The Authority of Love and Mercy

Lectio Divina: 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C

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Roman rite
Third Sunday of Easter  – Year C – April 10, 2016
Acts 5, 27-32.40-41; Ps 29; Rev 5.11 to 14; Jn 21.1 to 19
Ambrosian Rite
Acts 28: 16-28; Ps 96; Rm 1, 1-16b; John 8: 12-19
Apparition is a manifestation as encounter of love.
The liturgy of today’s Mass, proposing the third appearance of the risen Jesus to the apostles, guides us to understand and to reflect on the resurrection of Christ.
To be precise, it should be remembered that, in the evangelical language, the term “apparition” has a deeper meaning than the one commonly understood today, which often refers to the vision of a ghost or of something evanescent. When the evangelist John speaks of “apparition”, he intends the showing of Christ, the real encounter of the Risen One. It is an encounter between people, an encounter from which come an acknowledgment, a dialogue and a commitment. In fact, the Gospel of the beloved disciple, tells us of Jesus who is manifested, that is to say that He is seen by the holy women, Mary Magdalene, the disciples of Emmaus and the Apostles . Finally, to these encounters that the liturgy offered us in the previous Sundays, the Gospel of John adds the apparition of the Risen Lord on the shore of Lake Tiberias to Peter and six other disciples, who had returned to their work of fishermen. It was almost dawn, and, sitting on the shore of the lake, there was Jesus. They did not recognize him, and this not only because of the darkness.
It was he, the Risen One, who enlightened their minds with signs recalling the memory of experiences already lived with their Master. It was the same Jesus who now was meeting with them, after having conquered death.
It was the love of the beloved disciple that first recognize Christ.
It was Peter who took the initiative to jump from the boat to be the first to reach Christ. We can see that two are the characteristics of every disciple of Jesus: the intuition of love and the readiness to swim immediately to Christ and to obey in casting the nets, which alludes to the mission to be fishers of men.
The fishing and the meal.
The effort of the night of fishing was useless because Jesus had said “without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15,5). With Him everything changes: they throw the nets again and this time they retreat them full of one hundred and fifty big fish.
It is the Presence of the Lord that fills the nets, and it will always be his Word that will make the mission of the disciples effective in every time. This mission will always be empty without Christ and always fruitful with him.
The Risen One is manifested, that is to say that He goes to the light of the disciples’ eyes, not only with the fishing but with the invitation: “Come and eat.”
There is close connection between the fishing and the meal.  All the disciples recognize the Lord when He tells them: “Come and eat.”  They recognize the Risen Lord when, in the first light of the day, Jesus distributes them fish broiled on the grill along with bread. The Risen Lord repeats one of the most symbolic gestures of his entire earthly life: the mercy of the sharing of a meal. Jesus distributes the bread and the fish (Jn 21, 13),
On the lakeside, that gesture of distributing the fish with the bread, become the silent, living memory of the multiplication of the loaves and the memorial of the Last Supper in which the Son God, close to death, made that gesture of extreme love, a sign of his total dedication that is his true identity, the identity of a God who is Gift, and becomes man to save us with the total gift of self. The Risen Lord makes himself known in the gesture of devotion that was the truth of his entire journey. The note of dedication belongs both to the earthly Jesus and to the Risen Lord. It is the identity that accompanies him in every condition of his life, which reveals who he really is and that he is asking to be followed in this self-offering.
A true dialogue of love.
Today’s Gospel ends with a well-known passage: the dialogue between Jesus and Peter (John 21.15 to 19).
In order to entrust to Peter the task of feeding his flock, the resurrected Messiah asks love, nothing more.
If the Church is the community of love, its Head must have the primacy because he loves Christ more than any other. Sure Peter must also love the flock that he is called to lead to holiness by teaching and serving it. But the condition to carry out this “task”, this role, is primarily that of loving Jesus.  In order to serve men it not enough to just look at them and at their needs, but to love Jesus Christ more than any other. Let us read this dialogue: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. “He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep. “He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. “He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.” (Jn 21: 15-19).
Why did Christ ask Peter what He already knew? To this question St. Augustine replied: “To the threefold denial there is now appended a threefold confession, that his tongue may not yield a feebler service to love than to fear, and imminent death may not appear to have elicited more from the lips than present life. Let it be the office of love to feed the Lord’s flock, if it was the signal of fear to deny the Shepherd. Those who have this purpose in feeding the flock of Christ, that they may have them as their own, and not as Christ’s, are convicted of loving themselves, and not Christ, from the desire either of boasting, or wielding power, or acquiring gain, and not from the love of obeying, serving, and pleasing God. Against such, therefore, there stands as a wakeful sentinel this thrice inculcated utterance of Christ, of whom the apostle complains that they seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ‘s. (Philippians 2-21) For what else mean the words, Do you love me? Feed my sheep, than if it were said, If you love me, think not of feeding yourself, but feed my sheep as mine, and not as your own; seek my glory in them, and not your own; my dominion, and not yours; my gain, and not yours.”  (Tractates on the Gospel of John 123 -5)
To us too, today, Jesus puts the question:” Do you love me? ” He does it knowing our weakness. “Let’s respond as St. Peter, who shows us the way: follow Christ, trusting in Him, who knows everything about us, not relying on our ability to be faithful, but on his unshakeable fidelity” (Pope Francis).
A repeated question?
Love does not repeat itself, it contemplates. To ask several times to the one we love: “Do you love me?” is not a repetition; it is the verification (in the etymological sense of “to make true”) of a loving relationship; it is an invitation to contemplation which makes a belonging more stable. In the case of St. Peter Jesus “asked” the first of the Apostles to renew, in forgiveness, the relationship between them and God. St. Peter more than repeating three times the same answer, repeated three times the recognition of his belonging, that during the passion of the Beloved he had denied three times. Earlier that day, which became one fine day, Peter saw the Risen Christ on the shore of Lake Tiberias. He jumped from the boat to be the first to swim to the Friend who was waiting for him. Came ashore, he knelt down and looked at him and his prayer became a gesture and a gaze at the mystery of love standing in front of him. Peter had only the great pain of a weak and treacherous friend. Christ confirmed him in his love, lifted him on his feet and asked him to follow Him leading the community of love: the Church.
Today, the friend and brother Jesus comes to us and asks the question: “Do you love me?” and not “What have you done?”
In a world that spoils love, confusing it with pleasure, Christ proclaims the law of love that “with mercy” (Pope Francis) purifies, elevates and sanctifies.
Holiness, which consists in living the fullness of the love toward God and neighbor, is unique but can take different forms.  Among these I would like to emphasize the one of the consecrated Virgins in the world. With their total dedication to Christ,  with a life where nothing is preferred to Christ, these women show that holiness consist not in having always been faithful, but in reaffirming each day the spousal friendship with Christ. “Aware that the love of God is above all a love of mercy, and that women have this trait” (Pope Francis),  the consecrated virgins are conscious of being called to the special task of being in the world the particular reflection of mercy and tenderness. With their lives, dedicating to him and to his Kingdom all their forces of love, they testify that every vocation is acceptance of the love of God and answer to Him in the service of others. Their total dedication to Christ consecrates them in a special task, that of being in the world the reflection of the mercy and tenderness of God.
Patristic Reading
Saint Augustin of Hippo (354 – 430)
Sermon XCVI
On the words of the gospel, Jn 21, 16 “Simon, son of John, lovest thou me?” etc.
1). Ye have observed, beloved, that in to-day’s lesson it was said by the Lord to Peter in a question, “Lovest thou Me?” To whom he answered, “Thou knowest, Lord, that I love thee.” This was done a second, and a third time; and at each several reply, the Lord said, “Feed My lambs.”1 To Peter did Christ commend His lambs to be fed, who fed even Peter himself. For what could Peter do for the Lord, especially now that He had an Immortal Body, and was about to ascend into heaven? As though He had said to him, “‘Lovest thou Me?’ Herein show that thou lovest Me, ‘Feed my sheep.’“ So then, Brethren, do ye with obedience hear that ye are Christ’s sheep; seeing that we on our part with fear hear, Feed My sheep”? If we feed with fear, and fear for the sheep; these sheep how ought they to fear for themselves? Let then carefulness be our portion, obedience yours; pastoral watchfulness our portion, the humility of the flock yours. Although we too who seem to speak to you from a higher place, are with fear beneath your feet; forasmuch as we know how perilous an account must be rendered of this as it were exalted seat. Wherefore, dearly beloved, Catholic plants, Members of Christ, think What a Head ye have! Children of God, think What a Father ye have found. Christians, think What an Inheritance is promised you. Not such as on earth cannot be possessed by children, save when their parents are dead. For no one on earth possesses a father’s inheritance, save when be is dead. But we whilst our Father liveth shall possess what He shall give; for that our Father cannot die. I add more, I say more, and say the truth; our Father will Himself be our Inheritance.
2.) Live consistently, especially ye candidates of Christ, recently baptized, just regenerated, as I have admonished you before, so say I now, and give expression to my solicitude; for the present lesson of the Gospel hath forced upon me a greater fear: take heed to yourselves, do not imitate evil Christians. Say not I will do this, for many of the faithful do it. This is not to procure a defence for the soul; but to look out for companions unto hell. Grow ye in this floor of the Lord; herein ye will find good men to please you, if ye yourselves are good. For are ye our private property? Heretics and schismatics have made their own private property out of what they have stolen from the Lord, and would feed, not Christ’s flocks, but their own against Christ. It is true indeed, they place His title on these their spoils, that their robberies may be as it were maintained by the title of His Power. What doeth Christ when such as these are converted, who have received the title of His Baptism out of the Church? He casteth out the spoiler, He doth not efface the title, and taketh possession of the house; because He hath found His title there. What need is there that He should change His Own Name? Do they take heed to what the Lord said to Peter, “Feed My lambs, feed my sheep”? Did He say to him, “Feed thy lambs;” or, “Feed thy sheep”? But for them who are shut out, what said He in the Song of Songs, unto the Church? The Spouse speaking to the Bride, saith, “If thou know not thyself, O thou fair one among women, go forth.”2 As though He said, “I do not cast thee out, ‘go forth, if thou know not thyself, O thou fair one among women,’ if thou know not thyself in the mirror of divine Scripture, if thou give not heed, O thou fair woman, to the mirror which with no false lustre deceiveth thee; if thou know not that of thee it is said, ‘Thy glory shall be above all earth;’3 that of thee it is said, ‘I will give thee nations for thine inheritance, and the limits of the earth for thy possession;’4 and other innumerable testimonies which set forth the Catholic Church. If then thou know not these, thou hast no part in Me, thou canst not make thyself My heir. ‘Go forth then in the footsteps of the flocks’ not in the fellowship of the flock; and feed thy goats, not as it was said to Peter, ‘My sheep.’“ To Peter it was said, “My sheep;” to schismatics it is said,” thy goats.” In the oneplace “sheep,” in the other “goats;” in the one place “Mine,” in the other” thine.” Recollect the right Hand and the left of our Judge; recollect where the goats shall stand, and where the sheep; 5 and it will be plain to you where is the right hand, where the left, the white and the black, the lightsome, and the darksome, the fair and the deformed, that which is about to receive the kingdom, and that which is to find everlasting punishment.

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Mgr Francesco Follo

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