By PEDRO MENDEZ
CONNECTING FAITH AND LIFE
She was young. Her father had told her many times to avoid drugs, alcohol and intimate relationships before marriage. That morning, he opened the door of her room after calling her name many times. As soon as the door was opened, her daughter’s boyfriend jumped through the window leaving her exposed under the influence of drugs and alcohol. She looked at her dad ashamed and afraid, waiting for the worst. He looked at her with compassion, placed his arms around her, and told her: “Daughter, my daughter…” There were no further words. They found each other's hearts in a fatherly embrace. That fatherly embrace inspired her to quit her unhealthy habits and start building a new life.
Isn't it true that one of the most humbling experiences is to be loved by those we have disobeyed, betrayed or rejected? It is the unmistakable experience of being restored by God through those we have not loved. It is a gentle, smooth and restorative experience, with no other interest than making us feel loved. It is the experience of forgiveness.
Sometimes, I wonder what Peter’s experience of being forgiven by the Risen Lord by the Sea of Tiberias looked like? (see John 21: 1-19). Peter had denied Jesus three times. He wept bitterly at his denial (see Luke 22: 62). He sinned terribly. Now, there he is jumping in the water when he hears John saying “It is the Lord!” Peter is face-to-face with Jesus. Jesus does not blame Peter, even though he has the right to do so. Jesus wants to know only one thing: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Like Peter, we might have also denied Jesus, out of fear, by not recognizing him and his teachings publicly in crucial moments of our lives – even when we have witnessed his glorious power. And of course, the human tendency to deny Jesus out of fear is not a surprise since we know that “our hearts are deceitful” (see Jeremiah 17:9). Our denial of Jesus has terrible consequences in our relationship with God, in our lives, in the lives of those we love and in creation. Amid those terrible consequences, Jesus wants to know only one thing: “Do you love me?”
What does it look like from a sacramental perspective? We come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation with heavy hearts, trying to confess our sins with guilt that burdens us beyond measure. And Jesus, even before we open our lips, asks us: “Do you love me?” But, what kind of love is this?
It is a twofold love–agape and philos. Agape is the love of God and Christ to us, and our love to him and our fellow creatures, as inspired by His love for us (Logos Dictionary). So, the Risen Jesus asks Peter twice: “Do you love me and your fellow brothers and sisters as I have loved you” (i.e. completely, totally, and unconditionally)? Philos is the love that invites us to a friendship with God. So, Jesus asks Peter once: Do you love me as a friend? It seems to me that every time we deny Jesus, he invites us to love him and our fellow humans as he has loved us, and to restore our friendship with him, our neighbors and our enemies.
Loving Jesus, our neighbors and our enemies as he has loved us requires contemplating what he is doing for us even when we are actively denying him with our thoughts, words and actions. Ask yourself: When we deny Jesus, Has he stopped providing for us? Has he denied his grace in the Sacraments? Has he punished us? The answer to each question is no.
The love of the Risen Jesus for us is the certitude of our redemption, salvation, and deliverance. It is the experience of the Risen Lord's mercy!
If Jesus would ask us today: Do you love me and your fellow humans as I have loved you? Would you answer like Peter: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” History shows that Peter did! Would you?
Pedro Mendez is a husband, a father of four boys, a parishioner at Good Shepherd Parish in Evansville and a Board Certified Chaplain. He can be reached by email at [email protected].