When I was in my 3rdyear of seminary formation, I attended a retreat in Grand Coteauthe Jesuit spirituality center. The priest who I met with gave me a scripture passage to pray with every prayer period. I was given this passage from St. John and in my prayer, I felt the Lord asking me to put myself in the shoes of Peter. Just imagine you are sitting before our Lord and he says, “Tim, do you love me?” As I sat in my prayer that day, I couldn’t just say yes Lord. I had to pray through it and reflect, do I love the Lord, do I love him more than what I own, what I am, what I will become. I was able to answer as Peter did, “yes Lord you know that I love you!” This prayer is part of the reason I’m only 20 days away from becoming a priest!
I prayed again with this passage about a year ago when I was in the Holy Land. I was at the spot near the sea of Galilee believed to be where Jesus asked this exact question. While I was sitting there remembering how Jesus used this scripture in my own life, I heard him say to me “feed my sheep.” A strengthening of my personal call to the priesthood!
A couple of weeks ago we heard how Peter denied Jesus before his crucifixion. Jesus told Peter, “before the cock crows you will deny me three times.” Peter does deny him three times. Jesus I believe is allowing Peter to repent for what he did and how he sinned. Jesus asks Peter. “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” and he responds, “yes Lord you know that I love you.” Then we know, two more times Jesus asks Peter this same question, and it even troubles Peter some that Jesus asked him a third time “do you love me.”
I don’t think this encounter between Peter and Jesus is only about undoing the threefold denial of Peter. If you notice, there are three things that Jesus says in response to Peter. “Feed my lambs.” Tend my sheep, and Feed my sheep. In the encounter between Jesus and Peter, not only does Jesus ask Peter do you love me, he too gives Peter the mission he is called to have in his life. As we all know Peter was the Church’s first pope, Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and he is given authority over the apostles. Peter was a priest as well, and as a priest, he was a shepherd just like Jesus before him. Jesus was calling Peter to be the first Pope and serve the people as a priest! Out of Peter’s encounter with the Lord, he received his mission, out of Peter showing how much he loved the Lord Jesus gave him his mission to feed and tend his sheep!
For me I realize that I need to ask myself or hear God asking me regularly, “do you love me?” My fundamental relationship in my life should be with my Lord, and everything should flow through my love of Jesus. No matter where we are in the spiritual lives this is a question we can examine in our own lives. If Jesus asked us today “do you love me?” how would we respond? Could we say yes? Would we say well yes, I love you lord, but there are other things I love more? Or can we say Jesus I love you beyond all things? The Church teaches us that love is our fundamental vocation in life. God created us in love, and he calls all of us to love him and to love our neighbor.
We should not forget however that Jesus too loves us and he loves us beyond all things. This is our true identity is that we are beloved sons and daughters of our God. In Peter’s response I believe he knew that Jesus loved him and in return, he said: “yes Lord I know that I love you.” Our Love of the Lord can never match his, but if we allow his love of us to live in and through us, we can love him and others.
Just as Peter was called to tend and feed his sheep, I think to out of our Love of the Lord and his love for us we can find what our personal vocation in this life is. Through a relationship with him, I was able to hear him call me to the priesthood. I knew his love for me and heard his call to the priesthood. Many of you are already living out your personal vocation from the Lord in married life. However, we can still listen to his voice in prayer and hear him call us to greater things.
Jesus called Peter to be the first Pope of the Church, to be a priest, a bishop and even to give up his life for the sake of the Gospel. However, Jesus and Peter had a relationship first, and out of this and the love they showed for each other he called him to his vocation in life. God calls all of us by name to love and follow him in our lives. Our challenge is to find that time in prayer so we can have that relationship with him! May we seek the Lord in prayer and continue to grow in our relationship with him.
Image via Adobe Stock Renáta Sedmáková