REFLECTION/HOMILY FOR FRIDAY OF THE SEVENTH WEEK OF EASTER

First Reading: Acts 25:13-21
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 102(103):1-2,11-12,19-20
Gospel Reading: John 21:15-19
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“LORD, YOU KNOW EVERYTHING, YOU KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU…”

The biblical phrase above attributed to St. Peter has come to remind me of the story of a religious priest I met at a retreat house, here. Fr. Francis (not his real name) made a deep impression on me that day. He told me how he almost lost his vocation when he was sent to work as a missionary in South Africa. There he met a beautiful, wealthy and influential woman, Ms. Jane (not her real name) who promised him “heaven and earth” just to have him leave his vocation and marry her. At first, Fr. Francis ignored and turned down Ms. Jane’s request; nevertheless, having perturbed him for a while and coupled with the problems of maltreatment he had with his superior and some members of the community where he worked, he finally gave in to the woman. Having made arrangements and plans to leave the priesthood and the religious life in order to be with Ms. Jane, he eventually discussed the matter with his superior on the eve of the day he was to leave, with his request enclosed formally in a letter of resignation and dispensation of the religious vows and the priestly commitment. However, his superior tried to advise and dissuade him, promising to better the situation in the community, but Fr. Francis would not listen, he had already made up his mind. He told his superior that he would leave the rectory immediately while awaiting his dispensations from the Pope and the General Superior respectively. Early in the morning, the next day, Ms. Jane arrived in her SUV and parked at the gate of the Religious Community, waiting to take Fr. Francis and his little belongings. Fr. Francis at this time had already packed his things and while about leaving his room, his eyes glanced at his picture frame which he almost forgot to take with him. The picture frame was a souvenir of his priestly ordination (years back) with his theme: “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you” (Jn. 21:17). Immediately, he paused for a while and read the words again, at this time with a feeling of disappointment in himself, he held the frame, sat on his bed and pondered on those words, remembering the initial desire, enthusiasm and love he had for Christ at his priestly ordination, and how it was about to be shattered and erode away at that time. Consequently, he broke down in tears. Summarizing a long story, Ms. Jane called to ask why he was delaying her, his reply was: “I affirmed my love for Jesus at my baptism and ordination, but now I cannot withstand the shame of betraying that love. I am sorry, I’ll no longer go with you nor marry you. I still love Jesus.” (Paraphrased)

The lesson of the anonymous priest (Fr. Francis) in the story above goes beyond his diming vocation that was salvaged by grace at the last minute to the promises we made to God at baptism to accept Jesus Christ and to love him with our whole heart, mind, and soul, and also extend that love to our fellowmen the same way he loves us (“Love one another as I have loved you” – Jn. 13:34). It also goes beyond the tripod profession of love Peter made in today’s gospel reading as a reparation for the times he denied our Lord and betrayed that love (thrice) to our daily commitment as baptized Christians whenever we meet at the Lord’s Table. Put differently, the Lord comes to ask us at every Eucharistic banquet the question he asked Peter, ‘Do you love me?’ He asks that question of us in a special way even if we are only present to the Eucharist virtually by the internet or the TV media at the moment. At every Mass, we have the opportunity to say with Peter and with Fr. Francis: “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” When we renew our love for the Lord in that way, he will call us too, as he called Peter, to shepherd one another, to care for and look out for one another, to show something of the Lord’s own faithful love towards one another, especially in this critical time of pandemic.

Dear friends in Christ, strengthened by the grace of Christ, we should be able to stand firm in difficulties, enduring persecutions and trials with patience as a proof of our love for Christ just as St. Paul in today’s first reading endured trials from one civil/religious authority to another. This was because of his conviction and great love for Christ; hence, as followers of Christ, we are called to demonstrate our love for Christ in a radical way amidst challenges and crisis of faith. May the story of Fr. Francis and the examples of Saints Peter and Paul in today’s readings continually inspire us whenever we feel spiritually dry and cannot forge ahead any longer in our spiritual lives, enabling us to renew our love for Jesus, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.”

Shalom!
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
nozickcjoe@gmail.com / fadacjay@gmail.com

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Chinaka Justin Mbaeri

A staunch Roman Catholic and an Apologist of the Christian faith.

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