by Fr. Matthias
I am sitting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee a month after being ordained a transitional deacon. Beneath my bare feet, under the surface of the blue-green water, lie black stones an arm’s throw from the house of the Rock’s mother-in-law. The grey hills surround the lake like the sides of a baptismal font in the hazy noonday heat.
I wonder how often Peter yearned, worried, napped, bathed and prayed here. I can see him lapping up the water to rinse his face of dried sweat and gasp as he cools his blistered hands. I can hear the sharpening of his knife on leather straps in his boat. He pauses as he watches the blood and water mingle from fresh cleaned fish. He squints as the sun reflects into his eyes.
I wonder how it all changed the day he met the Creator of this place he loved, when the God of Love in an extraordinarily ordinary way broke into his ordinary routine and His words pulsed across the waters like the waves on the shore: Follow me .
Surely He meant as He taught, healed, died and rose. But did He also not mean to follow Him in His way of receiving the gift of creation? To see, feel, know the joy with which the Author of the air breathed it, the Shaper of the sun basked in it, the Molder of the mountain climbed it, the Builder of the bird listened to it, and the Creator of the cool water was caressed by it?
A voice from the distance breaks my train of thought. The chaplain of our pilgrimage says our time is up in Capernaum and we have to drive to Jerusalem.
The bus sputters and spews as it climbs west of out of Galilee. I can’t stop staring at the lake as it grows smaller in the window. The factoids of the tour guide fade into the background as the sea is seen for the last time before it is hidden behind the hills, and my heart is struck with strange grief: the betrayal of the Lord was also a giving away of the glory of Galilee. Here He loved and was loved, here He prayed and worked and laughed, here the soil nourished His body and its beauty reflected the Father’s. The heat of His words hover in my heart:
You will all become deserters; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Mk 14:27
The bus rocks to a stop in Jerusalem at St. Peter Gallicantu, that is, “The Church of the Cock-crow”. As the account of Peter’s denial is read aloud inside, my eyes well with tears as the sounds of their friendship in Galilee race fill my ears: the creak of the boat bobbing in the distance as they look together at the stars, the silence of solitude with the Master in hill side caves, the cadence of His breathing as He sleeps beside moon-lit waters.
Then [Peter] began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know the man!’… Then [he] remembered what Jesus had said…and he went out and wept bitterly. Mt. 26:74-75
The words stab like the strike of a snake, the salty tears like venom that contain the bitter taste of desertion. How often I too have shed the Master to save my own skin! I step away from the group and kneel to pray in a dark corner of the church.
I am taken back to Galilee, and to Peter’s fishing trip after his betrayal. I wonder how the futility of that night mocked him. I can see him fidgeting with frustration at the knots in his net, kicking the side of his boat, refusing to speak to the six who accompanied him. His knife is dull. He doesn’t even see the stars. His eyes are glazed over at the sight of the sunrise.
The truth-words of the unrecognized Lord fall flat as a fishing weight over the water: “Children, have you any fish?”
Peter’s failure is forced to the forefront: “No.”
“Cast the net on the right side, and you will find some.”
As the fish rush in to fill the void, all color returns—no, deepens—in Galilee:
That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter: ‘It is the Lord!’. When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes…and sprang into the sea. Jn 21:7
After emerging from these waters of Baptism, Peter pushes himself up to his feet. He gazes at the glory in the Savior’s eyes and looks closer to see, in them, the hills of Galilee.