Peter, Do You Love Me?
by Rev. Robert J. Hermley
Stories for Life Index
St. Peter has always been one of my special friends, not only because he was our first Pope, but also because he was so human. He actually walked and talked with Christ, and still he made a lot of mistakes. However, he truly did love Jesus and it was a deep love. Christ could have chosen Paul as his first Pope, or he could have chosen an Aloysius Gonzoga, but for some reason, He chose Peter. Sometimes, I think it was because Peter was so much like us. We promise so much to God, and we really mean it, but when real trouble comes, we falter. Perhaps, Christ was trying to show us that in spite of our weaknesses, He can still make use of us, if we let Him, as He used St. Peter. Christ always uses the weak to confound the strong. History is replete with examples of this truth.
One day, Christ told the apostles that He was going to be crucified. Peter rose up in rightful indignation and shouted. "This shall never happen." Far be it for You that I should let this happen. Instead of a smile from Christ, Jesus looked at Peter angrily and said "get behind Me, Satan." Christ called Peter, His first Pope, "Satan." That was because Peter was trying to tell Christ that crucifixion was too shameful and besides, he would surely fight to save Christ who had chosen him as the rock. Peter did not understand that to try to stop Christ from the Crucifixion would be to disobey the Heavenly Father's will which had long ago decreed that His Son would be a blood victim on the Cross. This blood victim, the Lamb of God, would be the last of the Old Testament and His Body and Blood consecrated at the Last Supper would be the first unbloody sacrifice of the New Testament. But the Father had decreed that Christ must die for the sins of mankind, and not only die, but die the ignominious death, the shameful death on the Cross. So, even though Peter wanted to fight for Christ, he would be impeding the will of the Father. It was a temptation like the three the devil had tried upon Christ in the desert - "Take a short-cut to Calvary." Christ knew that Peter was saying all of this from a standpoint of friendship, but it was said because Peter "was looking at things in a human way, rather than as God sees them." In other words, "This, Peter, is what My Father wills for Me. You are tempting Me not to fulfill the will of My Father."
Then, as Christ began to repeat to the other apostles that He would be captured and led off to be crucified, Peter again protested that he would be there to defend Christ, no matter what. Peter truly meant every word. He really did love and honor Christ, but he did not know how weak human nature could become when it fears for its own life. Jesus then turned and said to Peter, "This night, before a rooster crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said, "No way." - "I might be impetuous, I may be imperfect, - but I will never deny You."
Peter should have been more careful. He had been with Christ for three years. Everything that Christ had said had come true, and so he should least have warned himself to be careful; but Peter was sure he could handle the situation. He was so sure of himself that he wouldn't falter. So, he went to the garden with Christ to pray - but through tiredness, the man soon to be the vicar of Christ, fell asleep. Christ reprimanded him, "Can you not watch one hour with Me." - It is a reprimand that should rend the heart of every person who ever misses Mass on Sunday on purpose. "I have given you one hundred and sixty eight hours a week; can you not love Me enough to give me just one hour back? - Is your love that weak? Do you not care what I did for you?"
Then, the soldiers arrested Christ, but before they led Him away, Peter, in one desperate attempt to prove what he said to Christ, took his sword and cut off the ear of the High Priest's servant. Christ healed the ear of the servant, but that did not impress those who came to take Christ away. The apostles fled in terror, and Peter with them - yet Peter turned back and "followed at a distance." He did not abandon Christ completely, but followed at a distance.
Then, while he was warming himself at the fire, a maid came up to him and said, "Did I not see You with Him in the garden?" Peter said, "No. No you didn't see me with Him." She persisted, "Surely, you are one of them, for even your speech betrays you." Peter cursed and again denied that he was a friend of Christ. The maid continued to persist a third time, and now Peter cursed and swore - Christ's chief apostle swore, "I know not the man." I am not His follower; I don't even know Him. Somewhere in the distance a rooster crowed, and Christ "turned and looked at Peter." Scripture tells us that "Peter went out and wept bitterly." He had indeed denied Christ three times just as the Master predicted. How could he have been so weak? - He never believed he would fall that low. He was so sure he could control everything, - just like you and me.
Peter now knew how much he needed Christ and His grace. He knew how that he had failed Christ in spite of his protestations of friendship, in spite of his bravado. Now he yearned so very much to run over to Christ, throw his arms around Him, and beg forgiveness and promise he would never do it again. Later, Christ would give him that chance.
Then, we come to that beautiful scene after the resurrection; Christ came back to His apostles, talked with them, and ate some fish with them to prove He was alive, that He was real, that it was not a figment of their imaginations or some sort of Mystical resurrection, but a true, real resurrected Body.
Afterwards, He took Peter aside and looked at him and said, "Peter, do love Me?" Peter had been waiting so long for this opportunity to answer that question. All of the guilt of his threefold denial welled up within him and he choked as he said, "Lord, You know that I love You. You know that I am sorry for denying You; You know that I will always love You and that from now on I will be more careful. I know that I am weak, and that to be strong I must stay close to You." - There, he had said it. Surely it was enough. It was even easier then he thought it would be. Christ replied, "Peter, feed My lambs." Feed the young children of the world, Peter, the young whom the devil is going to try to claim as his own - and whom the world will try to infect with their TV shows, movies, and bad books. Guard the young whom weak theologians, false-prophet-theologians will try to soft pedal the faith to and lead them astray. Such false prophets will come in My name, Peter, and try to destroy the deep faith these young people have. They will try to tell them that I did not rise from the dead, that I did not perform real miracles, that I did not know Who I was. These blind guides will try to lead these young to change My Church and My teaching. Peter, feed My lambs. Feed them the truth. Teach them authentic doctrine. The young are capable of so much good, if they find a good leader. "Feed My Lambs."
Christ again looked at Peter and said, "Do you love me?" Peter was stunned. "Didn't You hear me? I just told You." He thought that Christ would understand his sincere apology and he stuttered momentarily as he said, "Lord, You know that I love You." Christ said, "Feed My sheep." Peter, feed the people in their 30's, 40's and 50's, some of whom have grown weak in swerving Me and some who have fallen away from My Church. Teach them to return My love for them. Teach them that their faith must be strong. Tell them that they cannot serve the world and Me; that they must choose. Tell them that I haven't forgotten them. Tell them that I see their trials, troubles, and heartaches. Tell them that I still yearn to gather them together as a hen gathers her young. Tell them to look at Me this time and take a few moments out of their busy lies to get to know Me and My love. Tell them, Peter, to listen for My forgiving voice in the quiet darkness of the confessional. "Peter, feed My sheep."
A third time, Christ gazed at Peter and quietly asked, "Do you love Me?" Peter was stunned and hurt. A lump welled up in his throat and he could barely reply. He swallowed and answered, "Lord, you know everything; You know that I love You." You know full well that I am sorry for denying Yu three times. You know I'm sorry for being so impetuous, for thinking that there was an easier way to the Cross. Only, please understand that I am weak. I'm too human. I know it now, and I promise that from now on, I will stay close to You. Please forgive Me. I denied You three times, now I affirm my love for You three times. Tell me Yu understand. This time Christ smiled and He said, "Peter, feed My sheep." Feed those who have grown old in the practice of the faith. Tell them of My love. Help them so that they will not become discouraged. Feed them My authentic doctrine in their old age. They do not want constant change and innovation. Feed their souls and nourish them with truth. Get them ready to face Me. Help them to see that they can always be My friend and that nothing can separate them from My love except sin, that I am preparing a place for them, that in My Father's house, there are many mansions. Teach them to build their house on rock. Tell them that they can use all their sufferings, all their aches and pains to make up for past sins and transgressions. Tell them My story of the Eleventh Hour so that if any have ceased working in My vineyard, that they can still return and that I will pay them a just wage. Tell converts that there is still time.
Tell them My parable of the prodigal son. Explain to them that My love is like that father's. Tell them of the Sower and the Seed and the magnanimity of My love in trying to get My word to take root n their hearts. Tell them that I made you affirm Me three times because you denied me three times, and that all the tribulations I give them will be an opportunity for them to make up to Me and say as you did, "Lord, you know everything; You know that I love You" Their pain can be an opportunity, their housework can be a prayer. Fathers can offer their daily work, the young can offer their obedience to their parent s and to the church. Everyone can offer their headaches; they will be like My crown of horns. Their hands, wearied from toil, can experience in part the pain from the nails I suffered for them. Their heartaches can imitate My wound of the heart. Their tired feet, running after their children and working around the house can be like My wounded feet, nailed to the Cross. Tell them these works will be their stairway to heaven. Assure them that I will never forget them. My father has carve them and their deeds on the palm of My hand. Tell them to look at My bleeding Body on the cross often - that My outstretched arms will always be a sign that THIS is how much I love you. "Peter, feed My sheep."