Rev. Michael Wurtz, CSC
April 18, 2010
Notre Dame Architecture Rome Chapel
As a Holy Cross priest it was a real joy to be back at Notre Dame this past Saturday for the ordination of Frs. Gerry Olinger and Kevin Grove. Fr. Gerry went to ND as an undergrad in Morrissey Hall and then to ND Law School. Fr. Kevin, having been educated by the Jesuits at Seattle University, joined Holy Cross thereafter.
At a party afterward I met a parishioner of St. Joseph Parish who is an architect and told me that he had studied in the ND Architecture Program many, many years ago. He assured me that the Pantheon was indeed there in Rome at the time! He recounted how he loved that Roman year but that he wishes he could have a second chance to do the year again – there is so much to see and things he didn’t get to see or do. But alas, he can’t – he has children to feed and the few projects his firm is receiving in this slow economy requires his full attention.
Life rarely gives us second chances. How often we wish we could have a second chance at that exam or project. Or a second chance with that determinative conversation with our girlfriend or boyfriend. How we wish we had a second chance with that pass, or swing of the bat. We come to understand, however, that our God is a God of second chances.
In this joyful Easter season we hear multiple post-resurrection accounts of Jesus. He appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus who do not recognize Him. He says, “Oh how slow of heart you are!” and he explains Scripture, and his teachings, and his miracles, and works to them. And he gives them a second chance. He makes himself known in the breaking of the bread – and because of this they are overjoyed and with hearts on fire race back to Jerusalem to proclaim the good news, “We have seen the Lord!”.
Last Sunday we hear of Thomas who doubts and refuses to believe. And Jesus gives him a second chance. Here I am. Put your hand in my side, touch the nail-marks. And because Jesus gives him a second chance, Thomas is able to proclaim “My Lord and my God!” and proclaims the Good News, meeting his own martyrs death in what is now modern India.
In today’s Gospel, Peter is given a second chance. We know, of course, how he denied the Lord not once, not twice, but three times in the dead of night while warming himself at a charcoal fire. A few days later, while fishing, he sees Jesus on the beach where He warms himself by a charcoal fire. But whereas Peter sinned in the night, Jesus appears at the break of dawn, in the light. Recognizing Jesus, Peter realizes he is practically nude and covers himself. We recall how Adam and Eve, with shame in their hearts, clothed themselves and hid themselves from God. Peter surely also was filled with shame – seeing Jesus surely brought back fresh memories of that fateful night – the fire, his denial, cowardice, the cock crowing.
Three times denied, three times affirmed. “Do you love me?” “Yes.” “Do you love me?” “Yes.” “Do you love me?” “Lord, you know everything, you know I love you!!” Jesus gives Peter a second chance. And because of this he is able to preach the Good News, to baptize, to lead the early Church, and to meet a martyrs death just down the street.
Our God is a God of second chances…………and third, and tenth, and hundred and a thousand chances. Do we believe that?
The difficulty, the angst, the rub, of the Christian life is that a life of prayer, faith, religion, discipleship, Christian charity can be unattractive, unappealing, a drudgery. It happens to us all. And we can find ourselves denying like Peter and doubting like Thomas and like those two disciples walking to Emmaus, slow of heart.
But we musn’t despair, but rather, throw ourselves at the feet of Christ and to reaffirm our devotion to him.
On that fateful night both Judas and Peter sinned, one by betraying, the other by denying. And yet one despaired while the other was later able to receive a second chance. Every time we celebrate the Mass we begin by crying out “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy”. Does God tire of our words? Does God tire of our coming to him for renewal and life? No. Never. Surely, then, we should not tire in asking and calling upon Him.
The Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross tell us, “There is no failure the Lord’s love cannot reverse, no humiliation he cannot exchange for blessing, no anger he cannot dissolve, no routine he cannot transfigure. All is swallowed up in victory. He has nothing but gifts to offer” (para. 118).
Our God is a God of second chances, and ten, and a hundred, and a thousand. We have only, like St. Peter, to run to Him, to reaffirm our devotion to Him. And if we do, then like the disciples, St. Thomas, and St. Peter and countless holy men and women before us, we can go forth, our hearts on fire, proclaiming the Good News of Easter.