Last summer, I went with a group of our teenagers to Cincinnati for our youth group mission trip. And when the service portion of the trip was completed, we did a little exploring of the city, and went to Fountain Square for this salsa dancing festival. Now, I’m not much of a salsa dancer (or really any dancer for that matter), so I was standing off to the side, making sure our kids didn’t get into trouble or anything, when I noticed a group of men about 20 feet away that looked familiar. And more I looked, the more familiar one of the gentlemen looked. Could it be? Well, yeah, I guess the Cardinals are in town this weekend…wait a second, that’s Rafael Furcal!!! So as our group discovered this, we were going nuts, and took a big group picture. All these other people from Cincinnati were kind of clueless as to why all these high schoolers were freaking out, but to us, this was our beloved injury prone All Star shortstop! It made my night!
The reason I bring this up is because that feeling of recognition is something that is so incredible, it’s like nothing else in the world. We hear in the Gospel that the disciples had a similar feeling. They had returned to fishing, back to their old way of life. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they figured the whole experience of Jesus was over with – maybe the visions they had seen of Jesus resurrected from the dead were ghosts or hallucinations or something. Anyway, they’re minding their own business in their boat, but it sends chills down my spine to imagine that moment they recognized Jesus as he invited them to cast their nets just as he did when he had first called them three years earlier. Jesus reached back to the most important moment of their lives and rekindled that fire in their hearts, and they had the sudden and overwhelming recognition of the one who had loved them from the beginning. It welled up from inside of them, and St. John spoke those incredible words – “It is the Lord!”
It’s hard to recognize the Lord sometimes, isn’t it? Christ is present in so many ways: in service, in kind acts for others, in prayer. Even here in the liturgy, the catechism teaches us that there are several ways that he is present among us. He is present in his sacraments. He is present in the reading of the Sacred Scriptures – not just as stories, but as the Word of God made flesh in his person. He is present in me, his unworthy priest, as I celebrate the mysteries in persona Christi capitis, in the person of Christ, allowing him to work through me to bestow grace on all of us gathered here. He is present in the gathering of all of us, because as he has promised, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
But I think the most important way, and maybe the most difficult way for us to take seriously that Jesus is present is in the Eucharist. How tough is that! You come here every week. You’re feeling tired, bored, or apathetic. Maybe music just isn’t your thing and so you feel a little out of place. Maybe you’re busy wrangling your children as they’re playing with their action figures. My point is that this can so easily happen that we miss out on recognizing Christ. In a sense, we’re back to focusing on our everyday lives, like the disciples back to their fishing nets.
Sometimes, I wish you could see what I see as a priest. It’s pretty incredible. I think most people think I’m not really paying attention, or that there are so many people that I can’t pick out one person or another, but let me tell you: I see everything. I can see people falling asleep, people reading their bulletins, people leaving to go to the bathroom or leaving early. I can see the crazy faces that people make to the baby that’s sitting the row in front of them. I’m telling you, Mass is never dull to me, because there’s always something funny going on. But there are really some things I wish you could see that would change you.
Yesterday, we celebrated first communion. The church was packed, and there was a feeling of energy (and a little chaos) that just filled the air. The kids were all dressed up in their fancy dresses and suits, smiling like it was the best day of their lives. But I’ll tell you, there is nothing like seeing a child receive communion for the first time. We forget what it was like for ourselves, but for them, they’ve been studying this stuff all year, and when they hear me say, “The Body of Christ,” and look at the host coming towards them, there is that look of recognition like the one I’m sure the disciples had – a look that says, “It is the Lord!”
I also have the opportunity to bring communion to the dying. These are people whose lives will be over in days or even hours. They’re totally sapped of energy. And I am coming to bring them Viaticum, the Eucharist that will be their food for their journey home. I wish you could see the look in their eyes when I lift the Eucharist to them for what will probably be the last time, and again, there is that spark of recognition that says, “It is the Lord!”
It’s not often that I get to do this, but another great experience is giving communion to couples that have just had their marriage blessed in the Church. There are few people in the Church that I respect more than the couples going through the annulment process after going through a divorce and who faithfully and lovingly obey the laws of the Church by not receiving communion until their annulment is complete. They talk to me about how much they miss the Eucharist – how much they miss the Eucharist! And then to receive it for the first time in years, after almost forgetting what it tastes like, there’s again that look of recognition that says, “It is the Lord!” Man, I wish you could see those things – to see the moment of recognition where someone realizes the presence of the one who has loved them all their life.
My point is to say that again today, we find ourselves in the situation of the disciples in the Gospel. Jesus is here. He’s right in front of us, challenging us, teaching us, calling us by name. What good is our being here if we can’t recognize him? Imagine what might have happened if the disciples had not done so. If when Jesus had told them to cast the nets into the deep, they just said, “Whatever, you crazy old man.” Or if they had said, “These are my nets, and I can have my own opinions on how to use them! Who are you to tell me what to do with them?” Or if they had just shrugged and gone back to playing Angry Birds on their phones. There would be no Church. There would be no All Saints Parish. There would be no church or gym or parish center. If there was only one wish I had for the people of All Saints, or one prayer that I wish would be answered directly, it would be that all of us came to understand what is before us in the Eucharist. When I see people falling asleep, or leaving early, or when there’s only 2 people at Eucharistic adoration on Tuesday night, it doesn’t make me angry or resentful. It doesn’t make me judge those people or write them off. It makes me sad more than anything. Because what’s here before us isn’t bread and wine. It’s not some drama that we’re reenacting. It’s not some medieval obligation that’s being imposed on us by the Pope. Brothers and sisters, “It is the Lord!” Do we recognize him? Do we act like we recognize him? Are our lives different?
As we come here today, may we, like St. John, be able to recognize Christ, and like St. Peter, may our joy drive us to leap from the boats of our complacency and go to meet him in love and service to others.