Third Sunday of Easter

As we move through the Easter Season we are reading  the Acts of the Apostles. We are all apostles, Apostle means: sent, we are sent on a mission and we are meant to see in the example of the first apostles what we are meant to be doing. The first reading in our mass today witnesses to something that is essential to Christianity that we are a relentlessly public religion. Modern society will say that religion is meant to be a private matter, just look at the ongoing effort being made to remove religion from our church run schools and when it comes to feast days like Christmas or Easter you can’t say happy Christmas now, but happy holidays. The effort to remove Christian symbols from public places. Modern society says that religion is like a hobby, it’s your thing but others don’t have to take it seriously. Secular society will say that they are in agreement with religious liberty, you are free to practice your religion but you art not free to bring it out in public, to make it part of public life. If we contrast this with what we have in the first reading of our mass; the apostles have just been arrested, they were accused of filling Jerusalem with their teaching, and they were told not to speak of Jesus publically. The answer of St. Peter is very clear: “Obedience to God comes before obedience to men”. There’s great room for personal reflection here: Whom do you obey? Even though the authorities told them to desist, they continued to fill Jerusalem with their teaching. Because of this all of them were arrested, tortured and all except John were put to death. Authentic Christianity is meant for the world and will always be a challenge to the world. Christianity is a way, a movement that is meant not just for private use but for the world.  We saw recently the wonderful example of Fr. Martin Magill who challenged the NI Politicians at the funeral of Lyra McKee. Jesus tells us in the gospel of St. Matthew you don’t light a candle and put it under a basket; you put it on a stand so that all can see. St. Peter does not mix his words when he says “you crucified Jesus by hanging him on a tree but God raised him from the dead. Paul would do the same in Rome; “the good news does not come from Cesar but from Jesus. We are not advocating warfare here because we fight with the weapons of the spirit, our example our witness, etc. In our gospel today we see when the apostles went fishing on their t own they caught nothing but when Jesus told them to throw the nets out to starboard, they caught so many fish, that they could not haul the nets in. The gospel tells us that there were 153 of them, symbolism of all the species of fish in the sea. The church is meant to draw in everyone to Christ, sinners and saints, the good the bad. When the church works on its own, tries to do its own thing, set its own terms, it will fail. The church gathers the nations, all peoples under the direction of Jesus, the church needs to listen to Jesus. We have seen what happens when the church does not listen to Jesus. We have to find a balance here; we have to be assertive and public, without being violent, manipulative or imposing. We must do everything in our power to see that the gospel is preached everywhere but we should never undermine the gospel itself.