Friday May 28, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventh Week of Easter
Reading (Acts 25:13b-21) Gospel (St. John 21:15-19)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord asks Peter three times if Peter loves Him, and Peter responds three times that he does. We recall, first of all, that there are different words in Greek for the word “love” (in English we only have one word) and there are two different words that are used here. Jesus asks Peter if he loves Jesus with a divine love (the word in Greek is “agape”) and Peter answers that he loves Jesus with the love of a friend (the word being “filas”). And so Jesus asks twice if Peter loves with agape love, and Peter answers twice that he loves Jesus with filas love. So the third time Jesus asks, Do you love Me with ‘filas’ love? and Peter says, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You as a friend. You know that I love You with filas love.”
Now the importance of that is what comes after. At this point, Peter can only say that he is the friend of Jesus. But Jesus tells him, The day is coming when someone else is going to dress you, is going to lead you away, and is going to crucify you. They’re going to stretch out your hands and take you where you do not want to go. In other words, Jesus is telling Peter, The day will come when you are going to love Me just as I love you. Jesus, of course, loves us with divine love, with that agape kind of love; and, for most of us, we love Jesus as a friend. It is sort of the idea that “We’re with You win or tie; but if it’s a lose situation, we’re not going to do that.” That is not what Our Lord is looking for. He is asking that we love Him with our whole heart and soul and strength, exactly the same way He loves us.
Most of us are either unable or unwilling to do that in return. When it gets to a certain point and it gets a little too vulnerable, we put the brakes on, stick our arms out, and keep ourselves at enough of a distance from the Lord that we are going to be able to say, “Look, I want to be close to You – but not that close. I’m not wanting to give myself so entirely to You that I might even have to suffer with You.” Well, that is exactly what He is telling Peter he will have to do. Peter is going to be crucified, and Our Lord is pointing that out to him; but Peter had to get to that point. He was willing to do the work. And even with the love of friendship, Jesus was still asking him to be the shepherd, feed the lambs, tend the flock, and so on. But even with all that Peter did – and he is, even to this day, the longest reigning Pope in history – the greatest act of love that Peter did for Jesus was to go to the cross with Jesus, to be willing to be crucified, and even to be willing to say to the people who did it, “I am not worthy to die the way that my Lord did.” And so they turned it upside down so that he was crucified with his head down.
You see how Peter had come from one kind of love to a deeper kind of love. Our Lord is asking the same of each and every one of us. He looks at each one of us and says, Do you love Me? For those of us who at least would be able to say, “Well, …yeah…kind of, I guess. Yeah.” At least that is pretty good. We are a pal; we are a buddy. We are at an arm’s distance, but we want to be there. It is a start, but that is not what He is looking for. He is asking us if we love Him the way He loves us. He will come down to our level as He did with Peter. He said, Okay. If you can’t love Me at this level, I’ll come down and accept the love that you can give Me at your level. But then He wants to raise us up to love at His own level, to love as we have been loved, which is exactly what we have been commanded to do.
And so we need to look at that and ask ourselves, “Am I willing? Do I want it? Do I recognize what is going to be required of me if I do this, and am I willing to do it? How much do I really love Jesus?” That is the question we have to ask. If Our Lord were to stand before us right now and ask, Do you love Me with this agape kind of love, with a divine kind of love, with a self-sacrificing kind of love? what would we say? “Lord, You know that I love You as Your friend. I like You, I want to be close to You, but I don’t want to die for You. I’m not willing to be crucified! You know, that’s just asking a little too much. I want to be Your pal.” Well, it is a start, but that is not where He wants it to end. He will accept where we are. He will give us the grace; and, as we cooperate with the grace, we will be raised to a more perfect kind of love, to that divine kind of love, to that self-sacrificing kind of love. That is what He is asking of us.
Do we love Him the way that He loves us? What will our answer be when He asks us these questions? The question is asked everyday. Everyday when we go to prayer, He asks that question in the depths of our hearts. What is our answer to Him? Where are we today and what are we willing to do? Are we willing to allow ourselves to get to that point of loving Him as He has loved us? To get to that point of being able to glorify God even in the way that we might die, because that may be what He is asking of us? Are we willing to give it all? To love truly with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole strength? To love with a divine love? It is not beyond us, because He has already put it into our hearts; it is now a question of our will. Are we willing to accept it and are we willing to do it? That is all it really comes down to. What is your answer to that divine question: Do you love Me?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.