One of the most endearing qualities of a person is to be authentic, with all good and not so good qualities. When there is no guise of pride, envy or arrogance, there is a comfort level because what you see it what you get. Usually these are people who have ventured and experienced selfless love to some degree.
Out of all of the disciples of Christ, Peter would best fit this description. Here is man whose humanity oozed from every pour of his body, yet he was called by Christ to be the first one to lead his Church. It is no accident that Christ chose Peter, a man with many shortcomings, but also a man who was passionate, who knew how to love, albeit, at times misdirected. Even though St. Peter often fell short of expectations, he loved deeply. Sounds familiar? St. Mary Magdalene was cut from the same cloth.
The third visit of Christ with his disciples after his resurrection highlights the good side of Peter’s humanity, his love. Jesus intended, as he does with all, to help Peter’s love mature to be truly a holy love. It could never have happened if Peter’s love was not present to begin with.
Let us recall briefly Peter’s past reactions to Christ. At the last supper, Peter chides Christ in telling him that his feet are not fit to be washed until Christ tells him it necessary. Peter replies, “Then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Later we are told, Peter claims that he will lay down his life for Jesus. And then of course, the breaking of his promise never to deny Jesus.
Peter was a man who loved in a child-like way, always ready to assent to the call of God, but sometimes falling short, sometimes not understanding the totality of what he was proclaiming in his words of love. It is never a fault, to love, nor is it a fault to not be able to see the whole picture at one time. It is a fault however, to never even venture into the territory of love, for fear of failure or overriding selfishness.
Our spiritual life, like our physical life, is meant to grow and mature which never happens all at once. St. Peter is the poster boy for this principle. His love for God matured the longer he kept in contact with God.
You can almost imagine the scene at daybreak on the shore after the Resurrection. The Gospel recalls the exchange. Jesus Christ asks Peter a specific question on the shore, “Do you love me?” In a typical manner for Peter who always seems to rush into things. answers twice, seemingly without thought, “you know that I love you.” The third time Christ asks is different, “Do you love me?” Same words, different response. Peter was hurt with the final question about his love.
Perhaps, Peter was hurt because he finally realized the love Christ was talking about was not what Peter understood love to be. Maybe, at this point, Peter finally understood the meaning of love in a mature way, that love is not always associated with bells and whistles and fireworks and glorious events. For Christ responds to Peter after each question by giving him a task which will manifest that love, “Feed my lambs. . . . Tend my sheep. . . . Feed my sheep.”
What is crucial in our lives is not failing, but first and foremost loving God and our neighbor in every situation even if before we have not lived up to the claim all the time. The first step is ours and the rest is up to God who perfects our love by his love.
So, it is with us who venture to love first. Christ will ask each of us these three questions, “Do you love me?” And I hope we will respond in a similar fashion as Peter. And Christ will respond to us again, [then] “Help those who are less fortunate than you. . . . “Do you love me?” Be responsible husbands and wives and parents. . . . “Do you love me?” Give respect and time to those who are suffering.”
Will we be hurt when Jesus asks us a third time? Quite possibly, but know love needs to be perfected, needs to be brought to a higher level of holiness. And God who is always patient with us will keep asking those questions throughout our life. “Do you love me?” “Lord, you know everything. You know well that I love you.” and Jesus will respond, then keep loving me and your neighbor deeply.