The God of Second Chances

After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them,
he said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
—John 21:15–17

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Sorrow_of_Saint_Peter_(La_douleur_de_Saint_Pierre)_-_James_TissotA few weeks earlier, Peter had stood outside the courtyard of the high priest, weeping bitterly. He had disowned Jesus not once, not twice, but three times, just as Jesus had predicted. Peter was filled with grief when he realized what he had done: despite the fact that he had vowed to stand by Jesus in every possible trial, despite his complete devotion, he had buckled at the first bit of pressure and cast aside the One who meant everything to him.

We might imagine that we would defend our faith in any circumstance, but when those situations actually arise, often our discomfort leads us to hide our true colors and pretend that we are just another face in the crowd, not a follower of Christ. There’s a fine line between trying not to force our faith upon others and hiding it altogether, and it can be all too easy amid a secular environment to act as though we are ashamed of our relationship with Jesus.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Saint_Peter_Walks_on_the_Sea_(Saint_Pierre_marche_sur_la_mer)_-_James_Tissot_-_overallYes, there will be consequences for defending Christ. But there are worse consequences for denying Him. We can’t allow the possible reactions of others to distance us from the Source of all joy and love, as though their approval were the real key to our happiness. And in fact, we might be surprised at others’ openness to our faith—it might end up being a point of connection between us.

Chances are, at one point or another we’re going to mess this up. We’re going to drop the ball when presented with opportunities to witness to our faith, and we’re going to hide our light under a bushel basket out of fear. But Peter shows us that this, too, can be a path to grace. When we realize our shortcomings and failures, we can follow the way of Peter, the way of humility. We can begin to understand that we will never be able to carry out our grandiose plans on our own, that we are truly dependent upon Jesus for everything.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Meal_of_Our_Lord_and_the_Apostles_(Repas_de_Notre-Seigneur_et_des_apôtres)_-_James_TissotOur God is a God of second chances. How tender Jesus was to Peter, to grant him this moment: He set the scene over again, with a charcoal fire burning just as there was in the courtyard of the high priest, and asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And three times, Peter was able to reply, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He was given a second chance, a do-over of the worst mistake he’d ever made. Jesus saw Peter’s sorrow and contrition, and in His mercy He stepped in to restore the relationship. Not only that, but He entrusted the Church to Peter as the first pope. He cast Peter’s sins as far as the east is from the west, giving him a fresh start. He does this for us, too. No matter how badly we’ve messed up, he will give us another chance if we’re willing to try again—and, this time, to call upon His help to guide us.


1. James Tissot, The Sorrow of Saint Peter / PD-US
2. James Tissot, Saint Peter Walks on the Sea / PD-US
3. James Tissot, Meal of Our Lord and the Apostles / PD-US

Grief into Joy

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn,
while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.
When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived;
but when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world.
So you also are now in anguish.
But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.
On that day you will not question me about anything.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”
—John 16:20–23

Often we have a tendency to assume—even, sometimes, when we know better—that if we follow Jesus perfectly, we will live a charmed life free of suffering. Thus, when we experience suffering that seems “undeserved,” we become frustrated with God and think that there’s no way we can handle what He’s asking of us.

Christ_in_Gethsemane

But Jesus doesn’t negate the suffering of the Christian life. He acknowledges it fully, saying that if they persecuted Him they will surely persecute us. He tells us we will weep and mourn and grieve while the world rejoices. Yet our pain and suffering are not wasted in His plan of salvation. When we meet Jesus in Heaven, when we see the destination to which He has led us on such a long, winding journey, our hearts will rejoice. We will receive a lasting joy, greater than anything of this world.

We will experience suffering in this life, but through Christ, this suffering becomes a holy calling. We don’t need to put on a happy face and pretend everything is fine—no, this trial is a gift, meant to break and re-form our hearts, making them more like His own. We can embrace our suffering and lean in to it. And we don’t need to spiral into despair, either, for this trial is not the end. A greater joy awaits us, a joy that will eclipse any memory of pain.

piergiorgioOur patron, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, was a joyful, exuberant young man who radiated hope. He loved to have a good time with his friends, sharing inside jokes and enjoying outdoor activities. But at the same time, he did not shy away from suffering. Although he easily could have stayed within the comfortable bubble of wealth provided by his family, he ventured into the poorest parts of his city, undeterred by the noise and smells, to seek those who needed company and support. He saw the beauty in each person he encountered and considered them friends. His passion for the Lord propelled him to serve, and even when he contracted a fatal disease through this service, he embraced this, too, as a gift. His love for Christ emboldened him to face every trial without fear.

Fear not. As Christians, we always have reason for hope. Inspired by the example of Pier Giorgio, may we face our sufferings with boldness and joy, knowing that all our earthly pain will pass away and that the joy to come is worth it all.

We are an Easter people, and hallelujah is our song.
—Pope Saint John Paul II


1. Heinrich Hofmann, Christ in Gethsemane / PD-US
2. Photograph of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and friends

Divine Friendship

Jesus said to his disciples:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”
—John 15:12–17

Two lines from today’s Gospel passage may seem contradictory at first glance:

You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.

Andrea_del_Sarto_-_The_Last_Supper_(detail)_-_WGA00391First of all, Jesus tells us we are friends, not slaves—if we do what He commands us. Wait. Do friends normally take orders from one another? Then He says we are not slaves because we know what our Master is doing. But…do we really? At the time He spoke these words, his apostles had no idea that He was about to suffer and die (though, to be fair, it’s not like He didn’t warn them). The disciples seemed pretty clueless most of the time about what Jesus was really up to. Can we truly say that we know what our Master is doing? I think more often we feel we are flying blind, having to trust Him without really understanding what His plan is. After all, so much of our Catholic worldview is grounded in the concepts of mystery and faith.

What do we mean when we speak of the mysteries of God? Encountering mystery does not mean that we’ll never know the answers and should simply give up trying to understand. Rather, it means that no matter how deeply we study this complex truth, there will always be more layers of understanding to peel back, always something new to learn. Our human understanding is limited, but with God we can go deeper and deeper, until we are united fully with God in Heaven and can participate in His perfect understanding.

Jesus_washing_Peter's_feet

The more we plumb the depths of these mysteries, the more we grow in both understanding and wonder. But in order to get anywhere we must first have faith. We cannot grasp at this understanding for ourselves; we must draw closer to God so that He can help us see. We must trust Him. Our hearts must be open to soak in His wisdom, rather than trying to sharpen our own, which is a losing battle. Understanding the mysteries of God requires more than just intelligence; it requires divine relationship. It requires friendship with Jesus.

And Jesus offers us that friendship as a great, unmerited gift. We can begin to understand what He is doing—though it be far beyond our depth—through our love for Him. He says, “You are my friends if you trust me. And if you trust me, you will follow my commandments.” Our obedience springs from love and gratitude rather than fear and servitude. We can rest in the knowledge that we are loved and chosen, and we can return that love by recognizing Jesus in others and loving one another.

We are not mere servants; we are friends. And we are made to delight in a Love that is greater than we can comprehend. When we remain in Him, we can begin to bear the fruits of understanding, cultivated through love alone.


1. Andrea del Sarto, The Last Supper / PD-US
2. Ford Madox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet / PD-US

Finding the Way

“Where I am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him,
“Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”
—John 14:4–6

If we follow Jesus wholeheartedly, seeking first and foremost to know Him and grow ever closer to Him, then we will be on the right path. We might be led in very different directions than we imagined, we might be confused about the details as we go, but if we stay close to Him, we can trust that we’re on our way to the Father.

Like Thomas, we ask: How do we know the way?

Open your eyes, Jesus says. I am the way.

You are beholding God before you at this very moment. The Father’s house still awaits, but the Kingdom of God is already at hand.

How will you get there? Be with me. Focus on nothing else; do not worry yourself about directions. Stay with me, keep me company, let me delight in you. Relish this time we share together, even when you are disoriented, even when the path is steep. The journey itself is sacred.

The way to Heaven is not by intently navigating our path with maps and compasses and plans of our own making. The only way we’ll make it is with a guide—Jesus Himself. We cannot reach Heaven without embracing the way of Jesus: the way of the Cross, the way of mercy, the way of humility and love and truth.

Wherever God leads you today, seek the company of Jesus right where you are. Please pray for those of us who will be attending the Frassati retreat this weekend, to make the most of this opportunity to grow closer to God. And pray, too, for all those who are unable to attend—that they also will embrace the gift of this weekend and find the company of Jesus right where they are.

Remain in Me

Domenico_Morelli_-_Conversione_di_san_PaoloToday’s first reading describes the dramatic conversion of St. Paul. Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,” and yet today we remember him as a great evangelizer and prolific New Testament writer. What happened? Nothing less than an inbreaking of divine grace.

For the powers of humanity, there are a great many situations that are beyond hope: souls that have been irrevocably corrupted, systems that are beyond repair. But for God, no one is beyond hope. No matter how hardened a person, God can break through any barriers to offer them mercy and an opportunity for transformation. He stopped Paul right in his murderous path, turned him away from Damascus and out into all the world a changed man. He channeled Paul’s zeal toward its natural, rightly ordered purpose: building up the Kingdom of God. In the same way, our own human purpose can only be understood through an encounter with the divine.

Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him (John 6:56).
Jesus has given Himself to us in the Eucharist as an opportunity for encounter with Him, that we too might be transformed by His grace. He instituted this sacrament so that we might share a radical intimacy with Him. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati understood this deeply—he received Communion daily, meeting Jesus every morning and carrying Him throughout the rest of the day. This is the key to his sanctity: not Pier Giorgio’s own goodness, but his openness to divine grace, to deep intimacy with and vulnerability before God.

“I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharist Table as often as possible. Feed on this Bread of the Angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles.”
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Conversione_di_san_Paolo_September_2015-1aThe great things that Paul achieved after his conversion stemmed from this intense closeness with God and awareness of God’s perfect love. This is what opened Paul’s heart to allow God to work through him rather than imposing his own will. When the scales fell from his eyes and he saw his life with sudden clarity, he fell to his knees in humility before God. Throughout the rest of his life, as he wrote and preached and converted a great many souls, he was ever aware that it was all due to God working in him: It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Paul knew all too well the cold, cruel man he would be without God, and thus he was able to recognize that any good fruits that flowed from his work were not due to his own power or talent or goodness, but from Jesus Christ working through him.


1. Domenico Morelli, Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US
2. Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US

Nothing Will Be Wasted

When I saw today’s Gospel reading, I thought, I’m pretty sure I’ve already written a reflection about this story before. Turns out—yepTwice. So I tried to think about what new aspect I could bring to light from this story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. What stood out most to me from John’s version are these words from Jesus:

When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”
—John 6:12

Giovanni_Lanfranco_-_Miracle_of_the_Bread_and_Fish_-_WGA12454Jesus has just taken five loaves and two fishes and managed to feed five thousand people. Not only that, but there are leftovers—twelve baskets full of scraps! There is more food left over than there ever was at the beginning. Which leads me to the question: If Jesus can multiply the loaves with such abundance, why does He ask His disciples to go to all the trouble of picking up the crumbs? Why would He need to be economical about saving all the scraps when everyone in the crowd can be satiated by His grace?

This initiative to harvest every single gift that is given us—even the crumbs—is an expression of gratitude, of not taking anything for granted. At the outset, when the disciples were desperate for food, twelve baskets of bread would have seemed a gift. Why wouldn’t it be now? This too is God’s providence, and it should be gratefully received rather than overlooked.

Мадонна с младенцем под яблоней  Холст (перев с дерева), масло 87х59 см  Между 1520-1526Let us not forget that Jesus started with a few loaves in order to feed the five thousand—He began with a meager offering. He saw, then, in those leftover scraps afterward, the precious raw material for a miracle. We need Jesus to multiply our gifts, but we must begin by doing our own part, offering all that we can, however small it may seem. He will handle the rest.

Only five loaves for five thousand people? A worthy offering. Bread crumbs, broken and scattered around a field? Not to be wasted. Jesus doesn’t overlook the crumbs we give Him; He sees the potential in our offerings. Neither should we overlook the crumbs we receive: the little joys amid a mundane day, the incomplete responses to our prayers, the half-successes as we continue to learn and grow and make mistakes. Our sufferings, too, have value; not one moment of our experience will be wasted. All of it is a gift, to be gathered and given to God.


1. Giovanni Lanfranco, Miracle of the Bread and Fish / PD-US
2. Lucas Cranach the Elder, Virgin and Child under an Apple Tree (detail) / PD-US

Empty Nets

So they went out and got into the boat,
but that night they caught nothing.
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore;
but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat
and you will find something.”
So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in
because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,
he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad,
and jumped into the sea.
—John 21:3–7

Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_Appearance_on_Lake_Tiberias_-_adjustedThe disciples do not recognize Jesus until after they bring in a full net of fish and they realize He has performed a miracle before their eyes. Often we do not recognize Jesus working in our own lives until we see the fruits of His presence. When we accomplish things we know we could never have done on our own, when we grow through a difficult experience and become stronger because of it, when we become aware of our own unique gifts, we sense Jesus’s presence more clearly.

Without Jesus, we will just keep on pulling up empty nets. Only through Him can we find nourishment—no matter how hard we labor to find fulfillment, our efforts will be fruitless. And just because we don’t see Jesus in our lives doesn’t mean He isn’t there—sometimes we just don’t notice Him until we feel the weight of a heavy net and realize Who is behind it. While we wait in hunger for that moment, we can call out for help and keep on trying until He steps in. When He does, how will we respond? When we can pinpoint where Jesus is on the shore, watching and providing for us, will we follow Peter’s example? Will we immediately jump into the sea? Will we trust Him to lead us through the unknown? Will we seek closeness with Him above all else, taking the leap instead of staying warm and dry in the boat?

The Easter season is a time to experience the abundance that the Lord wants to provide for us, to accept His gifts with open hands and to step out and follow Him—beyond our comfort zones, beyond our own limited imaginations, beyond the material attachments that hold us back. He’s asking us to take the leap and let Him take control.

The Lord asks us to set out for him. He asks us to become fishers for him. He asks us to trust him and act according to the guidance of his Word….But then something remarkable happens. When the disciples return Jesus does not need their fish. He has already prepared breakfast, and now invites the disciples to eat it; he is the host who provides them with food. The gift is mysterious but nevertheless not hard to decipher. The bread is he himself: I am the bread of life. He is the grain of wheat that dies and now bears fruit a hundredfold and is abundant for everyone until the end of time….Only love can bring about the true multiplication of bread. Material gifts, what is quantitative, always diminish through being divided. Love however increases the more it gives itself. Jesus is the bread, and he is also the fish that for our sake has gone down into the water of death to look for us there and to find us. This is the lesson on the breakfast to which Jesus invites his own on the borderline of time and eternity, the Eucharist. Come and eat, he says to us and thus enables us already to cross the boundary of time and death.
—Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)


Image: Duccio di Buoninsegna, Appearance on Lake Tiberius / PD-US

P.S. Unrelated side note: It’s been a good week for full nets at two of my favorite Catholic universities 😏

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😎