Third Sunday of Easter • Year C

Michael H. Bielicki, O.S.A.
St. Thomas Monastery
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41
Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13
Rv 5:11-14
Jn 21:1-19

As I have mentioned in the past, we are invited to discover ourselves described in the gospels in order to better understand who we are, and what role we might be playing in a specific gospel account. For example, last week, we may have resembled St. Thomas the doubter, today we probably resemble the weak Peter, who, despite his weakness, loved Jesus very much, much, as we who are weak probably love Jesus very much too. Today, I would like us to seriously consider and answer the question Christ put to Peter: Do you love me? Do you really love Jesus?

St. Augustine says the reason why Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him, was to give Peter an opportunity to atone for his three-fold denial of our Lord during his arrest and trial. But, whatever the reason for the triple questioning, we should marvel at the fact that Jesus did not change his mind regarding his choice of Peter, and turn the papacy over to St. John, or one of the other apostles, after Peter’s denial. St. Augustine also says something significant when he declares: God does not change his plans, he just changes the way he works out a specific plan, when we seem to mess up the plan he has for our lives, by our denials.

Today’s gospel proves that Jesus never gave up on St. Peter, and that is a message of hope for all of us. Jesus doesn’t give up on us either, and he asks us over and over again if we really love him. He does this because he knows that we may eventually come to believe that we really do love Him, even in our weakness, and that belief in our love of Him, will change our lives. Is it not true that when we are loved by someone or love someone, that love radically changes our lives?

We should be grateful for the countless times in which we have been shown mercy throughout our lives, when God decided to change the way he was going to work his plan for us and our salvation – when we, by our poor choices, made his plan difficult to carry out as He originally planned.

We fail many times, and in the face of our many failures, we may be tempted to become discouraged or may want to give up, or think that God has given up on us, feeling that we can never be true disciples of Jesus because of our weakness. But it is our love that really matters, not our countless faults. Because of our own passions and emotions, we often believe there is no hope for us. We may consider ourselves borderline Christians, but God’s grace, given to us through the power of the resurrection, makes us rise from our failures and transforms us into lovers of God, even if we are weak lovers of God.

The grace of the resurrection was given to Peter by Jesus, and that grace was brought to completion by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which enabled weak, imperfect Peter to become a sincere lover of Jesus. Peter gives us hope that we too can reconcile our weaknesses into moments of grace and transformation, moments when we come to believe in God’s love for us, and our love for Him.

A look at the gospels reveals that while good works and actions are important – the ability to do good works is not as important as the ability to love. It would seem that Jesus became unwilling to perform miracles “on demand” and asks his followers [and us] to believe in the healing power of love, even when we are disappointed by our lack of success in the performance of good works.

It is obvious that we cannot always fix what is wrong in life, but we can always love. The same grace of the risen Lord can give us a realization that our weaknesses are often instruments in God’s hands creating in our hearts deeper compassion towards the weaknesses of others, who are struggling individuals like ourselves. Grace can eventually move our hearts to realize how to be “content” with our infirmities, if we learn to love. We can eventually see how all things work for the good of those who love God; all things, even our failures and our sins.

Lamenting my own personal failures and weaknesses to my spiritual director years ago, he responded: Christ is turning you into the humble person he wants you to be, not the proud perfect person you think you should be.

My dear Friends in Christ, today’s liturgy instructs us to revel in the fact that God loves us, even in our weaknesses and failures. God’s love has been revealed to us in Jesus as “mercy incarnate,” and compassionate and unconditional acceptance; something we find very difficult to believe, because of the conditions we so often have placed on love or have been placed on us by the conditional love of those who say they love us.

If we could only begin to believe more deeply in God’s love, perhaps that belief would enable us to be more compassionate towards ourselves and our own failures, and even make us become more compassionate and patient with the faults of others who say they love us, but still hurt us.

Let Jesus ask each of us today: Do you love me? Let us truly stop and reflect upon how to respond to that question no matter how seriously we may have offended God by our sins and failures. From Jesus’ interaction with Peter, it is clear that our faults and failings are not obstacles to God’s love of us, let us pray that they may not be obstacles to our love for him so that we too may respond as Peter did saying, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I LOVE YOU!”