Whenever I hear this Sunday’s Gospel (John 21:1-9), the Risen Lord’s appearance to some of the apostles by the Sea of Tiberias it reminds me of my first vows. This was the passage we six novices chose for the vows. At the time we probably chose it because of Peter’s three admissions of love. Over the years however, I’ve come to see the passage differently. It is not Peter’s admissions that are so interesting and moving but the Lord’s three questions. We can understand his repetition of questions in one of two ways.
The first is the Lord sort of asking “are you sure?” This means, in my understanding, the Lord saying to Peter “I know you denied me three times; I know you left my side when I was arrested; I know you did not keep the promises you made to me at the Last Supper, and so, are you sure?” This reading emphasizes our infidelity, our inconsistency, our sinfulness. A risen lord who is so critical of those he loves to such an extent that he gave his life, is not the Risen Lord that I have come to know and to love. For did not the Lord say that he was not sent to “the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved.”
The second way of understanding this Gospel, which is my preference, is to see something drastically different. We all believe that God knows us better than we know ourselves and so I believe that the Risen Lord knew the shame, the embarrassment and the dejection that Peter felt in his heart due to his actions. The Risen Lord’s three questions remind Peter that it is not shame, embarrassment and dejection that reside in Peter’s heart; rather it is his love for Jesus Christ. The corner stone of our Church was not moved by guilt, he was moved by love.
In a similar way we must never be moved by guilt in our Christian faith. Rather we must always seek to be moved by what is in our heart, that is, that we love the Lord in our own particular way. We may see what is lacking in that love, others may judge that we are lacking in love, but the Risen Lord makes himself weak and tenderly asks us “do you love me?” All our shame, all our embarrassment and all our dejection in the face of such honest tenderness slides to the side and we respond with corresponding honesty and tenderness, “you know that I love you.” So here at Lourdes we what type of community are we? Using the words of St. Francis Xavier, let us continue to grow into a “community of love.”