[In your Holy Week reflections], I recommend that you read the Last Supper discourse of John’s Gospel, which actually begins in Chapter 13 when Jesus is washing the feet of his disciples in such a prophetic gesture. His act points to the whole reason for his coming, which is namely his self-emptying in the Incarnation and reaching its apex at the Crucifixion. The incarnate Word who emptied himself and was crucified out of love expresses, in this simple gesture of the washing of the feet of his disciples, that Jesus came to wash us in mercy. Jesus came to cleanse us of all that contaminates or corrupts us. He came to heal us of all that has wounded us. He came to make us new. His self-emptying that lifts us up makes us new in His divine image. His self- emptying renews us, restores our lost innocence, and makes us true children of God, forgiven of our sins and sharers in His divine Spirit.
In Chapters 14-17, Jesus gives us his essential teaching, the heart of the Gospel, his message that is the white, hot center of all that he had said. He speaks about abiding in his love, his union with God. Jesus uses the Greek word menό so many times in Chapters 14 and15: abide in me. Like a kaleidoscope or a Rubik’s cube, he uses different language and particular words to try to express the same message in order for us to grasp and enter into the truth that is meant to set us free.
Similarly, St. Teresa in The Way of Perfection, Chapter 26 explains a hinge of the way, the camino. St. Teresa says over nineteen times: look at Him who looks at you. Behold Him. Behold the beauty of God. And she says so often, all He asks you to do is look at Him: look at Him who is looking at you. Look into the eyes of mercy to see your life. Look into the eyes of mercy to discover yourselves. This is one of the ways in which our holy mother St. Teresa, the mother of spirituality, teaches us how to pray, how to become recollected.
As her famous summary and description of prayer, which she shares in The Way of Perfection says, prayer is nothing less than a loving exchange with Him who I know loves me and in taking time frequently to look at Him; to love Him, to speak to Him, to abide in His love, in His agape.
His agape, of course, is that deepest dimension, that deepest degree of love having reached its full maturity. It is the summit of self-emptying love and self-sacrificing love, which none of us could have in ourselves by nature were it not for grace. It doesn’t come naturally to us. What comes naturally to us is self-preservation, not self-sacrifice. But it comes naturally to God because it’s who He is. Part of our being healed, part of our being transformed and sanctified by grace, is our becoming more and more remade, restored in His likeness.
The most important question that Jesus poses to any of his disciples in the Gospels is: “Do you love me?” Three times, he asks that, because he is using a different word for love each time. And the last time he uses agape. Peter recognized that he didn’t have that. He recognized that he loved the Lord, but he didn’t have the kind of love that Jesus was asking of him. He eventually would, but he wasn’t there yet. That was fine.
Jesus chose him anyway.
We don’t have to be perfect to have purpose. The fact of the matter is that none of us are perfect. Only God is. But the purpose of life is to be perfected in life, and that’s a process that often takes a lifetime. What is not completed in this life will be completed in the next by the loving fire of God’s purgation, by the loving fires of His embrace. He will bring to completion what we could not bring about on our own in order that we may be perfect in His love.
In abiding in this love, Peter abided in the love of God. Mary Magdalene abided in the love of God. And both did so in the best way that they could, depending on where they were at each stage of their lives.
When asked, “Do you love me?” Peter responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” The third time he was asked, Peter’s response in using the word love was philia. It wasn’t the agape love. It wasn’t the full-fledged love, yet that didn’t change God’s love for Peter. Even though Peter couldn’t reciprocate the agape love, it didn’t in any way diminish God’s love for him.
It’s the same thing for us. Even when we cannot respond perfectly, God’s perfect love is still at our disposal. (to be continued)
SOURCE: Auburn Retreat, 2016. Transcribed by Sue Ellen Browder
Copyright 2017, Father Robert Barcelos, OCD