Saturday, April 18, 2015

For the Love of Fish - A Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday in Eastertide
April 19, 2015

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou

One of the things that has always made us Catholics stick out in our various communities has to be our love of fish. Meatless Fridays have, for centuries, paved the way for an appetizing alternative for us to indulge in…allowing us to give up our winged and hoofed friends for a surprisingly delicious finned one. And so we became well known, and sometimes even poked-fun-at, for our ability to turn a penitential practice into something rather enjoyable: the Holy Roman Catholic Fish Fry. I don’t think there’s a single Catholic Church in the United States that doesn’t have a fish fry sign stored away somewhere in its basement. Usually popping up sometime in Lent, the fish fry is a great way to unite the community and to bring in a little extra cash for the parish. I once saw a pretty funny cartoon that I think accurately sums up our fish-eater stereotype: in the background, there’s a big calendar with the word “Friday” in bold…and in the foreground there is a man: in one hand he is piously clasping his rosary, and in the other hand there’s a fish sandwich that he’s shoving into his mouth. At the bottom, the caption reads: “Catholics…they want to have their fish and eat it too.”

Our fascination with fish, however, didn’t begin with our need to substitute out steak and chicken on Fridays…it began in the earliest days of the Church. In a time when the followers of Christ were hunted out and killed for their beliefs, they had to devise a way to communicate with each other that wouldn’t draw attention to them. They took the benign and common symbol of a fish and adopted it as a symbol of Christ. The word fish in Greek is “ICHTHYS”, and the early Christians took the letters from this word to create an acronym: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. It didn’t take long for the word ichthys and the simple drawing of a fish to spread far and wide throughout persecuted Christendom. What made the fish an apt symbol for Christianity was not only that it was benign and common, but that it was also drenched in symbolism from the New Testament. When Christ called the first apostles, themselves fishermen, He told them that He would make them fishers of men. When the throng of thousands came to Him, He miraculously fed them with bread and fish. And after He had risen from the dead, as we hear in today’s Gospel, He shows his disciples that He is truly alive by eating, by feasting upon a piece of fish. The symbol of the fish was destined to become a part of who we are and how we express our faith.

As Catholics, it is so very important that we continue to steep ourselves and our families in the rich traditions and symbols that have been handed down to us. Christ our Lord, risen from the dead, reveals to His disciples in the Gospel today that new life in Him is an infleshed life. He invites His disciples to see His resurrected body, to touch it and to feel it, to show them that His glorified body, the very body that would ascend to the Father’s right hand and reign for all eternity, is a true human body…with bone, with blood, and with flesh. In the Incarnation, God took on flesh, and in the Resurrection, He raised it up. What is bodily, what is material, what is common has been redeemed by Christ and now in Christ becomes a vehicle that makes His presence known to us. The Sacraments of the Church are the infleshed means by which He gives us His true grace. Water, oil, bread and wine…these material, natural things of the earth take on a spiritual and supernatural reality because of the risen Christ. The sacramentals of the Church…holy water, rosaries, ashes, palms…they help us to continue infleshing this grace in our homes and in our lives. Our beautiful church buildings, our artwork, our vestments, our vessels, our music, our statues all help us to inflesh the unseen, but real glory of God. Our observances and practices…the Christmas crib, the Easter candle, the Epiphany chalk, the Stations of the Cross, the Divine Mercy chaplet, the Advent wreath, and even our Fish Fries all help us to inflesh and to celebrate what we profess.

As we find ourselves now in the midst of Eastertide, let us continue to bask in the glory of our Lord’s true and real infleshment. He is risen, He is alive, and He is forever infleshed. In the Gospels we’ll continue to hear of Christ’s glorious and fleshly manifestation of Himself to His disciples, and we ought to revel in and enjoy what the Resurrection of Christ in the flesh means for all of us who follow Him. What He has done for Himself, He will do also for us: He will raise our earthly bodies and glorify them like His own. This is the Mystery of Easter, and as Catholics, we are an Easter people. So in the joy of this reality, let us rededicate ourselves to the thorough infleshment of our faith in our lives. Let us go to Mass eagerly, receive the Sacraments frequently, and immerse ourselves in true devotion. Let us pray before meals, even in public, and wear our crosses and medals with great pride and deep love. Let us go to Midnight Mass and the Stations of the Cross. Let us bless our door posts with blessed chalk and read the lives of the saints. Let us make our homes true chapels of prayer and of warm hospitality. And with a smile on our faces and a chuckle in our mouths, let us go dutifully to the Fish Fry and say boldly: “We are fish-eaters and fishers of men. We are Catholic and we are proud to be so.”

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