“Do you love me?”
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
In St. John’s Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter, we hear the familiar story of Jesus asking Peter if he loves Jesus. We hear Peter respond three times his fiat, “yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And, after each testimony from Peter, Jesus asks Peter to do something for the people he is called to serve. He asks Peter to tend them, to feed them. He invites Peter to follow Him. We know from the Acts of the Apostles that Peter’s fiat was not just words spoken for the sake of the Master. We know Peter did what Jesus asks for we hear in the Acts of the Apostles that the Sanhedrin questioned Peter and the apostles for their teaching about Jesus. What was Peter’s reply? “We must obey God rather than men.”
This is the crux of our faith. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Christ calls us insistently to follow Him, to embody Him and to bring Him alive in our world. The tomb is empty and we rejoice because we are wonderfully made of God. From the moment of our first fiat, the Sacrament of Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit to carry Jesus forth in every moment of our daily living. As we are anointed with Chrism oil, we agree to perfume the earth with His Presence.
We are also like the early apostles who didn’t recognize Jesus after the Resurrection—not in themselves or in others. Earlier in the Gospel of St. John, Jesus appears to the apostles on the shore as they are fishing and they did not immediately recognize Him. The proclamation of the Acts of the Apostles gives us courage and strength to recognize our weaknesses and to believe that God will never abandon us.
Yes, we may fail to seek God in all things and all ways. We may not be His Presence all the time. We may not pray unceasingly. We may speak ill of our co-workers or disregard them. We may bully friends or family. We may not offer food or clothing or prayers for those less fortunate because we are judgmental of their situations. We may feel that we were wronged and just give up on holy living.
What does God offer us when we fail to recognize Him? He offers us forgiveness and calls us return to Him, to follow Him. Remember Peter had denied Jesus three times before Jesus died. Jesus came back to Peter and asked him if he loved Jesus. Then Jesus told Peter to follow Him. St. John Henry Newman wrote, God “saved us from our fear, surprising us by the strangeness of our salvation. It happens to Christians not once, but again and again through life. Troubles are lightened, trails are surmounted, fears disappear. We are enabled to do things above our strength by trusting in Christ. We overcome our most urgent sins; we surrender our most innocent wishes; we conquer ourselves.”
God gives us everything we need to know, love and serve Him and each other. Through Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, we receive sacred nourishment, our Bread from Heaven, each time we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion so that we are able to live as His disciples. Receiving the Eucharist is participating in the community of faith. What did we also learn from the Apostles? They stayed together and by their being with each other, they formed a community of faith and that community grew larger and larger and larger because they offered Christ through their very living so that now we are a part of that community of faith.
During the months of April and May, many of our children will be receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion for the first time. Pray for them that they may embody Jesus and bring Him again and again into our world. Be courageous to lead them to Jesus and strengthen them to live like Jesus, that we might together, as one community of faith, offer His Peace on this earth to fulfill His invitation, “Follow Me.”