Do You Love Me?
April 25, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Sunday of Easter
Reading I (Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41)
Reading II (Revelation 5:11-14) Gospel (St. John 21:1-19)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about the disciples up in Galilee deciding to go fishing. One could look at this whole situation and wonder, “What’s wrong with these men?” Jesus had risen from the dead, He had appeared already to His disciples on two occasions, and you would have thought that would have been enough to be able to change the way they were living and the way they were thinking. But instead, they go up to Galilee and Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” He was going back to his old way of life. Peter had not been fishing for three years, but all of a sudden he is going back to the old way. Now one would expect that if Jesus were like the others who had gathered people around them thinking that they might have been the Messiah and then when they were put to death all of their followers disbanded, but they knew that Jesus had risen from the dead. So we ask ourselves, “Why would they just go back to their old way of life? What’s wrong with them that they didn’t understand? Why wasn’t their life changed after the Resurrection of our Blessed Lord?”
But then as we continue on, we see Our Lord revealing Himself a third time to His disciples, this time on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. The Sea of Tiberias is the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Gennesareth. There are three names for the same body of water in Sacred Scriptures, so as you read along, just understand what that is. This appearance is extremely important because as the disciples come to the shore, Jesus already has a charcoal fire lit with some bread and some fish upon the fire. It is also in this same place that Jesus (in the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel) had multiplied the loaves and the fishes, walked across the lake, and then explained to His disciples the importance of what He had done to be able to tell them all about the Eucharist. The loaves and the fishes that they had at that time were a symbol of the Eucharist that He would give to the disciples later on.
In the reading today, we hear that the disciples did not dare ask who it was because they knew it was the Lord. Certainly, the context of it would suggest that Saint John was talking about the fact that Jesus was standing right there in front of them. But if you look at where that sentence is placed, it is placed right between the two sentences that say, “He said to them, ‘Come, have your breakfast’” and then, “He gave to them the bread and the fish.” Now one would expect that that sentence would come earlier when they had pulled up to shore and they did not have to ask who it was, but Saint John did not put that statement there. Instead, it is placed very similarly to what we have in the twenty-fourth chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel where the two disciples are walking along the road to Emmaus, and it was not until the breaking of the bread that they recognized the Lord truly present with them. So, too, in this instance where Our Lord had revealed Himself to His disciples; it is more of a Eucharist presence, the revelation of the Blessed Sacrament once again of the loaves and fishes at the same place where Jesus had already done this, so that the disciples would have understood exactly what this was because it was not all that much beforehand that He had done the exact same thing in the same place and explained to them what the Eucharist was. It was in this Eucharistic symbolism that the disciples recognized Who He was, and none of them dared ask because they knew it was the Lord. And it was after this that their lives were changed.
As the Gospel reading goes on, Jesus then asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” And the third time, Peter was hurt; he was distressed that the Lord would have to ask him a third time, “Do you love Me?” One would wonder why. Why would the Lord have to ask that? Why would Peter be upset? If we just think about our own selves, rather than sitting back 2,000 years after the fact and pointing our fingers at the disciples and saying, “How slow they are to understand. What a bunch of dopes! They just don’t get it. The Lord is risen from the dead, and they just go off and start living their old way of life once again,” what about ourselves? The disciples came to recognize the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. Do we? I am not saying, “Do you believe that Jesus is there?” We all know that. We all have it in our heads. We know what the Church teaches. We know what Scripture says. We know that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament; that is not the question. “Do you recognize Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament?” is the question. Do you recognize Him there? If you recognize Him there, then the question is “Why hasn’t one’s life changed?” Now we begin to see that we really cannot be pointing our fingers at the disciples, can we? Jesus had risen from the dead, and they did not change their lives until they recognized Him. We have Him right here in front of us everyday and our lives have not changed. Do we really recognize Him? You see, the disciples believed that Jesus rose from the dead. They knew in their heads that was the reality; it just had not gotten down to their hearts. So why did Jesus have to ask Peter three times, “Do you love Me”? Because Peter had not done a thing to demonstrate it yet.
What about us? From the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lord looks at each and every one of us and He says to us, “Do you love Me?” Of course, we are going to be quick to say, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love You!” But what are we doing to demonstrate it? Have we shown Our Lord that we love Him, or do most of us do just the opposite? “Just carry on. Jesus is there in the Blessed Sacrament, big deal. What’s that mean to me? I’ve got a life to live, after all. I don’t want to change.” But look at what it did to the disciples once they recognized Him there, once it was no longer just a logical proposition, once it was no longer just an objective teaching but they recognized Him. It was a subjective reality. This was a Person Who was truly present among them, and it changed their lives because they loved Him. They did not just know about Him – they loved Him. So Jesus looks at Peter in the Gospel, then, and basically tells Peter, “If you love Me, here’s what’s going to happen to you: Someone else is going to lead you away against your will.” But Saint John tells us that Jesus told him this because it was the way Peter was going to glorify God in his death.
Now if we want to know whether or not their lives changed, all we have to do is look at the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. We see Peter and Saint John before the Sanhedrin because they were preaching in the Name of Jesus Christ in the temple. They were arrested and they were flogged. They rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer on behalf of the Name. They recognized Jesus, they understood, and they changed their lives because of the reality that was there. They recognized the Person of Jesus Christ truly present among them and living within them. How about us? Do we recognize Him? Are we willing to change our lives? Are we willing to suffer on behalf of the Name? Love, after all, is demonstrated only in suffering. It is easy to tell somebody how much you love them when everything is wonderful. We all know what fair-weather friends are all about. Life is easy and wonderful, loads of friends; and then the fortunes of life change, and you have very few people around you. But the only ones who are your true friends are the ones who are willing to suffer with you. So it is with Our Lord.
If we know in our heads that Jesus is there, what difference does it make to us? We do not come before Him to pray. We do not think about Him throughout the day. We do not spend time deep in our hearts trying to develop our relationship with Him because it is just a logical proposition, a truth indeed, but just a proposition that is kept at an arm’s distance because it is all objective. We need to recognize Jesus and we need to change our lives. We can ask ourselves just by looking at our own day-to-day life whether or not we have recognized Him. Has it changed our lives? It is just that simple: Has it changed our lives? How much time everyday do we spend in prayer? How much does the Blessed Sacrament mean to us? What are we willing to do to be able to be with Jesus in the Eucharist? Are we willing to suffer – and indeed rejoice to be able to be counted worthy to suffer – on behalf of the Name? Are we willing to let the world know by the way we live our lives that we are Catholic? Do we wear anything that would demonstrate that, or are we afraid? How about putting something on your walls at home? Not just in your bedroom, but how about your living room: a nice crucifix, a picture of Our Blessed Lady? Maybe at work? Think of the ridicule you will receive, the rejection that is going to happen if people find out you are a true Catholic. Think of how your life is going to change if you really start to pray deep in the heart, developing a relationship – not just saying prayers, but truly recognizing Jesus there and developing a relationship with Him. Life is not going to be the same anymore.
If we look at the second reading from the Book of Revelation, we can ask ourselves, “What do I want to do for eternity?” We are given a glimpse of a vision of heaven. And when the angels cry out, “Give all glory and honor and power and might to our God and to the Lamb Who is seated on the throne,” all of the elders bow down and worship. That is what eternity is going to be. It is going to be prayer. It is going to be the worship of Jesus Christ. It is to recognize Him and to love Him. If we do not want to do that now, why would we want to do it for eternity? Why would we want to go to heaven if we do not want anything to do with Him now? Jesus is right there in the tabernacle. He is going to enter into your heart at the communion rail today. And He is going to speak to you and say, “Do you love Me?” Not, “Do you know what the Church teaches about Me,” but, “Do you love Me?” What difference does it make in your life? What are you willing to do for our Blessed Lord?
You see, when we look at it this way, we cannot point our fingers at the apostles. As slow as they were to believe, they are a lot quicker than most of us have ever been. It only took them a few days – we have been at this for years and we still do not understand, we still do not recognize Him. We keep Him at an arm’s distance because we do not want to change our lives. Open your hearts, hear the voice of Our Lord speaking to you, and ask yourself, “What am I willing to do for Him? Am I willing to change my life based on the One Who is truly present within me? If I recognize Him there, can I continue to live just like everybody else? What is it that He’s asking?” Learn from the disciples. See the courage they had to stand up and preach in the Name of the Lord, see the conviction they had, and look at the response they had to that question. As you receive Holy Communion and go back to your pew and unite yourself with Jesus present within you, open your heart and recognize Him there, and answer the question that He is going to ask each and every one of us: “Do you love Me?”
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.