In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
At this time of year the Church remembers the
fetters, the imprisonment of Saint Peter. We think of him usually
either as the Apostle who always spoke in the name of all his
brothers; or else, as the one who having boasted of his readiness to
die with Christ, when he saw Christ judged and condemned in an
iniquitous way, renounced Him three times.
And it is this latter event which the Church has
singled out in memory of his imprisonment and of his faithfulness,
because these two events hold together. When Christ met Peter on the
shore of the lake after his denial of Him, he asked Him three times
a question about love: "Peter! Dost thou love Me more than these?" —
those disciples who have not betrayed Him. Why "more than these"?
How could he be expected to love Christ more than the other Apostles,
when there was all the evidence that he had renounced Him? True,
every other Apostle had tried to escape the condemnation which was
upon Christ; they had fled. But Peter had openly renounced Him. Why
is it that he is asked whether he loves more than these? Peter did
not remember it at that moment; but we can read in the Gospel that
Christ says that he to whom more is forgiven loves more, out of a
deeper gratitude, out of a deeper joy; out of a deeper wonder love
flares in the heart of him who is forgiven; and the more there is to
be forgiven, the deeper the gratitude, the more exulting the joy,
the warmer, the more complete the love.
And Peter stood there, forgiven; Christ did not
judge him, He did not reject him, He did not ask him, "Have you
repented of your denial?" Because Peter was there, among the others,
because Peter was one of His own but with a broken heart, with a
searing memory of betrayal — he was received.
This is the love of which Saint Paul speaks in his
Epistle to the Corinthians. What does he say about it? That love is
patient, that love is kind, that loves envies no one, never is
boastful, never is conceited, never is brutal, never is selfish;
that love is not quick to take offence (how true of Christ!); that
love keeps no score of wrongs: and here we see Christ receiving
Peter as one of His own beloved disciples, in spite of his denial!
Love does not gloat over other people's sins but delights in their
truth; there is nothing love cannot face — no limits to its faith,
to its hope, it endures forever; it never ceases, is never defeated.
This was Christ's love, but this is also the love He
expected from Peter when He said, "Dost thou love Me more than these?"
Begin, begin with gratitude, begin with wonder, begin with a
hesitant exultation; because Peter could have only one answer: "How
can that be?" And Christ's answer would have been: "Simply, because
it is: this is the evidence; it is not a reason, it is a fact."
The first question is asked in words which in Greek
mean: "Dost thou possess that serene certainty of love, that love
which is all-embracing, as vast as the sky, as quiet and as perfect?"
But the second question and the third were couched
in other words: "Dost thou love Me as a friend loves his friend?"
And here again, Peter might have remembered, as we may remember
indeed when we are confronted with a challenge — Peter could have
remembered another word from the Gospel: "No one has greater love
than he who lays down his life for his friends." At the same time
Christ said to His disciples, "I no longer call you servants, I call
you friends, because the servant does not know the will of his
Master, and I have told you all." Christ so loved His disciples, and
Peter therefore could believe that he was forgiven, that he was
loved, by a friend who was ready to lay down His life for His friend.
But wasn't that also a call and a challenge? Did not
that mean: "If you say that you are a friend to Me you must be
prepared to lay down your life for Me, to sacrifice it for Me." And
this is where today's memory of the imprisonment of Peter, of his
readiness to be, as Saint Paul puts it, a bondsman, a prisoner of
Christ, but also a prisoner of the enemies of Christ to the point of
death, reminds us of his response to this call. Yes, Peter
understood, from now on he understood what it meant to be a friend,
and he understood what it meant to love with that complete,
surrendered love that believes against all evidence, that has faith
against all possibilities, that is never shaken even by material
evidence, that endures, never ceases, never diminishes, conquers all
evil. This is why this passage is appointed to today's event; yes,
Peter understood, and one day he died upon the cross, like his
Master, for His Master, as a response to His love.
Isn't that a message which we all can receive with
awe and with gratitude, because each of us has something with which
to reproach him or herself with regard to God, with regard to those
who surround us. Let us remember Peter, and
let us also remember this passage of
the thirteenth chapter of the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.
Let us meditate on them. And let us, in an act of sacrificial love,
reach to the exultation of victorious love! Amen.