Apparitions: a Presence which remains
At Easter, the first of all Sundays, we have celebrated the victory of the Word of Life that is Light. This light has conquered darkness. It is the beginning of a life that is not subject to the wear and tear of time because it is in the eternal youth of God. We have celebrated the victory of a Love that is stronger than death and stronger than the sin that has let death and its darkness enter the world.
Last Sunday, the second Sunday of Easter, we have been reminded of Jesus' tenderness toward Thomas, his passionate disciple who was not there when Jesus appeared for the first time after the resurrection. The apostle, confronted with the concreteness of the Redeemer's presence, recognized him and pronounced the most beautiful words of the Christian faith: "My Lord and my God." Then Jesus looked at Thomas with eyes full of mercy.
With a look that gives peace and trust, instills courage and audacity and unleashes irresistible passion and strength He invited all the apostles to go to the limits of the earth to announce the Gospel, the best and most beautiful news that men, in any place and in any time, need.
In this third Sunday of Easter Jesus manifests his presence only to some of the apostles to confirm their vocation to be swept in by a love infinite, merciful and faithful, like the fish of the miraculous catch. It is not only an apparition to confirm them in the certainty of His Resurrection. It is also a recall of the mission to be fishermen of men.
With his apparitions Jesus shows a saintly and loyal Presence. As He did then, today Jesus invites us to be with him (Jn 21:4) on the lake's shore.
With his Presence Jesus shows that the given Love conquers death for him and for his friends, Judas included. Let's not forget that when Judas went to betray Him, Jesus called him "Friend." How could we not think that this word had pierced the traitor's heart? Maybe in the last minute of his life Judas remembering that word and the kiss, felt that the Master still loved him and would have welcomed him among the others in the new life.
At the Last Supper Jesus said to all the Apostles "I will no longer call you slaves, I call you friends" ( Jn 15:15). Jesus gives to us the same gift, He calls us "friends."
Because we are his friends, Jesus speaks to us as a friend does. He asks us to love one another presenting his love as the source, the example and the measure of our reciprocal and brotherly love. ( Jn 15:12)
In conclusion we can say that the Resurrected invites his Apostles and us to be with Him. We must "be" with Him, grafted in Him as the shoots of the vine to be able to have eternal Life. "We must be with Jesus to be able to be with the others" (Benedict XVI to the Fraternity of Saint Charles Borromeo, February 13, 2011). In being with Him we share eternal and universal love.
Power that comes from love: Do you love me?... I love you…Feed my flock.
After the meal with the bread offered by Jesus and the fish of the miraculous catch, the dialogue between Jesus and Peter begins. Jesus reminds Peter of his betrayal. It was enough to have some words spoken by a gossipy servant to make him fall. This reminder is painful for Peter, but Jesus asks neither clarification nor justification. He asks him only if he loves Him because it is not important that his future pope is strong or consistent. He wants only to know if he loves Him and if he still wants to follow him. The one who will become the Bishop of Rome who presides over charity receives his assignment through a "test" on charity. To Peter who was offering his pain, Christ confirms his love.
Our journey toward sanctity is not made without betrayals but it is necessary that we renew everyday our friendship with Christ.
Jesus' three questions are different because Jesus follows Peter's answers.
To the first question: Do you love me (from the Greek agapas me from agapao) more than these? Peter answers not using the right word. In fact while Jesus uses a verb seldom utilized, agapao, the verb of the absolute love, Peter uses a simple verb, the one indicating friendship and affection (from the Greek fileo ) and doesn't make any comparison between him and the other apostles.
The second question is "Simon, son of John, do you love me (agapas me)?" Jesus has understood Peter's difficulties and asks less. There is no comparison with the others, but the request for absolute love (agape) is still there. Peter answers again that he loves him, but in using again the verb fileo (the one more reassuring, more human: I'm your friend, you know, I love you) he demonstrates that he doesn't understand well what Jesus is asking. Peter doesn't dare to speak of love he prefers to speak of friendship and affection.
In the third question Jesus changes the verb and lowers his expectations on Peter. He comes closer to his unsure heart, accepts his limits and uses Peter's verb "Peter fileis me?" He asks him affection if love is too much or at least friendship if love is too frightening. Jesus demonstrates his love in lowering three times the requirements of love and in slowing down his pace (as He does on the road to Emmaus) to match the one of the disciple.
Jesus accepts that Peter "loves" Him in the only way the disciple thinks he can do it. Since Jesus knows that Peter truly and completely loves Him, gives him the supremacy of love to take care of the Church. Jesus put on Peter's shoulders the power that comes from charity (agape). Peter, who was able to recognize his misery and to receive Christ's love, will be able to serve and to take care of his brothers in need of love and truth. Peter is ready, he will know how to help his poor brothers, because he has accepted his poverty and has asked for the love of the Master who invited him to be forever his follower.
What about us?
To Peter and to every one of us Jesus says the final word of today's gospel: "Follow me". Together with Peter, let's follow Christ without forgetting a fundamental fact: Jesus Christ appears first to the women, his loyal followers, not to the disciples or to the apostles whom He had chosen to be the carriers of his Gospel into the world.
To the women He gives the mystery of the Resurrection making them the first witnesses of this truth. Perhaps He wants to reward their sensibility to his message and their strength which had pushed them up Calvary.
Perhaps He wants to show a fine side of his humanity, with grace and kindness He approaches and helps the ones who counted less in the world. We can read this in the gospel of Matthew 28:9-10 "And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me." This will in fact happen as we can see in today's Gospel. Even the apparition to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:11-18) is of a remarkable finery from the side of the woman who reveals her passionate and reserved dedication to Jesus and from the side of the Master who treats her with kindness and goodness.
The Church will have to take inspiration from this priority given to the women at Easter. Over the centuries she had been able to count on them for their life of faith, prayer and apostolate.
I think that the consecrated Virgins are the example that a life offered to God in consecration makes sure that love is the completion that makes faith and charity alive and operative. (Gal 5:6) This is what Saint Augustine wrote "This means in the end to believe in Christ and to love Christ" (Hoc est enim credere in Christum, diligere Christum) (Enarr in Ps 130, 1; Pl 37, 1704). The consecrated Virgins show with their life that the love for God pushes us to transfer this love to all our brothers and sisters.
Practical advice: I invite you to repeat often this prayer by Saint Augustine: "Lord, guard our hearts united forever so that in following your path our affection becomes charity" (Custode Domine, animas nostras in perpetuo iunctas, ut te solum sequentes in via dilectio nostra caritas fieri posset)
Acts 5:27b-32; Ps 30; Rev 5:11-14; Jn 21:1-19
Christ is love that asks to be followed
Acts 28:16-28; Ps 96; Rm1: 1-1-16b; Jn 8:12-19
Monsignor Francesco Follo is permanent observer of the Holy See to UNESCO, Paris.