3rd Sunday of Easter – 2019 (readings)
I want you to take a minute and imagine that you’re with your spouse at a nice restaurant, celebrating an anniversary or special occasion. You look over to them, find yourself filled with such compassion and love for them, and say, “I love you.” Your spouse smiles sweetly, then replies with all sincerity, “I love you like a friend.” How shocking would that be?
This is what has happened in today’s Gospel between Christ and Peter. Christ asks Peter repeatedly, “Do you love me?” And here He uses the Greek word agape, the highest form of love, the way the God Himself loves each one of us. And each time in the Greek, Peter replies with, “I love you like a friend,” using the Greek word philia, a lesser form of love, like between brothers or friends, think Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.
It’s not until the third time that Christ drops down to Peter’s level, “Peter, do you love me like a friend?” – “Of course, Lord. You know all things, you know that I love you like a friend.”
This triple confession of love today is meant to undo Peter’s triple denial of Christ at the crucifixion, because Peter is whom Christ has chosen to lead his Church. Objectively, Peter is a failure as a disciple and as an apostle. He has denied Christ three times, he wasn’t present at the foot of the Cross, and throughout his time with Christ he never seems to understand all the is asked of him. And yet, he’s still been chosen to lead the fledgling Church.
Despite all his failures, Christ still loves him in the highest sense of the word.
So then, what do we take from the Gospel today? What can we glean from its words?
For one, today’s Gospel is a reminder that we have an obligation to love our Pope, our bishops, and yes, even our priests. But we’re asked to love them not just with the friendly love of Peter, but with the godly love of Christ – agape. But how do we show this godly love, this agape, to the Holy Father, the Bishops, and our priests?
First and foremost, prayer. We have a duty to pray for their wellbeing, their health, and their intentions; ideally every day.
Second, showing them the respect that is due to their sharing in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. It is only them that can offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass, it is only them that can bring the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Our Lord into this world again and again. It is only them that can sit in persona Christi in the confessional and forgive us our many sins. Respect. At times it might be hard to show respect to the man, but we must never neglect our respect to the dignity of their priesthood.
Third, be aware. I didn’t know how else to phrase this point, but be aware, be aware of what the pope is publishing, be aware of the letters our archbishop writes, be aware of what our pastor writes in his weekly column. If your earthly father wrote a letter to all his children, would you not read it?
Finally, returning to the love of Peter, it shouldn’t be neglected either. We can show this friendship, this philia, most easily to our parish priests by sending them cards on the anniversary of their ordination and thanking them for their ministry. Likewise, we can show this love of Peter to our priests by greeting them warmly when we see them, and even taking the time to invite them out for a meal, or a coffee, and availing ourselves of the opportunity to get to know these men who have taken up the call to live entirely for God, and dedicating themselves to the salvation of souls. These men who live today’s Gospel by loving Christ and feeding His sheep.