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Fishing and Forgiveness

Fr. George Smiga
April 14, 2013
John 21:1-19

On this First Communion day, we have a very special gospel.  Or at least it was a special gospel for Simon Peter, because this gospel is the first time that Simon Peter and Jesus meet after Jesus’ death and resurrection. This made Simon Peter very nervous because, as you know, before Jesus’ death Peter denied that he was Jesus’ friend. That hurt Jesus very much.  So as Simon Peter and Jesus meet in today’s gospel, Simon was certainly worried whether Jesus would forgive him for hurting him. But, it goes well for Peter. When Jesus prepares a breakfast for him on the beach, it is clear that Jesus forgives Peter, even though he denied him. So, this gospel is a gospel about fishing and about forgiveness. And, it reminds me of a similar story in my life about fishing and forgiveness.

During the summer when I was in the fourth or fifth grade, I would always go fishing with my father. After mass on Sunday, we would take our fishing poles to the car and drive to the bait store. There we would buy a carton of night crawlers. Do you know what night crawlers are?  They are big, long, juicy worms, and fish love to eat them. So we would go down to Wildwood Park at the end of Neff Road and go out onto the pier. Then my dad and I would take night crawlers, put them on our hooks, and drop our lines into the water.  We would wait for the fish to bite. They often did. But, even if they didn’t, it was fine, because the best thing about fishing was being with my dad—just the two of us together.

So, you can imagine how upset I was when my younger sister, Margie, came to me and said,

“I want to go fishing with you and dad.”

I knew at once I didn’t want her there.

“No,” I said, “you can’t go fishing.  Fishing is not for girls.”

“Yes it is!” she said.

“No, you can’t go fishing. You are only in second grade. You’re too little.”

“No I’m not!” she said.

“You can’t go fishing. You are too weak. You couldn’t pull the fish out of the water.”

“No I’m not!” she said.

“You can’t go fishing because you would have to take a big, slimy night crawler and put it on the hook.” (My sister hated night crawlers.)

“Dad will do that for me!” she said. “I’m going to go ask him right now.”

Off she went. I was upset. I knew what my dad would say. He always would invite my sister along even though she was a girl and even though she was little. Sure enough, next Sunday when I came to the car with my fishing pole, there was my sister Margie with her fishing pole that dad had just bought for her.

Now, I loved my sister, Margie, but she could do one thing that would drive me crazy.She would smile a certain smile. I called it “the Margie smile” and I’m going to try to do it for you so you can see it. She would smile like this:

[Fr. George does the Margie Smile]

Now this smile meant a number of things. First of all it meant: “I’m right and you’re wrong.” It also meant: “I’m happy and you’re not.” But, most especially it meant: “I’m here and you can’t do anything about it.”

So, when I came to the car that Sunday morning, there was my sister with the Margie smile on. She smiled as she took her fishing pole and put it in the trunk. She smiled as she climbed into the back seat of the car and sat down. She smiled as she held my father’s hand walking down the pier, but most of all she smiled as my father took the night crawler and put it on the hook for her and then helped her throw the line into the water. I was miserable. I thought that this day could not get worse. Yet, it did. Only a few moments after the line hit the water there was a tug on it. Then my sister pulled out (with my father’s help of course) the largest fish I’d ever seen caught at Wildwood Park. This fish was so big it barely fit into the bucket we had for the fish we caught. After that she was no stopping her. For the rest of the afternoon, every time I looked over at her, she would point to the fish and smile.

I couldn’t take it. I had to stop her from smiling. Then I had an idea. I noticed that when Margie would lean forward to look into the water an generous space opened up between the back of her neck and her blouse—a space big enough to drop something in. So the next time she leaned forward to look into the water, I reached down and took the biggest, slimiest night crawler I could find and DROPPED IT IN! Then, I just waited. I didn’t have to wait for long. Soon my sister started screaming. She jumped up, put down her pole, and started running up and down the pier.

“There’s something in my blouse! There’s something in my blouse!”

She pulled her blouse out of her pants and the night crawler fell onto the pier. She was no longer smiling. I was.

That’s what gave me away. My father saw the night crawler, and he saw me smiling. He picked up the worm and came over to me.

“George,” he said, “do you have any idea how this night crawler got into your sister’s blouse?”

“It could have crawled there.” I said.

“Yes,” he said, “it could have, but I don’t think so. Did you put it there?”

“I don’t remember,” I said.

“Well,” my father said, taking my pole, “why don’t you go back to the car in the parking lot and see if you remember there?”

By the time I reached the car, I knew I was in trouble. I had done something wrong. My sister was upset, and I was afraid of what was going to happen to me. Would my dad refuse to take me fishing?  Would he make me stay in my room?  I didn’t know what was going to happen. After about a half an hour my dad came down to the car.

“Have you remembered anything yet,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” I said. “I did it.”

“Good, and do you know why you did it?”

“I’m not sure,” I said.

“I’m sure,” said my father. “You did it because you listened to your worst self. You listened to that part of you that is mean and selfish, and you ended up hurting your sister. But, I know you have another part of you that is your best self. If you listen to that part, you would be happy that your sister was with us and we as a family could fish together. Now, because I know that best part is in you, here’s my deal. If you promise to act out of your best self and if you apologize to your sister, we’ll call an end to this. Deal?”

“Deal, sir,” I said.

(Then, as he walked away, I said to myself, “That went a lot better than I though it would.”)

That’s what Peter thought in today’s gospel, when Jesus prepared the breakfast on the beach. Peter said, “You know, that went a lot better than I thought it would.” Jesus forgave Peter for the very reason my dad forgave me. Jesus could see Peter’s best self, he could see all that was good about Peter. That is why he could put Peter’s mistakes behind him.

For all of you making your First Communion today, I want you to remember that Jesus always sees your best self. No matter how many times you mess up and do what’s wrong, Jesus sees how good you are. He remembers how much he loves you. It is for this reason that he welcomes you to the table today and wants to share this meal of the Eucharist with you.

This is true for all of us here today. No matter what we have done in the past, remember that Jesus welcomes all of us here to this meal. He sees the goodness that is in us. Jesus never fails to see our best self.  That is why he invites us to this meal so that we can share life with him.

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