May 01, 2022
There is movie released recently about a Catholic priest Stuart Long. Simply entitled “Fr. Stu.” The actor who brings the story to the large screen is Mark Wahlberg who is a committed Catholic. Stuart has an alcoholic father. He had early success as a Golden Gloves winning Boxer who leaves his home in Montana chasing stardom in Hollywood. Waiting for his big break Stu becomes a bouncer, gets into his own share of trouble, and is arrested for fighting and drunk driving. A near death experience on his motorcycle leads him to explore religion and he agrees to become a Catholic to marry his Mexican American girlfriend. At his baptism Stuart feels a powerful call to ordination. After resistance and roadblocks put up by the seminary rector, he is finally admitted to study for the priesthood.
Fr. Stuart reminds me of Simon Peter. We wonder what Jesus sees in Simon, a fisherman at the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus invites Simon to follow him as a fisher of men, Simon confesses that he is a sinful man. Simon is inspired to identify Jesus as the Messiah, but then becomes a stumbling block for Jesus when he refuses to accept that Jesus must suffer and die. At the critical moment when Jesus is arrested, Simon Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.
In chapter 21 of the Gospel according to John, Jesus, the risen One, once again places his trust in Peter. Peter and the disciples have returned to Galilee and resumed fishing. They cast their nets all night and catch nothing. At dawn, a mysterious person standing on shore inquires, “Children have you caught anything to eat?” He encourages them to try again. They lower their net for such a catch of fish that it is difficult pulling it in. The beloved disciple recognizes Jesus and tells Peter, “It is the Lord.” Simon Peter is lightly clad, tucks in his garments and jumps in the water.
Looking back and reflecting, we can understand this moment of plunging into the sea as a baptism of repentance. Scrambling to cover himself is not a matter of modesty but exhibits his shame of denying that he knows Jesus. He wants to cover himself up, to hide what he has done.
After breakfast together, in front of the other disciples, Jesus asks Simon Peter, 3 times, do you love me? Each time Peter expresses his love, and with emotion, the third time, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.” In response to Simon Peter’s affirmations of love, Jesus tells Peter to express his love by tending, feeding, and caring for the flock. Jesus, the Risen Lord, restores the office of good shepherd to Simon Peter. And then Jesus forewarns Peter the road ahead will be difficult, and he will be taken where he does not wish to go – signifying the death he would glorify God.
We admire Simon Peter because we can relate to a man who gets it wrong and then gets it right. I wonder if Fr. Stu had a devotion to Simon Peter. While in the seminary, Stuart Long is diagnosed with an extremely rare, incurable autoimmune disease similar to A.L.S. The disease causes his body to weaken and to raise concerns about his being ordained. Ultimately, he is ordained in his hometown of Helena, Montana in 2007. A priest for only seven years. As his body weakens dramatically, the spiritual impact of his ministry increases. When he is confined to a motorized wheelchair, people line up to meet him outside the rehabilitation center and nursing home where he lives and ministers as a priest, confessor, and spiritual advisor. He comes to see his illness as the best thing that has ever happened to him, because it enables him to let go of an unhealthy sense of pride, he’s had for most of his life.
Like Simon Peter and Fr. Stu, we are invited to confess our sins and to express our love to Jesus and to pray for God’s grace and courage to hear the last words Jesus speaks in the Gospels, “Follow me!”
2nd Sunday of Easter C