Sunday, April 14, 2013

Far From Finished

In Les Misérables, Victor Hugo wrote, “The eye of the spirit can nowhere find more dazzling brilliance and more shadow than in man; it can fix itself on no other thing which is more formidable, more complicated, more mysterious, and more infinite. There is a spectacle more grand than the sea: it is heaven; there is a spectacle more grand than heaven: it is the inmost recesses of the soul.” The highly symbolic and theologically charged Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter invite us to reflect on how grace works within the inmost recesses of a soul open to the light of the Risen Lord.

Christ and Peter at the Sea of Tiberius
by Raphael, 1515 (Vatican Museums)

Saint Peter, whose faith and love are highlighted in this Sunday’s Readings, had followed Jesus with enthusiasm. His faith was generous and open, but also subject to the limits of human weakness: “he overcame the trial of faith, abandoning himself to Christ. The moment comes, however, when he gives in to fear and falls: he betrays the Master (cf. Mark 14:66-72)… The school of faith is not a triumphal march but a journey marked daily by suffering and love, trials and faithfulness. Peter, who promised absolute fidelity, knew the bitterness and humiliation of denial: the arrogant man learns the costly lesson of humility. Peter, too, must learn that he is weak and in need of forgiveness. Once his attitude changes and he understands the truth of his weak heart of a believing sinner, he weeps in a fit of liberating repentance. After this weeping he is finally ready for his mission” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, May 24, 2006).

When, on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius, Peter encountered the Risen Lord, he received the mission that set him apart from the other Apostles, and he learned an important lesson in love. Saint John recounts the event (proclaimed in this Sunday’s Gospel) using a specific play on words. When Jesus first asks Peter, “Do you love me,” he uses the Greek phrase agapas-me, meaning “do you love me totally and unconditionally” (Jn. 21:15). Prior to his denial of Jesus, Peter would most certainly have responded agapo-se! Now that he has experienced his own fragility, he responds, “Lord, you know that I love you,” using filio-se (“I love you with a human love”). Once again, Jesus asks the fisherman, “Simon, do you love me with this total love that I want?” Peter again responds, “Kyrie, filo-se,” “Lord, I love you as I am able.” The third time, however, Jesus simply asks, “Fileis-me?” This time, it is not Peter who alters the verb, it is Jesus. The Lord who places himself at Peter’s level rather than asking more than Peter is able to give. This gives Peter hope because he understands that his love, however imperfect, is enough for Jesus.

Peter was called by Jesus to serve in a new way in order to feed his sheep. Jesus knew that the gifts that Peter would need to fulfill his task lay dormant in Peter but that Peter would also be able to become the man the Lord was calling him to be. After this exchange, Peter received his commission: “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.” (John 21:18-19).

Peter wasted no time in fulfilling his mission when, in Jerusalem, he zealously refused to stop preaching in Jesus’ name (cf. Acts 5:27-41). The conviction of Peter and the other Apostles (celebrated especially the Acts of the Apostles) reminds us that our faith and commitment to the Gospel place demands upon us and can involve sacrifice and suffering. For Peter, this ultimately meant martyrdom in Rome. For Christians throughout the ages, up to our own time, faith continues to call for a witness to those values and truths that transcend the trials and struggles of our day-to-day existence and the shallow ideals of the world around us.

Working for peace, justice, the promotion of human life, and the spread of Good News are tasks entrusted to every Christian. As Blessed John Paul II observed, “The mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion… an overall view of the human race shows that this mission is still only beginning and that we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service. It is the Spirit who impels us to proclaim the great works of God: ‘For if I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!’ (1 Corinthians 9: 16)” (Redemptoris Missio, 1). To be Christian means working to build up God’s Kingdom, recognizing and promoting God’s action in the world, “working for liberation from evil in all its forms. In a word, the kingdom of God is the manifestation and realization of God’s plan of salvation in all its fullness” (RM, 15).


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