Some of you, who have asked, will be glad to hear that I have turned some of the stuff in these Homilies into a book, which I hope to self-publish in time for my 70th Birthday in July. But it is not actually a book of Homilies, but a book about my life, because, as you know, it is from my experiences of life that I draw most of the material I preach. And one of the things writing this book has made me ponder, is why I ever became a Christian at all?
It all happened when I was deeply unhappy at my very traditional all boys secondary school. There I met a friend who introduced me to Jesus. I had begun to put the stories of Jesus into the land of fairy tales, when suddenly he was presented to me as a very real person, and someone I could follow. And why was I attracted to follow him? One of the main reasons was precisely because he rejected the traditional establishment – just the kind of people I hated at that horrid school. The rest of my story – how following Jesus led me, to my amazement, to become first a Vicar and then a Catholic priest, is what the rest of the book is all about, for which you will have to wait till you read it, (if you want to!) but let’s have a look today about what the Gospel has to do with all this. (John 21:1-19)
You see there Peter and his friends going back to their old way of life – to the traditional ways that they had been brought up with. In their case “fishing”. “I’m going fishing” says Peter, and off they go. The story then shows the futility of this choice because they catch nothing, and St John, the writer of this great Gospel, adds that it was night; because he wants to link us back to the great beginning of his work that we hear at Christmas, where he writes of Jesus. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) So we see that the disciples, who failed to catch a single fish in the dark without Jesus, meet Jesus when it is light, and then their fishing is transformed and they are able to make a great catch.
Thus we are shown that following Jesus will affect every part of our lives as it affected theirs ; and that reminds me of an incident when talking to the children last Sunday. One boy said his favourite activity was playing computer games. You ought to have seen the astonishment on his face when I told him that without God there would not be any computer games. Indeed I don’t think he believed me! He could not see the connection between God and his normal everyday activities. We all need to be reminded that it is God who created the Universe and everything in it. As we heard in our 2nd reading (Rev 5:11-14) it is “All the living things in creation” who cry out the praises of God . Unless we realise – that, however clever we humans are, all things come from God – we are getting everything in the world upside down. Thus we humans exalt ourselves in stupid self-praise, quite forgetting our weaknesses and our failings; and this ends up encouraging us to believe that whatever we think is right must be the right thing to do. Thus the status quo, the thing that most people think is OK, becomes accepted as OK. No wonder my favourite saying of Jesus is “No one is good but God alone!”
We see this played out in the rest of the Gospel too. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, and why three times? Because although Peter had promised never to deny Jesus, when confronted with a world who had turned against Jesus and was about to crucify him, Peter simply went along with that world, and denied three time that he even knew Jesus. See then how Jesus does not condemn him for his failure, just as he does not condemn us. Like Peter, we also often go along with the ways of the world. And why? – simply for an easy life – simply because we do not want people challenging us, or mocking us, or making us feel different.
No Jesus does not condemn. He simply asks us again and again, as he asked Peter. “Do you love me? He asks us this most clearly when we are at Mass. In our own private prayers we can easily excuse ourselves, or convince ourselves that God doesn’t need us to be so openly against the ways of the world ; but at Mass Sunday by Sunday we hear all sorts of challenges to these false assumptions. They remind us all too vividly that as Christians, as followers of Jesus, we will often have to do or say things that we do not particularly want to do or to say.
So Jesus reminds Peter at the end of this Gospel that in the past he often did what he wanted to do, but that in the future he will have to accept the fact that he will have to go and do things that he would rather not do. Such is the radical challenge of the risen Jesus for all of us, whether we like it or not.