.

This reality hit home with me recently when reading the story about Zacchaeus in St. Luke's Gospel.  Scripture tell us that Zacchaeus was a rich tax collector who "sought to see" Jesus as He was passing through Jericho.  (Luke 19:1-3)  But his desire to see Jesus faced two problems: (1) as usual, there was a large crowd surrounding Jesus; and (2) Zacchaeus "was small of stature."  Quite simply, Zacchaeus was short, and there was no way he could see Jesus over the crowd. Undeterred, Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree to remedy the problem.  Jesus, impressed by such determination, yelled out to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today."  (Luke 19:5)  Zacchaeus obeyed, came down from the tree, and received Jesus "joyfully."  (Luke 19:6) St. Luke then recounts that Zacchaeus told Jesus he would give half of his good to the poor and make restitution "fourfold" to anyone he had defrauded--all this while the crowd murmured in astonishment that Jesus would be the guest of a sinner.  (Luke 19:7-8)  In response, Jesus announces that salvation has come to Zacchaeus' house, and, more broadly, that "the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost."  (Luke 19:9-10)

Although I'm not physically "small of stature" as was Zacchaeus, I often identify with his plight.  Like Zacchaeus, most days I sincerely seek to see Jesus; and not only to see, but to carry my cross and follow him.  Yet certain things sometimes crowd around Jesus and obstruct my sight.  As St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, "The crowd is the confusion . . . which we must climb above if we wish to see Christ."  This confusion--the crowd--can take many forms: money and/or material possessions, worldly pleasure, fear, anxiety, apathy, spiritual laziness, and the like.  Combine this with a small spiritual stature--the weakening of the will and intellect resulting from sin--and some days it can be almost impossible to see Jesus as He passes by.  And make no mistake, He passes by us anew each and every day.

Fortunately, Zacchaeus shows us how to overcome this problem.  It is no coincidence that he climbed a tree.  Almost certainly there were other objects or structures that Zacchaeus could have scaled in order to see Jesus.  No, it had to be a tree, because the tree represents the Cross--both that of Jesus and our own.  As Cornelius a Lapide, referencing 1 Corinthians 1:24, explains:

Mystically, the sycamore is the cross of Christ and His doctrine, which to the Gentiles and men of this world is mere folly, but to Zacchæus and the faithful is the wisdom of God, and the power of God.

Like it did for Zacchaeus, climbing a tree--the Cross of Christ--gives us the wisdom of God; the wisdom to see past the crowd in our lives and overcome our small spiritual stature.  I've found that routine, constant prayer provides a great boost to climbing.  Similarly, offering even the most mundane of daily activities for God's glory seems to keep my eyes open and alert for when Jesus passes by.  Sure, such climbing habits may cause us to suffer scorn and rebuke, for just as it was for the Gentiles of Jesus's day, the Cross is folly to many a modern man.  Remember though that climbing trees is primarily a children's activity, and that Jesus told us that only those who become like children will enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 18:3)

So find a good tree to climb next time you feel the world closing in on you.  It will allow you to see Christ, and He will see you in return.  And as He called to Zacchaeus, so He calls to us, "come down quickly, for I wish to reside in your heart today."  And upon hearing those words, we can humbly descend from our perch, receive Jesus joyfully, and go about the business of announcing that salvation awaits all those who are lost.

God love you.

 

 

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Over a dozen times in the Gospels, Jesus tells the apostles and/or disciples to be not afraid.  It seems those who followed Jesus then were often fearful--both of what they did not understand and of what they could not control.  Those of us who follow Him today are not much different.  I certainly am not.  It can be easy to let fear rule or lives: fear about our past, fear about our future, fear about our family, fear about work, fear about our country and the state of the world, fear about our eternal salvation, fear, fear, fear.  If left unchecked, this fear can lead to despair, and often times, is the root of various sins.

But Jesus tells us not to fear, and for good reason.  Below is a short poem I wrote while reflecting on this truth.  It is in the form of a prayer or conversation between Jesus and us.  I pray that in some small way, it might help you to be not afraid.

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It is I; be not afraid

Wipe your tears, forget your shame

Though the seas you are sailing may be stormy with strife

Fear not, I came to give you abundant life

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How Lord?  I've been so lost

Pursued the pleasures of this world at every cost

Denied you too, more times than I can count

Was willing to sell you for any amount

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Hush my child and walk this way

My grace awaits you every day

One foot, then the other . . . climb the ladder high

Towards the dwelling place my Father has prepared for you from the beginning of time

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I will try, oh God, but I'm still so scared

The trials of this life seem more than I can bear

Evil, sickness, death and sin

I can hardly breathe . . . the walls are closing in

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Have you already forgotten that I walked this earth too?

Experienced sorrows and temptations just like you

But the penalty for sin, I bore for all mankind

Gave my body and blood so that you might become divine

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My Lord and My God, let me touch your side and feel your hands

You are the Bread of Life without which I cannot stand

Abide with me, and I will fear no more

Anoint my head with oil . . . all your graces upon me pour

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Arise faithful servant, there is nothing left to fear

Just open your heart, and I will always draw near

And though you will stumble, it's not the end of your story

Because from the day of your creation, I destined you for eternal glory.

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God love you!

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This is the eighth and final part  in a series of short reflections on the eight general attributes of God that can known by reason, as set forth by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.  I've been learning about St. Thomas and the Summa from Dr. Taylor Marshall and the online classes he offers at the New Saint Thomas Institute.  These reflections are the result of my meditations on each individual attribute during prayer.  As such, they are not meant to be deep theological discussions, but simple spiritual thoughts on the majesty of our God .  I pray you find them beneficial in your walk with Christ.

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"This I command you: love one another." (John 15:17)

"God is One." Thus, unity is the eighth attribute of God. As St. Thomas explains, God's unity--His oneness--is evident from His simplicity and infinite perfection. Moreover, quoting St. Bernard of Clairvuax, St. Thomas tells us that "among all things called one, the unity of the Divine Trinity holds the first place." (Summa Theologica, Prima Pars, q. 11, art. 4) In other words, the unity of love among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reveals God's oneness above all else. "The highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit." (CCC ¶ 813)

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We share and participate in the Triune God's unity of love by following the two commandments Jesus gave us: 1. Loving God; and 2. Loving our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:36 - 40) One doesn't have to look around very long to realize that there isn't a whole lotta love in today's world. Perhaps that is why, for me at least, practicing the second commandment can be so difficult sometimes. But as Christians, our primary job in many respects is to bring forth the love of Christ into a fallen and loveless world. Indeed, as Jesus tells us, "[t]his is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) It was this other-wordly, agape love that the pagans noticed when the early Christian's were being martyred for their faith: "See [ ] how they love one another . . . how they are ready even to die for one another." (Tertullian’s Apology, Chapter XXXIX.) When we, as Christians, fail to love one another, we make ourselves indistinguishable and no different from the world at large.

In His prayer to the Father just before entering into His Passion, Jesus expresses his utmost desire for all those who believe in Him to be united in love:

"And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me." (John 17:22 - 23)

Let that sink in for a moment. We must love one another, not only to identify ourselves as Christians, but also so the world will know that God the Father sent Jesus the Son to die for us. By loving one another, we show God's love for all. As St. Thomas states in his commentary on this passage, "nothing shows the truth of the gospel better than the charity of those who believe." As such, "we must try to live holier lives according to the Gospel; for it is the unfaithfulness of the members to Christ's gift which causes divisions." (CCC ¶ 821) Pretty high stakes.

I've been praying a lot lately asking God to give me a greater love of neighbor and to fill me with His supernatural love in order to do the same. During this time, I came across this quote of Father Basil Maturin from his book Christian Self-Mastery:

"The more we love God, the more we shall love man; the less we love God, the less we shall, in the true sense of the word, love man."

Simple enough. More love for God = more love for neighbor. But I needed something more practical and concrete. Leave it to C.S. Lewis to come to the rescue. In Mere Christianity, Lewis offers two practical pieces of advice I will leave you with. First, with respect to loving God, he says:

"Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, 'If I were sure I loved God, what would I do?' When you have found the answer, go and do it."

Then, with respect to love of neighbor, he explains:

"Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him."

During this Holy Week, opportunities abound to do something for love of God and love of neighbor. By doing so, Jesus will infuse us with His "joy" so that our "joy may be complete." (John 15:11) And who know, maybe you will hear someone say, "See how they love one another."

God love you.

 

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This is the seventh in a series of short reflections on the eight general attributes of God that can known by reason, as set forth by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.  I've been learning about St. Thomas and the Summa from Dr. Taylor Marshall and the online classes he offers at the New Saint Thomas Institute.  These reflections are the result of my meditations on each individual attribute during prayer.  As such, they are not meant to be deep theological discussions, but simple spiritual thoughts on the majesty of our God .  I pray you find them beneficial in your walk with Christ.

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"And this is Eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent."  (John 17:3)

If God is infinite and immutable, it follows naturally that He also must be eternal.  This is the seventh attribute of God according to St. Thomas.  To be eternal means that God has no beginning and no end.  He cannot be measured by time.  Thus, St. Thomas says that "eternity is nothing else but God himself."  (Summa Theologica, I, q. 10, art. 2).  Moreover, this eternal nature applies to each of the three persons of the Trinity, not just God the Father.  "The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Ghost is eternal."  (Id. (quoting St. Athanasius)).

Like all of His attributes, God's eternal nature may seem at first like an abstract concept with little implication in our daily lives.  To the contrary, however, God created us to share in His eternal nature and His eternal life.  Perhaps the most quoted passage in the Gospels speaks to this truth: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life."  (John 3:16)  As created beings, we are not eternal in the same way as God, for we have a beginning.  But He did create us to have no end--life everlasting.  In other words, although each of us physically will die one day, our souls will live forever.  "Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day."  (2 Corinthians 4:16)  The only question then is where we will spend eternity.  As C.S. Lewis explains in Mere Christianity, this reality has some sobering ramifications:

"Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever and this must be either true or false.  Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever."

As the Catechism explains, this means that "it is incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny." (CCC ¶ 1036)  Freedom is the key word.  We freely choose where we will spend eternity: either with Him in heaven or separated from Him in hell.  For "God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end."  (CCC ¶ 1037)  Again, it is our choice--those small (and sometimes big) decisions we make every day to either grow in holiness or turn away from it.

"The human will cannot be assaulted from without; it can only be betrayed from within, by a free decision which, multiplied, forges the chain of habit." (Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen)

Jesus affirmed this truth when he told the Pharisees: "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me . . . No one can take them out of my hand."  (John 10:27-28)  Only we can take ourselves out of Christ's hands through unrepentant sin.  St. Augustine says that "as Christians, our task is to make daily progress towards God."  There is no such thing as standing still on the ladder of the spiritual life.  We are either climbing up toward eternal life with Him or descending downward to the everlasting abyss.

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Holy Week is quickly approaching.  During these last weeks of Lent, let us walk with our Lord to Jerusalem so as to progress toward the victory of eternal life He won for us on Good Friday.  "The world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever." (1 John 2:15-17)

God love you.

th-10

This is the fourth in a series of short reflections on the eight general attributes of God that can known by reason, as set forth by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.  I've been learning about St. Thomas and the Summa from Dr. Taylor Marshall and the online classes he offers at the New Saint Thomas Institute.  These reflections are the result of my meditations on each individual attribute during prayer.  As such, they are not meant to be deep theological discussions, but simple spiritual thoughts on the majesty of our God .  I pray you find them beneficial in your walk with Christ.

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God is infinite.

This is the fourth attribute of God according to St. Thomas.  This means that God is "eternal and boundless," (Summa Theologica I, q. 7, art. 1) "that which has no end, no limit, . . . and therefore cannot be measured by a finite standard."  (Catholic Encyclopedia)  The idea of God's infinity most often applies to His not being limited by space and time.  Indeed, as King Solomon declared, "the heavens and earth cannot contain You."  (1 Kings 8:27) Likewise, the Catechism explains that God is "without origin and without end."  (CCC ¶ 213)

The infinite nature of God also applies to His perfections, such as His wisdom, beauty and power.  Yet two things illustrate this reality more than all others: God's infinite mercy and love.  There is a popular saying we've all heard that goes something like this: "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."  Really, this is just a clever way of illustrating that as humans, our mercy often is finite and limited.  For God though, through the person of His Eternal Son Jesus Christ, this expression is non-existent.  Indeed, His mercy towards us is unlimited--infinite--no matter how many times we "fool" Him.  Unconvinced?  Stare at a crucifix for a few minutes.  "He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?"  (Romans 8:32)

And God's infinite mercy flows directly from His boundless love for us.  A love, as St. Paul tells us, from which we can never be separated: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  (Romans 8:38 - 39)

In John's Gospel, Jesus asks the first two disciples that began following him, "What are you looking for?" (John 1:38)  He's asking all of us that same question.  The answer, I believe, is that more than anything, we are looking for His infinite love and mercy.  One doesn't have to observe the state of the world long, especially in the increasingly secularized West, to see that people desperately are thirsting for God's love and mercy--whether they know (or will admit) it or not.  More powerful than any physical thirst, it is a spiritual thirst for Truth and the Eternal.  But what we forget--or don't even realize--is that as much as we thirst for Him, God thirsts for us even more.  Jesus told us so on the cross:  "I thirst."  (John 19:28)

A beautiful prayer attributed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta describes Jesus' unfathomable thirst for us better than anything I have ever read.  The prayer is somewhat unique, in that it is Jesus speaking to us, as opposed to us speaking to Him.  My favorite audio recording of the prayer is by Father John Riccardo, who is a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit and the host of the daily podcast "Christ is the Answer" available on iTunes.  I encourage you to take ten minutes or so to listen to the prayer, and in doing so, I pray that you will be drawn closer to God's infinite mercy and His boundless love.

God love you.

3 Comments

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I'm often amazed how Sacred Scripture speaks to us in new and different ways each time we read it, even if it is a passage we are familiar with or have read countless times before.  I had this experience recently when reading St. Luke's account of the birth of John the Baptist. (Luke 1:57-80)  Recall that the angel Gabriel had visited John's father, Zechariah, to announce to him that his wife, Elizabeth--advanced in years and no longer able to have children--would bear a son "filled with the Holy Spirit" to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord."  (Luke 1:5-17)  But Zechariah did not believe the angel's words, and therefore was struck mute until John's birth. (Luke 1:18-20)

Eight days after Elizabeth gave birth to John, they took him to the temple to be circumcised.  (Luke 1:59)  After writing on a tablet that the baby would be named John, immediately Zechariah's "mouth was opened and his tongue loosened."  (Luke 1:64)  He then speaks what we now call the "canticle of Zechariah," prophesying about the coming Messiah and John's role in preparing His way.  The following passage repeatedly jumps off the page at me:

""[T]hrough the merciful compassion of our God . . . a dawning from on high will visit us, to shine light on those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet onto the path of peace." (Luke 1:78-79)

More beautiful or poignant words have never been spoken to foretell the ultimate event in all of human history--God becoming man and entering the world so as to die for our salvation.  Only a God with unfathomable "merciful compassion" would humble himself to the point of taking human flesh and "become[] obedient to death, even death on a cross."  (Philippians 2:8) But come He did on a cold December night almost 2015 years ago, splitting time into.  Though He came as a helpless babe born in a cave,  the dawning light he would shine on the world sitting in darkness could not be contained, allowing each of us the chance to become partaker's in God's divine nature.  "God became a man so that following a man--something you are able to do--you might reach God, which was formerly impossible to you."  (St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 134, 5)

As the song we often sing at Mass during Advent proclaims: "Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel shall come to thee O Israel."  And rejoice we should, for He comes to each one of us to "guide our feet on the path of peace." The path that leads to true joy on this earth, and the path that leads us to everlasting life with Him.  But we first must be willing to stand in His light and accept this great gift--bright and painful to our senses as it may at first be.   The Son provides no illumination to those who prefer to remain in the darkness.    Although standing in His light exposes our weakness, our sin, our humanity, it allows us to step out of the "shadow of death."  Indeed, through Jesus, "[d]eath is swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?"  (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

If you are a parent, you know the indescribable joy you experience in watching your children open their gifts on Christmas morning.  Consider then, for a moment, the joy God feels when one of his children opens, and accepts, the gift of His Son, and he or she allows His light to shine upon them.  So, as Advent draws to a close, and we anxiously await the birth of our Lord tomorrow night, I pray that you will step out and fully bask in Jesus's shining light, and in so doing, become "the light of the world." (Matthew 5:14)  I leave you with these words from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

"God has done everything; he has done the impossible: he was made flesh. His all-powerful love has accomplished something which surpasses all human understanding: the Infinite has become a child, has entered the human family. And yet, this same God cannot enter my heart unless I open the door to him."

Merry Christmas and God love you!

 

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The scribes and Pharisees constantly were demanding that Jesus give them a "sign" that he was the Son of God.  Somehow, seeing Jesus restore sight to the blind, making the lame walk and raising the dead back to life weren't enough to make them believe His claim of divinity.  Despite performing numerous miracles, Jesus's response was always the same though -- no sign will be given, except His coming death and resurrection.  The Gospels recount several instances of this:

"Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, 'Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.'  He said to them in reply, 'An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.  Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights."  (Matthew 12:38-40; see also 16:4)

"While still more people gathered in the crowd, he said to them, "This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah."  (Luke 11:29; see also 11:16)

"At this the Jews answered and said to him, 'What sign can you show us for doing this?'  Jesus answered and said to them, 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."  (John 2:18-19).

Almost two thousand years later, nothing has changed.  Like the scribes and Pharisees then, we often demand signs or some sort of end-all, be-all proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be.  Several months ago, I had a secular-progressive friend (and fallen-away Catholic) say to me "I just wish God left more definitive evidence that he exists."  My response was rhetorical and went something like: "You mean Jesus coming back to life three days after being tortured to death isn't enough evidence?"  I then expounded on that point, explaining how Jesus's resurrection is the only plausible explanation for the sudden rise and vast expansion of Christianity over most of the known world by the end of the first century, despite the fact that it was illegal and punishable by death.

St. Augustine beautifully explains what Jesus's resurrection means for us in this context:  "Out of his mercy . . . He [did not] hide from us His truth.  The Truth, clad in flesh, came to us and healed through His flesh the inner eye of our heart, that afterward we might be able to see Him face to face."

We have a great advantage over the scribes and Pharisees who demanded a sign during Jesus's earthly ministry.  Whereas Jesus merely spoke to them about the ultimate sign of his coming passion, death and resurrection in foreshadowing, symbolic language (i.e. being in the "heart of the earth for three days and three nights" and raising the "temple" three days after being destroyed), for us, His resurrection and victory over sin and death is a reality that allows us to "see Him face to face."

Once we accept the reality of Christ's passion, death and resurrection, ask His forgiveness, and accept His mercy, "signs" of His divinity and God's existence begin to pop up all around us.  Driving home from work one evening last week, I looked up into the sky and noticed the sun breaking through the clouds in a way I had never seen before.  Although it was almost completely overcast, small breaks in the clouds had allowed multiple individual rays to beam down all the way to the ground.  It truly was one of the most beautiful, majestic things I have ever seen.  I immediately realized that I was looking at a small piece of heaven, and that only a God who would take flesh and die in order to redeem humanity could (and would) create such beauty.

I find that such occurrences - "signs" -  happen almost every day: the smile of my four month old son, the sound of the rain and thunder during a stormy night, a humming bird getting nectar from a flower on my back porch, the quiet stillness of a candle flame lit early in the morning.  These signs, and so many others, remind me daily of God's love.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church ("CCC") states this perfectly:

"As a being at once body and spirit, man expresses and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols.  God speaks to man through the visible creation.  The material cosmos is so presented to man's intelligence that he can read there traces of its Creator.  Light and darkness, wind and fire, water and earth, the tree and its fruit speak of God and symbolize both his greatness and his nearness."  (CCC 1146 - 1147)

When I'm cooperating with God's grace, maintaining a relationship with Him through prayer, and keeping His commandments, I see God in the most simple things of creation.  He's there, speaking to me, reminding me of His constant presence.  The signs are everywhere.  But in times when my heart and intellect are darkened by sin; when I turn my back on God's love and mercy, the signs seem to disappear.  Instead of seeing God in everything, I -- by my own choice -- see Him in nothing.  In fact, like Adam and Eve after the fall, I try to hide from God, desperately hoping that he won't see me in my nakedness.  Perhaps that is why the scribes and Pharisees were unable to recognize any signs and miracles Jesus performed -- their hearts simply were too hardened to accept them.

It is during those dark times, however, that we must turn back to the ultimate sign -- Jesus's passion, death and resurrection -- for that likely is the only sign we will be able to recognize.  And we have but to ask for His mercy, for as Jesus tell us "[a]sk and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."  (Matthew 7:7)  So if you are having trouble recognizing God's presence, seeing His majesty in creation, feeling His love in your everyday life, don't demand, as did the scribes and Pharisees, that He give you a sign.  Instead, start over from the beginning and remember the only sign that matters.  In the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, "[m]ay you seek Christ, may you find Christ, may you love Christ.  These are three very distinct steps.  Have you at least tried to live the first one?"

 

 

 

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One of the phrases we've all heard is "come on in, the water is great!"  The phrase can be used in a variety of contexts, but in its most practical sense, it is meant to reassure the listener that the water in a pool, lake or the ocean is comfortable and won't be painfully cold if and when he or she decides to get it.  In my experience, however, most people are unwilling to accept the statement purely on faith and jump into the water, no matter how trustworthy the speaker (who is already in the water) may be.  Instead, it seems much safer to dip a toe into the water first to check out the temperature for ourselves.  Even then, many of us prefer to enter the water gradually rather than jump in.

This phrase came to mind recently as I was reading  St. John's Gospel.  In Chapter 21, St. John records an appearance of our Risen Lord in Galilee, at the Sea of Tiberias, to seven of the apostles, including Peter, John (the "disciple whom Jesus loved") and Thomas.  In the account, Peter decides to go fishing one night, accompanied by the six other apostles.  The fish weren't biting that night, and St. John tell us that the apostles "caught nothing."  (John 21:3).  As dawn broke, while the apostles were still in the boat, Jesus--whom they did not recognize yet--called to them from the shore asking if they had "caught anything to eat."  (John 21:4-5).  When they answer "no," Jesus tells them to cast their net over the right side of the boat, and upon so doing "they were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish."  (John 21:5-6).  The following verses are what really caught my attention:

"So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord.'  When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea.  The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish."  (John 21:7-9).

Once Peter realized it was Jesus on the shore, he dove into the sea without hesitation in order to get to his (our) Lord.  St. John tell us that the boat was "only about a hundred yards" from the shore, but that certainly isn't an insignificant distance--just think of swimming the length of a football field.  Peter obviously had no concern about the distance or the temperature of the water.  At that moment, all he cared about was getting to Jesus as quickly as possible in order to be in His presence.

As I reflected on  these verses, I immediately thought of another instance from Sacred Scripture where Peter was in a boat and saw Jesus--the "walking on water" account from St. Matthew's Gospel.  There, the apostles were also in a boat without Jesus.  Later that night, the wind picked up and began to toss the boat about.  St. Matthew then tells us:

"During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea.  When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.  'It is a ghost,' they said, and they cried out in fear.  At once [Jesus] spoke to them, 'Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.'  Peter said to him in reply, 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.'  He said 'Come."  Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.  But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!'  Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'"  (Matthew 14:25-31)

Obviously, the circumstances surrounding this account are different from that of Peter jumping into the sea in St. John's Gospel.  But the similarities in the stories are significant enough to notice the stark difference in Peter's reactions.  Unlike in John 21, Peter here has great hesitation, first wanting confirmation that it is in fact Jesus he sees on the water.  Only upon Jesus saying "come" does Peter get out of the boat.  I can envision Peter slowly climbing over the edge of the boat at that point, hesitant to leap into the water or take that first step toward our Blessed Lord.  Even after being given the miraculous ability to walk on the water for a time, Peter was unable to set aside his doubts and fears and continue moving towards Jesus.  As He does with us so often, it was only Jesus reaching out his hand and catching Peter that saved him from sinking.

Most of my life, I've been the Peter from Matthew 14: scared, hesitant, unwilling to jump out of the boat to get to Jesus.  Even when He has told me "come on in, the water is great," I've preferred to keep one foot in the boat while testing the waters with the other.  It seems much safer to keep one foot in the boat (i.e. the world) and one foot in the water (i.e. the kingdom of God).  At times, I've put both feet in the water or even gradually waded in, only to succumb to my fear and doubt of what a life totally devoted to Christ would cost me, and crawled back into the boat completely.  But as Jesus tells us, "[n]o servant can serve two masters."  (Luke 16:13)  We either stay in the boat or dive in the water--there is no in between.

That is why we must jump completely out of the boat and into the sea for Christ as Peter did in John 21.   But what changed in Peter between Matthew 14 and John 21, and what does it that mean for us?  Remember, the account in Matthew 14 occurred during Jesus's earthly ministry, before His passion, death and resurrection.  Although Peter certainly had seen Jesus perform many miracles by that time and had been given the gift of faith to realize that Jesus was the eternal Son of God, he did not yet understand the fullness of Jesus's mission to conquer sin and death.  (See, e.g. Matthew 16:21-23).  By the time the events in John 21 unfold, however, Peter has already seen and experienced our risen Lord.  Indeed, the risen Jesus had breathed the Holy Spirit onto Peter and the other apostles, sending them forth "as the Father has sent me."  (John 20:21)

It is easy to identify with the Peter of Matthew 14.  Many of us have experienced Jesus in our lives in a variety of ways, maybe even through small miracles here and there.  But although we believe in Christ's divinity and proclaim Him as the Son of God, we might not fully understand or grasp what his death and resurrection mean for us.  Even when we hear Jesus say "come," the world tells us that diving in would be a foolish decision.

In reality, however, we have much more in common with the Peter in John 21.  Jesus has risen!  This is a reality as true today as it was for Peter then.  Further, the Holy Spirit has come and is present, working in our lives if only we let Him.  Indeed, the fullness and glory of Christ's passion, death and resurrection has been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit and maintained throughout the ages by the Church that Christ founded.

So staying in the boat simply won't do.   Dipping a toe into the water every now and then won't do.  Even sitting on the edge of the boat with both feet in the water won't do.  No!  Only by diving into the sea to get to Jesus will we reach Him and obtain the graces and true joy He has waiting for us.  Still, the waters may get rough; tribulations, temptations, sufferings will no doubt come.  But we must stay vigilant, for as Fulton Sheen once said: "No one can ever expect to be without trials or crosses, for these are the very condition of victory and incorporation with Him."

These words from Peter's first epistle seem appropriate to end with:

"Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet you believe in him; you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Come on in, the water is great!