Fishing with Uncle Mike

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May 5, 2019   Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

May 5, 2019
John 21:1-19
Fr. George Smiga

When I was about the age of those of you who are making your First Communion today, our family would go on summer vacation. But I did not have much fun, because what we usually did was visit my Aunt Mary in Pennsylvania. All we did there was sit in her house while she and my Dad talked. There was nothing to do. It was BORING. But one year, my Dad said, “This is summer we’re going on a fishing trip to Canada.” “To Canada,” I thought, “I’ve never been to Canada. That sounds like fun.”  And what made it more fun is that we were going with my Uncle Mike and his family. My Uncle Mike was my Dad’s best friend, and we always had a great time when our families were together. Not only that, but when we got to Canada we were not going to fish off of some pier or from the shore. Uncle Mike had rented a cabin on a small lake in and there was a boat! We would drive that boat to the middle of the lake and fish from there. I couldn’t wait until vacation came.

Now, when we got to Canada, I have to admit I was a little disappointed in the boat. I was expecting a big white boat with a cabin and lounge chairs in the back. What we got were two little rowboats. Each one could only seat two people. So, it was decided that I would go in the boat with my Uncle Mike and his son, Mikey, would go with my Dad. Then, at the end of the day we would see who caught the most fish.

So Uncle Mike and I rowed out to the middle of the lake. When we got there, he handed me a fishing pole that he had brought with him. He said, “George, this is my lucky fishing pole. I always catch a fish with this pole. I am letting you use it today because this is your first time fishing. So, please take good care of it.” “I will, Uncle Mike. I’ll be very careful with it.” It was a beautiful fishing pole. It was blue and green. It had a big reel on it, and on the side of the reel there was a decal of Marilyn Monroe. (My Uncle Mike loved Marilyn Monroe.) So, very carefully, I took the fishing pole and lowered the hook into the water.

“George,” said Uncle Mike, “what are you doing?” “I’m fishing,” I said. “You can’t fish without bait!” “Well, I don’t have any bait,” I said. Then my Uncle Mike smiled and opened a large coffee can. He pulled out an earthworm at least eight inches long. “This is bait,” he said, “put it on your hook.” So, I took the earthworm and moved it close to my hook. But no matter how I tried the worm would not go onto the hook. It just kept wiggling. Uncle Mike said, “You have to stick the worm onto the hook. You have to push the hook through the worm.”  “Will that hurt the worm?” I said. “We’ll never know,” said Uncle Mike, and he grabbed my hook and put the worm on it.

Now I was ready. I again lowered my hook into the water. “No, no,” said Uncle Mike, “that won’t do. You’re too close to the boat. Watch me.” So Uncle Mike took his pole, moved it way behind his shoulder, and then cast it forward. The hook sailed through the air. Kerplunk. It landed about 20 feet from the boat. “See that,” said Uncle Mike, “now you try.” So I took my fishing pole, put it back, and I cast it forward. Kerplunk. The hook landed about 5 feet from the boat. “That’s not far enough,” said Uncle Mike. “Try again.”  So, I did it again. Kerplunk. The hook landed about 8 feet from the boat. “George,” Uncle Mike said, “I know you can do better. Now, try it again and give it all you’ve got.” So I took the fishing pole, stretched way back, and cast as hard as I could. There was no ‘kerplunk.’ But there was a scream. I turned around. Uncle Mike was holding the side of his face, and there was my hook. It had gone perfectly through his earlobe. (The worm was there also.) I wanted to catch fish. But what I caught was Uncle Mike!

Uncle Mike was a big man, and he was in a lot of pain. He stood up in the boat trying to remove my hook from his ear. The boat began to rock from side to side. I was holding tightly onto the pole. But this only lodged the hook deeper into his ear. Trying to relieve the pressure, Uncle Mike shouted, “George, drop the pole!” So, I dropped the pole. It went over the side of the boat and sank into the water. As it descended, it began to pull Uncle Mike over the side of the boat. He would have fallen in, if he had not grabbed his pocket knife and cut the line.

“Well,” said Uncle Mike, “that could have gone better. We better get back and take care of my ear. So, we rowed back in silence with the hook still in Uncle Mike’s ear and blood coming down the side of his face.

When we got out of the boat, I just ran. I wanted to be by myself. I didn’t want to see anyone because I had made a huge mess of the whole day. I had ruined everything. After a few hours, Uncle Mike came to find me. He was wearing a big bandage on his ear. “George,” he said, “it’s time for supper. Come along.” “I don’t want to go!” I said. “I’m so sorry. I’m so ashamed. I messed up our first day of fishing!” “It’s was a mistake,” said Uncle Mike, “It happens.” “But, I lost your pole—your lucky pole with Marilyn Monroe on it!” “I can get another,” said Uncle Mike. “George, you need to know that you are much more valuable to me than any fishing pole. Let’s just put the past behind us. The good news is this: We are all safe. We have other poles. And we have a whole week left for fishing.”

That was the way uncle Mike was. I always knew that he loved me. This what the disciples find out in today’s gospel. Even though they abandoned Jesus during his suffering and betrayed him, Jesus prepares a meal for them to let them know that they were forgiven and that he still loved them. This is what I want all of you who are making your first communion today to remember. As you come to this table for the first time, this meal tells you that Jesus loves you, and no matter what you do, he will not stop loving you. Ten, twenty, fifty years from now, you might lose your way. But this meal is always here to offer forgiveness and love. The same is true for all of us here today. We make mistakes. We sometimes mess things up. But God’s love is more powerful than our sins. This meal tells us that we are always welcome to share in God’s love. In this meal Jesus says to us, “Let’s put the past behind us. We have a lot more fishing to do.”

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