Loving Christ More than the Rest, 7th Friday of Easter, June 2, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Memorial of SS. Marcellinus and Peter
June 2, 2017
Acts 25:13-21, Ps 103, Jn 21:15-19


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In today’s Gospel, we have one of the most powerful and poignant scenes in the Gospel, which the Church gives us to help us to summarize the graces of the Easter Season and send us forward into Pentecost and beyond. Jesus meets Peter and six other disciples on the seashore of Galilee where he cooks them breakfast. At the end of the meal, he takes Simon Peter aside in order to restore his confidence after having totally denied Jesus three times on Holy Thursday just a couple of hours after saying that even if he should have to die for Jesus, he would never betray him. Peter was not yet able to experience the joy of Jesus’ resurrection fully because of the trauma of his sins. But Jesus needed him. Jesus wanted to solidify the rock on whom he was building his Church. So in response to Peter’s three-fold denial, Jesus gave him a chance to make a three-fold affirmation of love.
  • But buried within the dialogue is a real drama, but to see you, we have to know a little Greek. The first time Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, the word he uses for love is agape, which means a total self-sacrificial type of love, the type of love Jesus himself showed when he said, “No one has any greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” “Simon, son of John,” he was asking, “do you love me with agape?” Peter’s response, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” doesn’t use the word “agape,” but rather “philia.” He replies, in other words, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you as a friend.” Peter, after having broken his promise to die for Jesus before he ever would deny him, wasn’t going to make the same promise again. He was still carrying around the weight of his betrayal. So Jesus asked him a second time, “Peter, do you love me with agape, with total self-sacrificial love?” Peter replied again, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you with philia, as a friend.” So Jesus in the third question lowered himself to where Peter was comfortable and asked, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me with philia?” That’s when Peter was distressed. He knew the Lord was calling him to more but the Lord was acknowledging that Peter didn’t think he was capable of heroic love. He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you as a friend.”
  • Jesus, however, wasn’t going to leave Peter there. He said to him that when he was younger, he used to dress himself and go about as he pleased. But when Peter would grow old, another would “stretch out his hands” — a Greek euphemism for crucifixion — and lead him to a place he didn’t want to go, something, St. John said, was indicating the type of death by which Peter would glorify God. Jesus was telling him, “Even if you don’t want to say again publicly that you love me enough to die for me, you will love me that way, even being crucified for me.” And Jesus to emphasize the point said to him, “Follow me,” because Peter would follow him all the way.
  • What’s the lesson for us? Each of us, too, has had times when we haven’t been faithful to God, but no matter what our falls, Jesus wants to restore us to be capable of a love like his, of a total self-giving love in response to Jesus’ love for us. And he indicates to Peter and to us how to show it, but feeding his lambs and sheep, and tending his flock. In other words, the way we would demonstrate our love for him would be by sacrificing ourselves, by giving of ourselves, out of love for those he loved so much to die for. Jesus didn’t say, “Love me as I have loved you,” but “Love one another as I have loved you,” because our love for him would be shown in our love for his flock.
  • Paul, who was on trial in today’s first reading because of his love for Jesus and for Jesus’ sheep and lambs, wrote to the Corinthians of the importance of this type of agape. He said that if we have faith to move mountains, if we even give our bodies over to the torturers in defense of the faith — like today’s Saints Marcellinus and Peter did in 304 — but don’t have love, we are just a noisy gong and a clashing cymbal. We could update his language in 21st century terms. For me and my colleagues at the Mission, if we become the greatest interns, or diplomat, or Nuncio in the history of the Holy See to the United Nations, if we give stunning discourses, if we convert all the employees of UN Women and the UNFPA to become zealous pro-lifers and succeed single handedly in bringing peace between Israel and Palestine, but don’t do so with agape, we are, St. Paul says, just making noise. For you, as Sisters, if you have a personality like no one before in speaking to the guests, but don’t do so with love, you’ll gain nothing. Everything we do is meant to be an expression of the love we receive from Jesus that he sends us out to share. This Mission is an extension of the self-giving love of Jesus.
  • To love by Jesus’ standard isn’t easy and Jesus knows it. St. Peter himself learned it the hard way. But Jesus gave us two gifts to make that type of love possible.
  • The first is the gift we’re preparing to receive anew on Sunday, which is the feast of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came down upon Peter, the Apostles, Mary and the members of the early Church as tongues of fire, so that with ardent love they might give witness to the faith. The Holy Spirit changed Peter from an apostate to an apostle, from a chicken to a shepherd. He upgraded his love from philia to agape and strengthened him by the gift of courage to remain faithful. And the Holy Spirit seeks to work the same moral miracle in us.
  • The second is the gift of Jesus Himself in the Eucharist. Jesus himself enters us with his own love so that from the inside we are able to love others with the total gift of ourselves in communion with him. He who says to us with love, “This is my Body given for you, this is the Chalice of my Blood poured out for you,” strengthens us from within to echo in our own lives his words, so that we may give our body, our soul, our sweat, our lives loving others with the same love we here receive.
  • So today Jesus calls each of us by name like he called Simon Peter and asks, “Do you love me?” May each of us today be strengthened by the Holy Spirit not just here but throughout the day to reply, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you with a total self-sacrificial gift of love” by the way we love the lambs and sheep he entrusts to our shepherdly care.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 ACTS 25:13B-21

King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea
on a visit to Festus.
Since they spent several days there,
Festus referred Paul’s case to the king, saying,
“There is a man here left in custody by Felix.
When I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and the elders of the Jews
brought charges against him and demanded his condemnation.
I answered them that it was not Roman practice
to hand over an accused person before he has faced his accusers
and had the opportunity to defend himself against their charge.
So when they came together here, I made no delay;
the next day I took my seat on the tribunal
and ordered the man to be brought in.
His accusers stood around him,
but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected.
Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion
and about a certain Jesus who had died
but who Paul claimed was alive.
Since I was at a loss how to investigate this controversy,
I asked if he were willing to go to Jerusalem
and there stand trial on these charges.
And when Paul appealed that he be held in custody
for the Emperor’s decision,
I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20AB

R. (19a) The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
R. Alleluia.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
R. Alleluia.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
R. The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
R. Alleluia.
The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the LORD, all you his angels,
you mighty in strength, who do his bidding.
R. The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia JN 14:26

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Holy Spirit will teach you everything
and remind you of all I told you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 21:15-19

After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them,
he said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”