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Sunday, April 22, 2007
Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts of the Apostles 5:27-32, 40b-41; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

Courage speaks for itself. This is why so many people converted to Christianity, when they saw Christians martyred, seeing their blood shed not in a violent opposition and conflict but in a courageous witness to their faith. The blood of martyrs waters the faith of the nations.

I've always thought that martyrdom is the most paradoxical expression of our faith - an expression that shatters all cosy and lukewarm systems of value. It is also the most quiet and yet the most attractive witness, to lose one's life in order to spread life-giving faith and, ultimately, to win back one's life in eternity, to be able to live forever with 'the Lamb, who was slain'.

We see the germinal growth of this witness in today's readings: Peter's threefold confession of love will lead him to become an extremely courageous preacher whose blood will be shed for Christ - not through a violent fight but in a quiet and firm stand. Jesus anticipates that all this will happen to Peter, when he says:

'Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go' (John 21:18).

Now Peter’s love and faith are mature. He has indeed ‘walked where he would’: after the crucifixion of Christ Peter fled Jerusalem and went fishing with his friends. He was greatly disappointed, I guess, that things went the wrong way. He must have been terribly afraid. Yet the threefold confession of love and his acceptance of the mission to ‘tend Christ’s sheep’ enables him to come back to the community of disciples which he deserted. Peter now has the courage to bear witness.

As he stands with other apostles in front of the Sanhedrin, Peter has already ‘grown old’, and when challenged to stop preaching he strongly affirms the apostolic mission: ‘we must obey God rather than men’.

It is impossible to be a Christian and not to bear witness to one’s faith. Christianity is never anonymous. It is firmly based in community. Its preaching and works of mercy are its witness: the fruit of common faith and God-inspired love. Christians are prophets by the very nature of their faith: they are living signs, witnesses to Christ’s saving death and resurrection. It is because we are rooted in Christ’s body that we are able courageously to bear witness to our faith.


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