There are many aspects of today’s Gospel that speaks of our human weaknesses and sinfulness, and God’s unconditional love and unfailing fidelity to us, regardless of how we may have failed Him. These aspects are shown in the experiences of Peter’s relationship with Jesus.
First, let us note the obvious fact that while Simon Peter and the other apostles went fishing, even as professional fishermen, who knew the sea, and when and how to catch fish, they caught nothing the whole night long. And when Jesus, the Risen Christ appeared, and told them what to do, they caught such a huge number of fish that they “could not haul it in.”
From this Resurrection scene, a historical fact, let us first note the basic truth that on our own strength and skills, we as human beings are finite, limited, and often helpless and hopeless in the face of trials and challenges in our lives; we are also weak and sinful; we are nothing without God. However, when we allow God, the Risen Christ, to come into our lives and when we obey whatever He tells us, in God’s Wisdom, nothing is impossible. Our human weakness and sinfulness will be transformed into a God-centred life of deep peace and lasting fulfilment and happiness.
Matthew Khoo, one of our parishioners who was Baptised two weeks ago at the Easter Vigil conversion story illustrates very appropriately today’s Gospel message; due to the shortage of time, I can only share a summarised version of his testimony. He shares:
For 40 years, I had been an atheist. I was not only a non-believer I used to mock Christians and other religious people for not having the strength to help themselves and having to turn to a make-believe divine power for help. I had believed that we are responsible for our future and it is a sign of weakness to ask for help.
I was self-centred, arrogant and chased materialism. I was a top banker and thought I didn’t need anybody’s help. My self-worth and esteem was measured by the possessions and title I had. My respect and social standing was how much money I made for myself. But no matter how much I made, there always seemed to be a sense of discontentment in me which I mistook for “ambition”. That ambition consumed me. I was unfaithful to my wife and justified my indiscretions by finding a hundred reasons why she and I were incompatible.
I had everything I wanted materially, yet I felt empty. I thought that I felt empty because my marriage was dead. Seeing 3 marriage counselors did not help. So last year I asked for a divorce. I had justified to myself why a divorce was good. I had separated and moved out twice before. This was despite my kids crying and needing me. Seeing them unhappy broke my heart and I was always torn. Yet, I felt what I wanted was right. Why should I deny myself happiness, I asked? Father Heng had come to my house and prayed the Prayer of Reconciliation; he had enthroned the Sacred Heart of Jesus in my home; where Jesus is the centre and head of the family.
In Dec last year, my wife told Father Heng that his prayer did not work. 5 days before I was to move out from my home I lost my job. I had no marriage, no wife, no kids, no mother and no job. I had a panic attack and couldn’t breathe and I thought I was having a heart attack. It was the worst feeling in the world. My world had crumbled and for the first time I had nothing.
After the hospital checks, I prayed to God in desperation. I didn’t even know how to pray but I said something like this: “Should I call you God, Lord, Father or Jesus? I never believed in you but I really need your help now. I have made many mistakes in my life and I want to change. I need a job and I need my family back. Please help me God.”
I then apologized to my wife and she forgave me with one condition: . . . that the only way back to the family and marriage was that I had to love God. One day, I had a splitting headache and spent two days in bed just reading the Bible and learning about people’s personal encounter with God. I woke up one morning after 3 days of being sick, looked out the window and saw the sun rising. I admired the scenery for one whole minute. Then I said “Good morning God. Thank you for healing me”. Then a voice replied, “Good morning. How are you feeling today?” His voice was steady and calm, not deep or shallow and immediately I felt a deep sense of peace, like nothing else mattered. This must be what Heaven feels like, I thought.
Then I moaned “I have to get up. It’s 7 am, the sun is up, I have to get to work.” When I turned to reach for my iphone I saw it was only 6 am! How could I have seen the rising sun? I turned to look at the window again and saw that it was storming! The sky was completely dark and it was pouring outside! How could I have seen the sun rising? For a person who still doubted God's presence, there was no better way He could have shown me He is real than by letting me see the light. It was then I realized God was outside my window. I never again questioned Him.
I learned that when there is a problem where no man can seem to solve, pray to Him and He will resolve it for us. Sometimes He doesn’t reply immediately but that is only because He wants you to learn lessons in perseverance. If I had not lost my job I would have lost my family. If I didn’t go through the problems and struggles I would not have sought for God and I would not have come to know Christ.
When Man makes his own rules he will bend it according to his fancy. He will justify pleasure as happiness, greed as ambition, ruthlessness as focus. But God’s rules are a rock. It never changes.
I now understand what the phrase means: “My Power is made perfect in weakness”.
I have never prayed for a group before but may I pray with you:
“Dear Lord, Thank you for giving me the courage to share my story. I know that you can help in our lives in the way you have guided and inspired millions of others through your undying love and amazing grace.
Please help those of us who have made mistakes in our lives and forgive us for our sins and redeem us from our guilt, so that we can start life anew with our loved ones, and our friends, and our family and whoever we may have been estranged from these past years.
Thank you for hearing our prayers and helping us in our hour of need. Thank you for giving us the confidence to go through life assured to know that you will continue to guide us, look out for us, help us, carry us, love us and to always be by our side. This I pray in Jesus holy name. Amen.”
This is the end of my story but the beginning of my life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Matthew’s conversion story illustrates today’s Gospel truth that, like Peter, if our lives are not built on a meaningful relationship with God, we can easily end up denying Him and in turn lose our sense and direction in life.
Without God, Simon Peter and his friend labored the whole night and caught nothing; without God, Simon Peter denied Jesus; without God, Matthew too is nothing; without God his so called successes in his career and high-flying lifestyle only led to his downfall and the destruction of his relationship with his wife, children, family and thus, himself.
But, with God’s power and strength, Peter and his companions, caught such a huge catch of fish that they could not haul them in; with God’s strength and power, Simon Peter willingly and humbly died a martyr’s death, with God’s strength and power, Matthew experience a conversion of heart that he says, “Today my wife and I are like newlyweds again, having breakfast and going for movies together, walking hand in hand while our children play. We have rediscovered the emotional and physical intimacy and connection that could only be possible through leading the life according to God. Not only is my marriage born again, my spirit is born again, and my life is born again . . .”
“Today I no longer measure success by the possessions I have or by my job title, but by the treasures I have which are my loving wife and our little children together in a happy family, by doing meaningful work, serving God and community and by leading a life guided by God’s teachings. The emptiness and discontent in me are gone. It is filled with the most beautiful and peaceful feeling I have ever experienced. Pleasures and possessions cannot fulfill us. That fulfillment can only be filled with the love and grace of God.”
Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Do you love me?” . . . Jesus also asked Matthew, “Do you love me?” Today, Jesus is also asking you and I, “Do you love me?” If like Simon Peter and Matthew, our personal answer is “yes, Lord, you know I love you,” then Jesus will tell us, “Feed my lambs and my sheep.” What does this “yes” mean to you and I that we have to answer personally in our daily living.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
visitors since 18 April 2013