Apostolic Love: The Feast of Sts Peter and Paul
Two apostles, two disciples: vulnerable like us, doubting like us, falling off the path like us…and still living their discipleship to the end. What do they have to say to us, we followers of the gospel? Jesus was at the center of their lives…they finally got it but they each had their own journey, which was a mixture of betrayal and learning, misunderstanding and then seeing, doubt and then faith.
“To hear you telling me to take up my cross makes me realize that to do that I must let go of what occupies (preoccupies) me, let go of all other things. Must follow you headlong into your freedom” (Born From the Gaze of God, p.9). These words of Br. Christophe of Tibhirine aptly describe Peter and Paul. Each in their own unique way, they followed ‘headlong into the freedom’ that Jesus invites us all to through the gospel way. Saints are not perfect human beings. This is why these two icons, Peter and Paul, lighten our spirit and give us hope for our own lives…and so does Christophe. Christophe’s longing is to follow Jesus ‘headlong into his freedom’ but he too will doubt and fall, his struggle will intensify as his ‘yes’ is purified and deepened. This prayer entry in his journal was written in August 1993 before the Christmas encounter with the ‘brothers of the mountain’. The rest of his short life is fulfilling this prayer, his soul’s longing.
Now listen to Catherine of Siena’s words of evocation to her community: “I want you to imitate this Word (she means the Word that is Christ)…and the saints who followed him. Then you will become one with him and will have a share in great heartedness to replace (your own) small heartedness. I tell you again, unless you rise up, open your eyes, and take as your model the boundless goodness and love God has shown to his creatures, you will never attain such…greatness of soul but will be so small-hearted that you will have no room either for yourself or for your neighbors” (Magnificat, June 29, 2014, p.433-434). Catherine will then use St. Paul as one saint to follow who is so in love with Christ that his love brought him to attain ‘greatness of soul’.
Last evening at Vespers I was moved by the reading from the gospel of John: Jesus asks Peter three times ‘Do you love me’? Each time Peter answers ‘Lord, you know I love you.’ On the third time Peter is hurt by Jesus’ question as I think we each would be. What is Jesus doing by posing this question three times? It occurred to me that Jesus is emphasizing the ‘love’ that is needed to go the whole way…this love will cost Peter everything…and so Jesus is implicitly searching the height, depth and width of Peter’s love…will he run away in fear (yet again) or will he persevere to the end? Jesus concludes this dialogue with Peter by telling him ‘when you were young you went where you wanted to go and when you grow old someone else will lead you where you do not want to go.’ Can we not look upon these words of Jesus as the movement from ‘small heartedness’ to ‘great heartedness’? Going where I want to go is ego-oriented…going where the Spirit is leading me is God-oriented. We move between the two…we labor at the self-knowledge that is leading us to surrender to God’s way, the self-knowledge that helps us see how much we try to control the path we are on. Greatness of soul is being led by the Spirit, it is to recognize when I am caught by my smallness of heart, my pettiness, my irritations, my little hurts that become mountains, my having to be right, my poor bruised ego that refuses to suffer for a greater love. And so Jesus is right to address us over and over: Do you love me? If our answer is ‘yes’ are we ready to follow…to learn, simply to learn, step by step, to love like he loved…and to the end like his disciples Peter and Paul…and his newly found disciple Christophe. Amen.