by Howard Hain
Marc Chagall, “The Sacrifice of Isaac”, (1966), detail
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”
Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord.
When is it that we break-fast?
Perhaps it is at morning Mass, when the long night of daily winter is slowly burned away by “the dawn from on high”.
Perhaps it is there, at the altar of our Lord, at the breakfast table of our one united body, that we come to see the Crucified Christ truly risen and waiting for us, “standing on the shore”.
We take so much for granted, so much we just assume is already prepared, without giving much thought to just how much goes into each meal. But we are in good company, Peter and the rest of the apostles, like us, come to a meal already in progress.
And just as Jesus called the apostles to a new morning meal, He calls each one of us each new day to a meal prepared ahead of time—in fact it was ordained a long, long time ago—for even upon those hot coals which the apostles approached two millennia ago, fish were already waiting.
It is to this ongoing meal that He asks all apostles to bring their fish, their most recent catch—to add to the fire—to the feast ever being prepared for those still yet to come.
The Fisher of Men, who calls others to become fishers as well, asks His disciples to contribute not only their earthly catch but the eternal offering of themselves.
But who is it that we find already lying upon the charcoal fire, upon the table of the Lord, waiting for us each morning as we approach the altar with our daily catch?
Is it not all those who have walked in faith before us? Is it not the communion of saints, the cloud of witnesses, the community of believers? Is it not those who pray in silence this very day for the conversion of sinners, the salvation of souls, the release of those in purgatory, the return to a unified Church?
Is it not those who suffer each and every day for the sake of Christ?
We will never really know exactly who, at least not while we walk within these “earthen vessels” we call bodies—not while we continue our pilgrimage through this valley of tears and wage our military-like mission against the powers of darkness.
We will never know while here on earth just how many fish are laid upon the fiery altar each new day, just how many join Jesus in His one perfect offering, just how many “share in his glory” because they “share in his suffering”.
But God does know, and he orchestrates it all. He knows exactly how many, and who. He misses not a tear, not a moan, not the slightest prick of a pin. He knows each and every one of His silent, unknown martyrs—those whose suffering “completes” what is “lacking in Christ’s afflictions”.
The Mystery. The Love. The Wisdom of the Cross. The Grandeur of God’s Salvific Plan. Praise be to God. Praise be to Christ Crucified and Risen. Praise be to the Holy Spirit: “O font of life! O fire of love!”
Let us then join the breakfast feast.
And let us not only eat but add to the meal.
Let us offer up all our “prayers, works and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world…”
And let us dare to wonder with true childlike joy and adoration. Let us wonder who it is that is already laid upon those ancient coals as the apostles approach that gloriously simple meal on the shining shore of a most placid sea.
Is the fish already in place Jesus Himself? Jesus who is priest and sacrifice and altar?
Yes. Of course it is Him.
But perhaps it is someone else too.
Perhaps among that first batch of fish is also the first follower of Christ: the first to surrender all “possessions”, the first to pick up the cross daily, the first to follow Jesus through the completion of His Passion.
Yes, perhaps it is Mary, His mother, His first disciple…our mother and the queen of all apostles. And perhaps it is also that “upright” man whom Jesus Himself saw as a father, the “righteous” Joseph who suffered so much in the name of Jesus. Perhaps that first batch contains all three: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, that most blessed of families—The Holy Trinity “made flesh”—The One Triune God dwelling in a humble hut in a little town named Nazareth.
In that sense, perhaps that first batch of fish is also you and me, your family and mine—and perhaps then “our” little “sacrifice” is already being offered up, right here in each of our “humble” homes and within the boundary lines of our own “Nazareths”.
Perhaps that first batch is waiting to be joined to all other offerings, to be joined together with all the other individuals and families that are called to be a “living sacrifice”.
Perhaps that first batch is within each one of us and is longing to be united to the one true sacrifice—the sacrifice of God’s crucified love, eternally offered upon the white-hot coals of God’s infinite charity.
Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones, on the gold altar that was before the throne. The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with burning coals from the altar, and hurled it down to the earth…