Sunday, April 18, 2010, is the Third Sunday of Easter (Year C, Cycle II).
Pope Benedict XVI will make his apostolic journey to Malta April 17-18.
Pope Benedict won’t be shipwrecked on the island of Malta, as St. Paul was in Acts 27 and 28, but the two visits are being compared anyway. After all, the April visit is scheduled for the 1,950th anniversary of the shipwreck, and the country’s bishops have prayed that the Holy Father will be welcomed to the island “as warmly as St. Paul was.”
Acts 28 says of the Maltese: “The natives showed us extraordinary hospitality; they lit a fire and welcomed all of us because it had begun to rain and was cold.”
Archbishop of Malta Paul Cremona and Bishop of Gozo Mario Grech have said of the Pope’s visit, “He shall come and abide among us for a brief period of time in order to fulfill and fortify us in the faith which the apostle Paul instilled within us.” Let us hope that there are no snakes involved, or that any snakebites will be as powerless against the Pope as they were against Paul.
The visit is scheduled to include a meeting with 14,000 Maltese youth.
Acts 5:27-32, 40-41; Psalms 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-13; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19 or 21:1-14
Today’s Psalm sounds drastic. It seems to be prayed in the voice of someone in an extreme amount of trouble. With the unemployment rate what it is, many parishioners may pray it with passion and conviction. Others might wonder: How does this apply to me?
Says the Psalm: “I will extol you, O Lord, for you drew me clear and did not let my enemies rejoice over me. O Lord, you brought me up from the netherworld; you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.”
And do we really live in a place like the one the Psalm refers to, where “at nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing”?
Today’s first reading helps explain why that message fits even us.
First, when we take our Christian lives seriously and live them fully, difficulties naturally follow. In the first reading, the apostles have been telling people about Christ, and the Sanhedrin isn’t happy. They want the preaching to stop. But Peter and the apostles refuse, saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” And the Sanhedrin essentially caves: “They left the presence of the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor.”
Now, it’s unlikely that we will get dragged before an angry board for preaching the faith. But a version of this happens to anyone who insists on living his or her Christian life fully and speaking out charitably about what’s true. The court of public opinion — the key players in our social or work circle — might make it clear to us that we ought to shut up. We hope we will be able to say to the court of public opinion what the apostles did: Sorry, but no. The truth must be said. And we hope we can leave their presence “rejoicing” at the chance.
The second reading gives us another reason to rejoice that we have been “rescued.” It’s a stunning vision of heaven, where angels, “living creatures” and elders surround the throne of Christ and praise him. Tom once had a sheet of paper called “readings of hope” that included this one. It is a helpful reminder that, however weak, wacky or weary the world is, there is this place of glory and purity waiting for us.
But it’s also helpful to remember that we don’t belong there. We were made for that heavenly place, yes, but after the fallen angels made their fateful choice to reject it, humanity followed suit. It is only through Christ’s action — his rescue of us; our “being saved” — that we can get there. So we can sing the Psalm with real gratitude.
The Gospel shows Peter learning exactly these two lessons. It begins with him saying “I am going fishing” and the other apostles following him. In other words, he is going back to his old life. He isn’t yet living the radical life we see him living in Acts.
Christ himself has to appear at the shore and beckon Peter toward that exalted life. He goes through the three “Do you love me?” questions, warns him of the persecution to follow, and ends by saying to him: “Follow me.”
Christ in his wounded but risen and glorified body asks Peter directly to put him first in his life, share his life with others, and change the direction of his life.
Christ has gone to great lengths to do the same for us. He really appears before us in the Eucharist at Mass and asks: “Do you love me?” If we answer “Yes” and unite ourselves with him, it’s up to us to live the life when we leave Mass that shows we do “follow him.”
Tom and April Hoopes write
from Atchison, Kansas.