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When I die, I want to ask St. Peter a question: “Why did Jesus have to ask you three times if you loved him?” Apparently, Jesus wasn’t all that impressed the first time Peter answered him, so he had to ask him again, and then again a third time. What was Jesus looking for in the answer? I would like to know myself in case Jesus ever asked me. “Peter, son of Alfred, do you love me?” Well, there is some good news. I don’t have to wait until I die to ask the question because apparently, Peter wrote the answer in one of his letters. He says, “May your love be fervent.” Fervent is a nice word, but what did it mean in the first century when Peter used it? I checked into it and found that the word “fervent” means to “strain forward,” that is, “to lean into the tape” at the end of a race. In other words, it is not what you do at the beginning of the race; it is about what you do at the end of the race. Everyone is excited at the beginning, everyone wants to win, everyone has lots of energy at the start. Yet what do you do at the end of the race when you are tired and have nothing left in the tank? … Are you leaning into the tape?
Just after I entered the seminary I thought to myself, “Well here I am; when do I start saying Mass?” Naturally, that is not the way it works. I have to take classes. One of my first classes was English Literature. I had to read Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queen” published in 1590. Needless to say, I struggled to try to understand the book because it was published in 1590. I studied, looked up vocabulary words, and read commentaries. All of the work payed off because I passed (barely). My classmates didn’t have to study at all, and they got perfect grades. As time went on, some of my classmates left the seminary. I remember telling God, “Don’t let them get away. They are holier than I am, they are smarter, and they know dogma better than I do. Don’t let the most talented leave, otherwise, you will be stuck with me.” I worked hard during my ten years in the seminary, I struggled, but in the end, I was leaning into the tape. I loved what I was doing, and I still do. When Peter tells us to be fervent in our love it means that we love what we do as Christians despite the hardships and long-term work.
Do you remember the parable of the seed and the sower, and what happened to the seed that fell on rocky ground? It sprouted up strong, but then the sun scorched it at it withered. I believe that the parable is a warning to all of us disciples. Yes, disciples are always enthusiastic at the beginning. They gave up their boats, their businesses, they went out in two by two and cured sick people, expelled demons, passed out bread to five thousand people, they were part of a team that brought the dead back to life. They accomplished much with the Lord. They also encountered hardships, storms at sea, resistance, opponents, crosses, and had made sacrifices. Peter in his letter states, “Let your love be fervent.” Never stop loving what you do when difficulties arise.
Jesus admitted to Pilate that he was a king. Does this strike you as unusual? It does because Jesus never claimed to be a king before he met Pilate. When Jesus was in the desert, Satan wanted to make him a king. Jesus refused. The crowd wanted to make Him king, but Jesus escaped into the mountains alone. Peter announced that Jesus was the Messiah, and then Jesus told him not to tell anyone. It was not until the day Jesus died when he told Pilate that he was a king. It was at the end. Why? Because that is when you lean into the tape. Despite the beatings, the crown of thorns, the betrayals, the denials, the opposition, and resistance, Jesus loved us until the end. This is kingly love. This is why Jesus revealed himself as a king at the end because his love is fervent. Now when we read Peter’s letter, we will know what he means when he says may your love be fervent.Back to All Homilies