This evening during this Vigil Mass of the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, we commemorate these two great apostles who became the founding fathers of the first Christian communities of Rome and in many places of the Mediterranean.
|The passage of the Gospel|
we heard today presents Christís question to Peter which is directed
to each of us as well:
"Do you love me?"
Simon Peter was a simple fisherman of Galilee, invited directly by Jesus along with his brother Andrew, to follow him. Peter became the leader of the group of twelve closest followers of Jesus, known as the apostles. Later on he was appointed by Jesus as the foundation stone of the community of believers in Christ, called the Church, which he led first as the bishop of Antioch and then of Rome, up until his martyrdom. Peter was crucified by the Romans in the area of the Vatican Hill and he asked that he be placed upside down on the cross since he felt unworthy to die the same way the Lord Jesus did. His bodily remains rest in a crypt underneath the main altar of St. Peterís Basilica in the Vatican.
Paul was an observant and zealous Jew born in Tarsus, in present day Turkey, who actively persecuted the first Christian community of faithful. While on a journey towards Damascus where he planned on hunting down the first Christians, he received the grace of conversion through a revelation of Jesus. After a few years of prayer and preparation, Paul became the greatest missionary saint of all times, through his preaching of the Word of God and the Good news of salvation to many of the non-Jewish or Gentile peoples. Paul was also martyred in the outskirts of the ancient city of Rome, in the area of Tre Fontane, where he was beheaded by the Roman authorities. His body rests in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls.
Peterís denial and love of Jesus. The passage of the Gospel we heard today presents Christís encounter with Peter after the resurrection and how the Lord entrusted the Church to his care. We know that Peter denied knowing Jesus three times after he had been arrested. Despite this triple denial on the part of the leader of the group, it is Jesus who took the initiative to gently remind Peter of his previous actions. Jesus did not scold Peter for what he did. He did not punish him either and say: Ďwhy did you do it?í He simply asked him: "Peter, do you love me more than these?" Jesus put forth this same question three times and Peter answered three times with: "Lord you know I love you". The triple denial of Peter was forgiven by a triple expression of love. From that moment Peter knew that the Lord had forgiven him and his anguished heart could be at peace once again.
Peter as Pastor. Christ at the same time empowered Peter with the words: "Feed my lambs". For Christ, a simple verbal expression of love is not enough. It is not enough to say we love him publicly, three or even three-hundred times. What is important to learn from this passage is that we too are called to take upon ourselves the responsibility of love. Peterís proclamation was for him at the same time an acceptance of the task to take care of Godís people and love them with all his heart for love of Christ. It was as if Christ were saying to Peter: ĎSince you say you love me and I know you do, take care of my Church while I go back to the Father. Do this out of love for me. For in loving them, the people of God, you will actually be showing how much you love me.í
||"Feed my lambs"|
...For Christ, a simple verbal expression of love is not enough ... like Peter, we too are called to take care of Godís people and love them whole-heartedly ... For in loving them, the people of God, we will actually be showing how much we love Christ...
The love for Christ that Peter expressed brought him a responsibility and a cross. He was to provide spiritual food for the flock entrusted to his care and to serve the community. This is the role of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, who is the successor of Peter, the head of the College of bishops and Vicar of Christ. Today we also pray for our Holy Father Pope Benedict, that the Lord may provide him with the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, in order to guide the entire community of faithful with the sound and eternal teachings of Christ the Lord.
The Church. From the times of Sts. Peter and Paul onwards, the Church has suffered many hardships and open persecution. Today is no different, since the lives of many of our brothers and sisters in the faith are openly threatened and endangered in Iraq, Nigeria and Syria, to name a few. Catholics throughout the world have recently been particularly targeted by various interest groups, who assisted by the media are promoting teachings and conduct in direct contrast to Christian beliefs, such as on abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriages and adoption. Along with this, the Church has not been spared controversy from within, due to the sinfulness of its own members. Persecutions, deviations and hypocrisy, all result from the fallen nature of humankind that lead to sinful choices freely made by individuals. Yet Christ came into the world in order to "save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21) for "he was slain and by his blood did ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (Rev 5:9). As believers in God, we can never condone physical violence or discrimination against anyone on the basis of their religious beliefs, neither can we compromise with teachings that are incompatible with those given to us by Christ and taught by the Church, nor can we easily dismiss our own sins and omissions as if they were nothing. The best and most efficacious way of overcoming the evil present in the world and within ourselves is by seeking and cooperating with Godís grace; by constantly praying and working on our own conversion and that of the world; by believing in and accepting Christ the Lord and his message of salvation which the Church has been preaching and teaching from the times of the apostles, amidst sufferings and regardless of continuous persecutions.
During these difficult times for the Catholic Church, many of the faithful may fall into the temptation of doubting their faith in the Lord. They might even be questioning the Churchís teachings on human life and the traditional family, or they may be rightfully ashamed and even scandalized by the behaviour of some of its members to the point of wanting to abandon the Church altogether. During these and similar moments, when things appear to be going downwards, are we to deny knowing Christ the Lord and disregard his sacrifice for the salvation of mankind? Are we looking for easy solutions, a more comfortable Christianity devoid of the cross and possibly an escape from our own responsibilities as members of the mystical Body of Christ, which is his Church?
The question Jesus asked Peter is directed to each of us today as well: "Do you love me?" We need not fear the question or our response, for it is Christ who is asking the question, who is more concerned about us than himself. Our active participation in Mass is already a sign that we are attracted to Christ, that we hunger for his word and his Most Holy Body as our spiritual nourishment, that we yearn for his grace and want to follow him as our Lord and God. The fact that we pray regularly and strive to live our lives according to the teachings of Christ and the Church which he established upon the foundation of Peterís faith is another expression of our faith in and love of God. All our efforts to educate new generations of children the eternal wisdom of the Gospel, are a concrete example of our allegiance to and love of God. The desire to be authentic and faithful witnesses of the Lord, here in Kuwait where we now live and have established our temporary or permanent homes is also an expression of our love towards our Lord Jesus, who loved us first, died and rose from the dead, so that we could live with him forever.
|"Lord, you know I love you." ...Our active participation in Mass, our yearning for his word and his Most Holy Body as our spiritual nourishment and the fact that we want to follow him as our Lord and God is an expression of our love towards our Lord Jesus, who died, so that we could live with him forever.|
|"Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." ...I was convinced that my true vocation in life was to become a priest and I then replied with my "yes" to the Lord and set out to pursue the path to the priesthood. |
25th anniversary of Ordination. On this occasion I wish to diverge a little bit, in order to say a few words regarding the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. Roughly thirty years ago, while a much younger man studying at the University of Toronto, I received the grace of a renewal of faith in Christ. My rediscovery of Christ the Lord stirred me towards more intense prayer and an even deeper search for God and his will in my life. Upon encountering the presence of the Lord Jesus, I prayed that he reveal to me what he wanted from me. It didnít take the Lord too long to respond in his own way, with the same words he spoke to Peter and his brother Andrew: "Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And at once, they left the nets and followed him" (Mt 4:19-20). From that moment onward, I was convinced that my true vocation in life was to become a priest and I then replied with my "yes" to the Lord and set out to pursue the path to the priesthood. Upon completing my theological studies in Sarajevo, I was ordained on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul in the Cathedral of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina. During these years I have been entrusted with various ministries in the Church, from associate pastor to Apostolic Nuncio, every one of them providing their own particular challenges. While every jubilee is a moment to recall the years gone by, I wish to first and foremost thank God for the gift of my life and my vocation. The experiences I have had thus far in various regions of the world have been a progressive journey of faith in Christ the Lord. Though my path, as that of all those chosen to follow the Lord Jesus, has not been without crosses along the way, at the same time I have never felt abandoned by the Lord and can only gladly repeat the words of the Psalmist: "Glorify the Lord with me, let us together extol his name!" (Ps 34). While thanking the Lord for the gift of my vocation to the priesthood and humbly imploring his infinite mercy for all my sins and omissions, I also thank my family, friends, teachers and superiors who have accompanied me along my way, as well as all of you here who continue to support me with your prayers and friendship. May the Lord Jesus reward you a hundredfold and may he also send more labourers into his vineyard the Church, to continue his mission of spreading the good news of salvation throughout the world!
Apostles and Witnesses. A wonderful aspect of the lives of Saints Peter and Paul is that they were ordinary men who were called to greatness. They both had their personal faults, human limitations and sins, yet in spite of all this, the Lord recognized a potential for excellence and goodness in both of them.
They both received the special vocation to serve the Lord Jesus by becoming leaders in his new community of faithful known as the Church. The road to this greatness was not easy for either of them. These two apostles had to bear many hardships and sufferings in their service to the Lord, yet they also received the grace to remain faithful to the very end and offer up their lives for Christ Jesus. Both Peter and Paul saw with their own eyes the One that they preached and they loved him with all their hearts.
|We are all called to live and witness for God as his sons and daughters.|
... My constant prayer is that we remain faithful to Christ, loyal to the Church under the leadership of the Holy Father the Pope, and united as one family of faith all the days of our lives.
While commemorating the apostles Sts. Peter and Paul, we are reminded of the fact that every one of us is invited by the Lord Jesus to follow him. Not all of us are invited to become apostles like Peter or Paul. Not all are asked to die for Christ as martyrs of the faith. Nonetheless, we are all certainly called to live and witness for God as his sons and daughters. St. Paul said it the best when he described his own vocation by saying that God "who called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles" (Gal 1:15-16). The vocation and responsibility of discipleship has been entrusted to us by Jesus so that we may live our lives according to his example and teachings. Though our faithfulness to Christ and his Church may be difficult at times; though true love demands sacrifices and places crosses upon us to bear, we also believe that through Godís bountiful mercy we have been saved in Jesus Christ.
My constant prayer therefore, is that each of us be able to reply to the Lord Jesus today and every new day, with the same response Peter gave: "Lord you know I love you", and that we remain faithful to Christ, loyal to the Church under the leadership of the Holy Father the Pope, and united as one family of faith all the days of our lives.