February 27, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Lent is a time to cast off indifference

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ ”
—Jn 21:15-16

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinWhen my fellow pilgrims and I began our spiritual journey in the Holy Land earlier this month, we were conscious of the fact that we were following in the footsteps of Jesus.

We wanted to walk where he walked, and to see the world as he saw it. We also wanted to hear his words—the beatitudes, for example—come alive in the land where they were first proclaimed.

One of the unexpected blessings of this trip was our frequent encounters with St. Peter the Apostle. During our first few days, our pilgrimage took us to Jaffa where Peter brought Tabitha back from the dead, to Caesarea where Peter preached and Paul was imprisoned for two years, to Galilee where Peter first encountered Jesus and left everything to follow him, and finally to the places where Peter confessed his faith in Jesus (Caesarea Philippi) and where the risen Christ commanded Peter to “feed my sheep” (Jn 21:17) on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

We know that St. Peter was a holy man—not because his fidelity to Christ was consistent, but because he always returned to the Lord asking forgiveness and promising to be a better disciple. Peter’s example is an encouragement to sinful people like us who seek to follow Jesus this Lent.

Pope Francis calls Lent “a season of grace” that challenges us to cast off the attitude of indifference. In this year’s Lenten message, the Holy Father writes that “indifference to our neighbor and to God represents a real temptation to us Christians. Each year during Lent, we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”

Peter’s conscience was troubled often. As much as he loved Jesus and wanted to follow him faithfully, he repeatedly fell short. He even denied his Lord three times. “Peter, do you love me?” the risen Christ asked him three times. “You know I love you” was Peter’s insistent answer. “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:17) was Jesus’ response. 

The Lord gave Peter the keys of the kingdom, and gave him authority over his body, the Church. But to be the faithful servant-leader that Christ expected him to be, Peter first had to cast off his indifference and become fully engaged in the lives of others—the sheep he was three times commanded to feed.

Peter was a slow learner as we see in the Acts of the Apostles. He was reluctant to admit outsiders (Gentiles) into the young Church until he saw how the Holy Spirit had touched their hearts and filled them with the fire of God’s love. Then it was impossible for Peter to remain indifferent to the Gentile Christians, and he opened his heart and welcomed them.

This Lent, let’s ask ourselves how our hearts have become closed or indifferent to others. Let’s use this season of grace to open our hearts. But when we fail, let’s remember the example of St. Peter. Let’s ask the Lord’s forgiveness and promise to do better.

Our encounters with St. Peter in the Holy Land brought my fellow pilgrims and me closer to the humanity of Jesus, who loved and forgave Peter just as he loves and forgives us.

“Do you love me?” the Lord asks each one of us. If our answer is yes, then our Lord challenges us to cast off our indifference and “feed my sheep.” †

Local site Links: