St. Peter figures prominently in both readings at Holy Mass today.
In the gospel reading, he announces, “I’m going fishing.” And his confreres reply, “We’ll go with you.”
Now, we might think of going fishing as a cheerful, relaxing occasion. A quiet day, away from the hustle and bustle. No Honey Do lists. Just the calming sound of water.
But St. Peter and the Apostles didn’t go fishing on the Sea of Galilee for a getaway. It meant something else to them. It meant: “Well, I guess our mission as apostles has come to an end. Let’s go back to our old way of life, and try to pick up where we left off, before we met our Teacher, Whom they crucified.” The Apostles’ fishing trip in John 21 didn’t mean relaxation; it meant disappointment, disillusionment, confusion, maybe even despair.
St. Peter’s speech in our reading today from the Acts of the Apostles took place about fifty days later. And we hear St. Peter fearlessly preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem, having reclaimed his role as the heroic Prince of the Apostles.
A startling change.
In the course of those fifty days, Peter and the other Apostles not only had seen the Lord risen from the dead. They also had heard His further teaching, enabling them to grasp the meaning of His Passion and death. We know that the Lord Jesus had to rise from the dead—for many, many reasons. But one reason why He had to rise was: simply to explain to the Apostles what His crucifixion and death had really meant. He had suffered no catastrophic defeat; His mission had not ended in failure. To the contrary, on the cross, He had triumphed. Omnipotent and eternal love had triumphed.
Now, we might wonder: What part of the Lord’s words at the Last Supper had the Apostles not understood? We might wonder that. But we have the benefit of hindsight, and our own years of participating in the Mass. The Mass that Christ gave to His Church on Holy Thursday offers the key to understanding His death on Good Friday. Jesus did not suffer a tragedy. He offered a sacrifice. The sacrifice by which God united Himself with all our suffering, and our own deaths, and has reconciled the world to Himself through the establishment of the new and eternal covenant.
So: What changed between St. Peter’s dejected fishing expedition in Galilee and his heroic preaching in Jerusalem? He came to understand the Mass that Christ had given him to celebrate. On Holy Thursday, Jesus had made the Apostles priests of His mystery. But it took them until Pentecost to understand that His crucifixion and death was not just a slaughter, but was in fact a mystery, the mystery of His life-giving Body and Blood, of which He had made them priests.
And when we understand this, we become true apostles, too.