Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fr. Andersen Homily: "Do You Love Me?"

A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, Oregon

April 14, 2013 Dominica III Paschæ

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

There is a fascinating interchange between the Risen Lord and St. Peter in this account. Jesus asks one thing and Peter answers another. In English, we might not catch this nuance. In the English there is only one word for love. So Jesus asks Peter if he “loves” him and Peter answers that, yes, he “loves” him. In the English we miss the point. In the Greek or Latin, we might get the point because the two words for love are different. But why are they different and what does that mean? Does Peter’s answer just indicate a different degree of love, or is it a different kind of love altogether? This takes some explaining because there are different kinds of love. For instance, when a child says, “I love you mommy and daddy” it is different than when a parent says “I love you my child.” The child loves the parents because it is dependent on them and loves them because they loved the child first. The child loves the parents because they provide the child with everything it needs. They care for their precious child, and they love it. The child’s depends on their love for existence. So the child’s love is a dependent sort of love.

Let’s contrast that with parents who say “I love you” to their children. This is a different kind of love.

The parents have much more invested. The parents have cooperated with God in bringing these children into the world. God has entrusted the parents with the life and the soul of each child. The parents sacrifice their own needs and their own comfort, perhaps their own happiness, or even their very lives for the sake of these children and their needs. The parents are willing to lay down their lives for each child. This is a self-sacrificial kind of love which a parent has for a child. So the child has a dependent sort of love and the parent has a self-sacrificial kind of love.

In English, we simply use the word “love” for both kinds of love. In the classical languages, there are different words for these various kinds of love. The Greek and the Latin languages both articulate this difference. In the Holy Scriptures we encounter different words for different kinds of love. In today’s gospel, we encounter two types of love. Our Lord says to Peter: “do you love me?” The phrase in Latin is diligis me? Diligis in the Latin means to love another with high esteem, to prize that person, to choose that person. So Our Lord says, “diligis me, do you love me Peter with high esteem? Do you prize me above all things? Do you choose me? Are you willing to lay down your life for me with a self-sacrificial love?” This is a godly love. It is the love that Jesus has for Peter and for us. By analogy, this is like the love of a parent for a child–a self-sacrificial love. Peter does not answer saying diligo te. Instead he answers with a different kind of love saying “amo te.” The love that Peter confesses is amore, and amore is inferior to diligere. Amore is like the love of a child for a parent. It is a dependent kind of love, an obligatory kind of love, a love based upon one’s feelings, rather than a love based on choice. Peter seems to have evaded the question. But perhaps Peter recognizes that he is but a child, incapable of loving God back with the same love given to him.

Jesus asks a second time, saying, “Simon son of John, diligis me?” (i.e., do you prize me, do you choose me?). Simon Peter once again answers, “Lord, tu scis quia amo te, you know that I feel love for you.” Peter is unable to commit to giving Jesus his all.

Jesus has been calling Peter to the highest heights. Peter cannot respond to those heights. Finally, Our risen Lord lowers the bar and asks a third time, modifying the question: “Simon son of John, amas me?” (that is, do you care about me? Do you feel obliged to me?). We can understand why Peter is distressed at this third question. He feels shame. Our Lord is calling him to something greater and now he lowers himself to Peter, asking him merely if he is fond of him. Our Lord will accept what Peter is able to give, but He tells Peter that more will be demanded of him.

Jesus reveals to Peter just what will be demanded of him. Peter will be asked to lay down his life with a self-sacrificial love for our Lord. He will be led where he does not care to go. Our Lord reveals that although Peter is only able to care for him he will be asked to go where he does not will to go when he lays down his life for our Lord. By tradition, Peter was crucified upside down in Rome under the persecution of the Emperor Nero. In the end, Peter was given the grace to love Jesus according to the heights that Jesus wished to call him. He loved Jesus with a self-sacrificial love. He chose Jesus, not out of obligation, nor because of his feelings. He willed to choose Jesus because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. After Peter had received the Holy Spirit he knew this without a doubt. Therefore, there was no other choice but to give his life for Jesus.

We who have been given the Holy Spirit: what is holding us back? Jesus asks us to give Him everything. Are we able to give Him everything? In reality, we are not. He asks us if we love Him with a godly love and we respond that we care about him with a human love. We are as children who are incapable of understanding the love He asks for. So, He will take the love we are able to give to Him and work with it. But He asks us for more. He asks this for our own sake. He knows that we must rise up to that divine love if we ourselves are not to be lost. He knows that. He will continue to call us to that height of divine love.

Many Christians do not believe that they can aspire to that. I want to tell you that each of us can aspire to that. The devil will lie to you and tell you that you are helpless against your sins. That is a lie. The devil will lie to you and tell you that you cannot love God as He asks to be loved. That is a lie. The devil is sinning against the Holy Spirit – an unforgivable sin. He wants us to lose our faith.

We must realize that the Holy Spirit has been given to us by the Father and by the Son in order to help us rise up to that divine self-sacrificial love. The Holy Spirit is the love of God given to us at baptism, to dwell within us, to combat temptation and sin, and to dispel the lies of our enemy the devil. During Easter, we celebrate the triumph of life over death; the triumph of Jesus over the devil; the triumph of holiness and the beauty of purity over the ugliness of sin. The false promises of the devil do not deliver. Jesus calls us to rise up by the power of the Holy Spirit from the depths of this darkness into the heights of heavenly glory. He will not force it upon us. We must desire it. We must ask for it. We must detest our sins and renounce them. We must renounce the lies of the devil. We must put aside our sinful choices and lifestyles and conform ourselves to the ways of God, with the help of God, through living out the sacramental life. That is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life that Easter promises. Let us embrace that way, that truth, and that life and never settle for empty promises that deliver nothing but misery. 

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Please be courteous and concise.