Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times. He broke down and wept. ( Mark 14: 72)
This verse from the Passion narrative of St. Mark’s Gospel reminds us of God’s rich mercy. In that short passage, we understand how Jesus is a loving, merciful Father who knows us through and through and will never fail us, pulling us through anguish at the exact moment when we recognize our failures, just like Peter did. Jesus gives all of us another chance to reaffirm our love for Him after we fail Him, even after we deny Him when He asks us, “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21: 15)
Let Yourself Be Loved
My moments of mission always point me toward carrying out the good laying within my heart, placed there by the Holy Spirit, even in spite of my failings. Recognizing this, I come full circle, letting myself “be loved more than these”, as St. Elizabeth of the Trinity so beautifully writes in her farewell letter to her Mother Superior.
Let yourself be loved more than these. . . . [Jesus] alone . . . wants to work in you, even though you will have done nothing to attract this grace except that which a creature can do; works of sin and misery . . . He loves you like that. (The Complete Works of Elizabeth of the Trinity, Volume 1; ICS Publications, 1984. p.180.)
This circle of love begins with God, who first loved us, that we might, in turn, love Him. Peter, my favorite Apostle, simply because he was so relatable, down to earth, a lovable mess-up, is, to me, the prime example of redeemed mankind, and what Jesus yearns to do with those who put themselves at His disposal, sinful misery and all, fully receptive to His gratuitous love.
Who of us, after having left everything comfortable and familiar to spend three years living, eating, and trying desperately to absorb the teachings and miracles of the God-man, would be able to help to fall utterly in love with Jesus? Peter did; and yet he was not master of his emotions, which together with his vices, just as they would with most of us, brought him sobbing to his knees with contrition for having done the inexcusable, for having denied his beloved Master in His greatest hour of need. Who of us are not guilty of the same denial or desertion of Jesus, after professing our love for Him time and again, like Peter and the other Apostles are recorded as having done? And, finally, who of us, suddenly recognizing the gravity of our fault and the depths of our moral weakness, would not weep bitterly, especially when not yet have understood the unconditional and redeeming gift of love that Jesus spent His whole ministry extending to those He was surrounded by?
God Breathes His Love Into Us
David Torkington wonderfully puts into perspective the love God wants to continually breathe into the daily lives of every Christian – a love instilled through a deep and consistent prayer life, in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ:
Christianity is not primarily a moralism, it’s a mysticism. It’s not primarily concerned with teaching us every detail of perfect human behaviour. It is primarily concerned with communicating the love that will enable us to be perfectly human. Once love has made us perfectly human, then perfect human behaviour follows as a matter of course. The Gospels show us how this happened in Christ’s life and promises that it will happen in ours also, if we will only allow God’s love to possess us as it possessed Jesus. Our main concern is to be permeated by the love that was the mainspring of his every action; to be penetrated by the same Spirit that was the source of all he said and did. . . . When the self-same Spirit that animated every thought, word, and deed of [Jesus], begins to possess us, then the spiritual life has begun in earnest, and the same Holy Spirit will gradually become the principal of all we say and do. (Wisdom From the Western Isles: The Making of a Mystic by David Torkington; O Books, 2008. pp. 57, 58.)
Learning How to Prayer
Many years ago, in what was probably my very first and minimal introduction to meditative prayer, the priest at a retreat I was attending, gave these instructions at the final Mass before reading the Gospel: “Listen carefully to the entire reading, paying close attention to any word, phrase or sentence that stands out for you. That will be our Lord’s personal message for you.”
I will never forget it. The retreat master read the Gospel of John 21: 1-17. What stood out quite clearly for me in the lengthy passage were the following words:
Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ (John 21: 15)
I still delve into the untapped significance of that passage and the wealth of meaning it has held in my life and continues to hold today. Jesus may speak the same words to us often, but they are eternally new if we will only let Him carry us in His redemptive love, and apply whatever we may glean from His Word during personal prayer, to where we are now.
Do You Love Me More Than These?
From the short passage of St John above, this phrase struck me most: “do you love me more than these?” I thought, is Jesus asking Peter if he loves Him more than the other Apostles love Him, and if so, how would Peter know how much any of the other Apostles loved Jesus. Peter answers “yes” to the part about loving Him, but with a new and brutally humbling realization of the frailty of his own poor love.
Gathering from subsequent homilies and commentaries over the years on this same passage, I have learned that the words, “more than these”, were added to the word “love”, in the original Greek, to express a love for which English has no equivalent. It is the kind of love Jesus has for us – the kind that compelled Him to die a torturous death to redeem us. Jesus was reaching with Peter, as He always did when trying to relate the things of God to the unready minds of His children – as He does with us today. He does this to draw us closer to His Heart, a Heart that wants to pry open our own small hearts so that we can hear His whisperings within, as He gently stirs our love for Him. His love for us is unconditional, divine, yes, but the yearning He has to be loved by souls is also divine, hidden deeply in His last complaint on the Cross, “I thirst”. (John 19: 28)
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity got it right when she urged her Mother Superior to “Let yourself be loved more than these.” It is a message meant for all of us. When we are wearied of our own failings, our vices, addictions, and think ourselves completely and deservedly unlovable, we need to let this message from Jesus sink in, because, quite frankly, He is the only one able to deliver it to us, while in the process transforming us into His worthy children of light, no longer belong to ourselves, but to Him alone.
The happy and extraordinary thing about letting ourselves be loved, is we can then live in the realization that Jesus has done the work for us; we have been saved by His Blood, and the freedom to live in that salvation is always near at hand: in deepening our relationship with Him through daily and intimate prayer, in the opportunities set before us every day to be Christ to others, in making amends with our neighbors over past difficulties and negligences, and in fervent, transforming participation in the Eucharist.
At every moment, God wants to pour out on us His unmatchable and unquenchable love. The best accomplishment of our individual missions at any given moment depends much on the generosity of response to God, for His hands are always filled and open with more than we need for the task.
When at last we are able to say with open hearts, “Inundate me with Your gratuitous love every bit as much as You want to”, then we will be able to sing with the Psalmist his joyful song of inner freedom given by God.
Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not record. ( Romans 4: 6)
Let us answer, then, God’s extraordinary and redeeming love with a heart humbled, redeemed, and thus made free. Christ, ever thirsting, asks us the question He posed to the beloved fisherman some 2,000 years ago, “Do you love Me more than these?”