St Philip Neri whose feast we celebrate today is known as the Apostle of Joy and as the third Apostle of Rome. Throughout his ministry in Rome, he stressed the importance of joy in the life of a disciple of Christ. His own joy and humility attracted people from every walk of life to him and ultimately Christ.
St. Philip was born in Florence in 1515. Born to an affluent family, he forfeited a promising career in business with his uncle in order to move to Rome in 1535. While in Rome as a layman, Philip would immerse himself in prayer during the night at the catacombs and during the day would care for the sick in the overcrowded hospitals and the pilgrims. Philip developed a following in Rome who wanted to imitate his example and was reluctantly ordained to the priesthood in 1551. Philip and this group that he attracted would “meet informally for prayer, discussion, and recreation together, before going off to minister to the needy.” They became known as the Oratorians and helped to re-evangelize Rome.
While we celebrate St. Philip Neri’s feast today it is helpful to examine a few reasons as to why his charism is as relevant today as it was in the 16th century. Firstly, St. Philip’s ministry was characterized by its relational approach. He evangelized one on one. During the Carnivale in Rome which brought much disgraceful behavior with it, St. Philip went out in the city and organized events to counteract the Carnivale. He was willing to go out and meet people were they were at. He first built relationships with people and then invited them into a deeper relationship with Christ. He was able to achieve this and build so many relationships because his ministry was characterized by joy and humility. For St. Philip, joy and humility were both integral parts of the Christian life and inseparable from one another. He repeatedly said, “Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.” People were attracted by his joy and authenticity and wanted to experience it for themselves.
Also, St. Philip who was only ordained later on life, emphasis the role of the laity in the Church. He believed holiness was attainable for the laity and was a proponent of frequent communion and confession, himself spending hours a day in the confessional. The laity were not treated as a third order, but as a first order. The Oratory existed to serve the needs of the laity who were living in Rome.
St. Philip Neri’s example should inspire us to always joyfully seek a deeper relationship with the Lord. He reminds us that we are called to holiness and he is a model for the New Evangelization. St. Philip understood we will not attract people to Catholicism if we do not exhibit the joy that is a result of our relationship with Christ.
Conor Boland is a College Ministerial Intern for One Bread One Cup, at Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology and is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America.
One month ago, I had the privilege of celebrating Mass on the altar above the tomb of St. John Paul II. Our small pilgrimage group had requested a Mass at one of the altars, either in the crypt or in St. Peter’s Basilica itself. We never expected that we would be given this particular altar, and all in the group were rather excited. One of my friends, who is an American serving on the general council of his religious community, asked me how we had arranged it. He had been trying for months through various contacts in the Vatican. I told him how we asked simply for a Mass in the basilica. Of course, he was very surprised that no special arrangements had been made. I was simply thankful to the Holy Spirit for arranging it and giving both the pilgrims and me such an important spiritual opportunity. As we made our way to the altar of St. John Paul, we went by the tomb of St. John XXIII. I hope someday to celebrate a Mass on the altar above his tomb as well. Both are personal heroes of mine because of their efforts to expand the role of all in the Church, especially the laity, which was so central to the charism of the founder of my religious community, St. Vincent Pallotti. In his homily for their canonizations, Pope Francis spoke about the efforts of these two popes in this regard:
John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries.
The renewal and updating of the Church called for by the Second Vatican Council, initiated by St. John XXIII, is central to the work of the New Evangelization as articulated by St. John Paul II. This work continued through the efforts of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, especially in the Synod on the New Evangelization, and is finding even greater momentum through the witness of Pope Francis. All of them, along with Blessed Paul VI, the teaching of the Council, and Church leadership in general, have called all of the baptized to engage in greater co-responsibility for the life of the Church and for the work of evangelization.
When Pope Francis canonized St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II together, various pundits, both in Church and secular media, were quick to give their sometimes very simplistic analysis of the message that he was trying to convey. If there was any “message”, I believe that it is a continued or re-commitment to the on-going renewal of the Church in trustful cooperation with the Holy Spirit and in prayerful communion with the saints.
St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II were both visionary leaders who put forward programmatic plans for not simply renewal of the Church as an institution, but renewal of all the baptized in faith and holiness who are called to go forth into the world and renew it as well. In 1959, St. John XXIII said, “Profession of the Christian faith is not intelligible without strong, lively apostolic fervor” (Princeps Pastorum, 32). The Second Vatican Council confirmed this understanding in Lumen Gentium through its teachings about the Universal Call to Holiness and the role of all the baptized in the mission of Christ. St. John Paul II was one of the drafters of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) along with the then Rector General of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, Fr. Wilhelm Möhler, S.A.C. St. John Paul taught in his apostolic exhortationChristifideles Laici, which followed the Synod on the Laity in 1987, that
The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that the mission of Christ – Priest, Prophet-Teacher, King – continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission’” (14).
Sharing in the mission of Christ is not simply staying within the confines of the church building. Instead, especially in this time of the New Evangelization, all of the baptized are called to recognize that they are followers of the Christ who are sent on mission by him. In fact, Pope Francis even calls the baptized, in Evangelii Gaudium, “missionary disciples” (120).
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and teaches for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on February 4th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
Today, the largest pro-life movement in the world will occur as thousands march the National Mall in Washington, DC, peacefully and passionately for the sake and sanctity of human life. Every year, the March for Life occurs on the anniversary of the historic Roe v Wade decision that made abortion legal in all 50 states. Despite the sorrow that fills the memory of this day, we have been called, as a community of life, to stand with zeal (word choice) for everyone’s right to life, not just this day, but every day of our lives.
I have never participated in the March for Life before, but I am very excited to finally take part in some of the activities that are occurring this week in our nation’s capital. From hosting eager pilgrims coming from Texas to march, to pro-life talks and dinners, and the National Prayer Vigil for Life, it has been an inspiring week so far. The pro-life community is strong and vibrant and it is a joy to be a part of that spirit. However, as I’ve been reflecting on the meaning and beauty of this week, I am realizing the vital call that is bestowed upon us to witness the beauty of life every day of our lives. During this week and beyond, we must take the time to see the value in every life and how we can share that with others.
I want the world to know that the beauty of life is all around us: the young, the old, the rich, the poor, and those in-between. It is in those risking their own life for the sake of others. The beauty of life is all around the world in different races, cultures, and experiences. The beauty of life is in the day to day interactions of our community, at home, work, and school. The beauty of life is in experiencing nature. The beauty of life is in sharing our own lives with others. Most vividly, as Catholics we know that the beauty of life exists in the Church, as Jesus Christ who teaches us how to love perfectly: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). To love perfectly is truly selfless. Those committed to a culture of life live as selfless witnesses, caring for the sanctity of each human soul through love. In our culture where instant pleasure and satisfaction are the façade for human happiness, we must teach others that there is authentic joy in protecting and standing for those who may not have a voice of their own.
So many have come before us and instructed us in Christ's example, in the way of life. Blessed Mother Teresa, who devoted herself to the Cross by serving Christ in the slums of India said, “Any country that accepts abortion is the poorest of the poor” and that, “Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. "Not only as Americans, but as faithful citizens of the kingdom of God, we are called to protect the preciousness of every life created by God.
These thoughts are my prayers, especially today, as we reflect on the Right to Life, particularly that America and our world will come to embrace a culture of life for all peoples, and I hope that you will live these prayers with me wherever you are marching. Whether you are in our nation’s capital today, at home, or at a march in spirit, know that your witness matters and is essential to stamping out a culture of death and living a culture of life. In order to bring life to the world, we must live in love. Let us ask God to bless this week that He may touch the hearts of many who need to hear his words of love and mercy, and that together we can increase the culture of life.
Alyce Anderson is a teacher in Washington D.C.
To celebrate the Catholic Apostolate Center passing 50,000 "likes" on Facebook, Communications and Social Media Intern Andrew Buonopane created a list of 50 Ways to Enjoy your Faith. This is the first post in a five-part series where we'll share the whole list. Check back on the first Tuesday of the month for another installment!
#50 - Go to Confession
The Sacrament of Confession is one that many Catholics do not celebrate regularly. Haven’t been in a while? Check your parish website and see when Confession is offered and give it a try again! Need a refresher on the ritual? Check out the Catholic Apostolate Center’s Lenten Resource Page for year-round resources on this important sacrament.
#49- Remember to Laugh
Laughing is not only emotionally beneficial, but also has health benefits as well! Take the time to find humor where you can!
#48 - Learn to appreciate Silence
In our busy lives, silence is often hard to come by. When you do have a quiet moment, take a second to appreciate it!
#47 - Devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux, whose "little way" taught that holiness can be sought in ordinary, everyday life.
Take some time to learn more about this incredible saint, whose feast day is celebrated on October 1st. She can teach us how to find holiness in our daily lives!
#46 - Become more active in your Parish
Next Sunday, check out your Church bulletin to see what is going on in your parish. See if there’s something you’d like to be more involved in!
#45 - Serve the Poor
Find a local meal program in your city and learn more about volunteering there. There are many programs and services that need time, talent, and treasure and offer many ways to serve those less fortunate.
#44 - View and Reflect on Sacred Art
Find an art museum or view a museum’s online collection to see many important works of art that depict sacred scenes. Or check out local art in parishes in your diocese! Many churches contain beautiful works of art such as stained glass windows.
#43 - Own a Catechism
…or view the new USCCB online Catechism here! The catechism is a great place to turn with questions about your faith or as a resource to learn more about what we as Catholics believe.
#42 - Take a pilgrimage
Pilgrimages can be to places near or far. In your own diocese, visit a parish or church you never have been before! Or research places such as the St. Jude Shrine, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, or other places of pilgrimage farther away!
#41- Devotion to St. Jude
St. Jude is a wonderful Saint to pray to when you don’t know where else to turn. He’s the patron saint of hopeless causes and many people find peace in praying to him.
#40 - Find a Bible Study
See if your parish has a bible study and get involved! Studying sacred scripture is an important way to deepen your faith.
Andrew Buonopane is the Communications & Social Media Intern for the Catholic Apostolate Center
The Procession Toward HeavenRead Now
In his final words as Supreme Pontiff, Benedict XVI reminded us from the balcony of Castel Gandolfo that he was “simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on Earth.” In doing so, he reminded us, the faithful, that we too are on an earthly pilgrimage. Benedict’s goal, as well as ours, is the Kingdom of Heaven. As pilgrims, we travel around and seek the ways that will lead us to our destination. Though at times we go down the wrong path, we trust that, having faith in God, He will always bring us back to our goal, to be with Him. Thus, we are truly a “Pilgrim Church,” a community of believers on a voyage to Christ.
This past Sunday, we celebrated the great solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi. The history of the feast goes back all the way to the early 1200s in modern day Belgium. St. Juliana of Liege, a Norbertine canoness, had a vision of a full moon with a dark spot. The spot, she believed, represented the absence of a feast dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament outside the season of Lent. After reporting her visions to her confessor and bishop, the bishop instituted such a feast in the diocese in 1247. Several years later, Pope Urban IV extended the celebration to the universal church in 1261. It was he who requested St. Thomas Aquinas to write hymns for the feast day. We know them today as the Pange Lingua and Panis Angelicus. Urban successors, most especially Clement V in 1311, reinforced the original decree and promoted the observance of the feast.
One of the most beautiful and traditional aspects of the celebration is the procession of the congregation behind the Eucharist encased in a monstrance. On a personal note, this day has always been one of my favorites growing up. I loved walking with my family and friends around the church building (often stopping traffic!), all following our pastor holding the monstrance up as high as he could.
In many ways, the Corpus Christi procession mirrors our pilgrimage (our procession) on earth. Together, with other members of the faithful, we are led toward God, whose real presence on earth is in the Eucharist. The Most Blessed Sacrament is the point in which heaven and earth meet. Not only is it our guide on earth, but also our guide to heaven. Processing around, following the Eucharist is a reminder that what we do on earth can lead us to an everlasting reward. By receiving the Eucharist, we are given the strength (both spiritual and physical) to continue on our earthly journey. As St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, “Per tuas semitas duc nos quo tendimus, ad lucem quam inhabitas” (By your ways lead us to where we are going, to the light where you live.)
Victor David is a recent graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
This past Sunday, we celebrated Mother’s Day. This is an important day to remember the important role that our mother and mother-figures play in our lives. From aunts to grandmothers to friends, we all have many women in our lives that we can look up to. In my own life, my mother is a constant source of inspiration to me. Giving up a successful career to stay home with my siblings and I was a sacrifice she made joyfully. Raising the four of us could not have been an easy task, and I will always appreciate the happy home she created for all of us to come home to each day. She formed our faith and gave us the tools to go out and live that faith in our own individual ways.
One of the ways in which I enjoy participating in my faith is through serving masses at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This Basilica is dedicated to the Blessed Mother, and throughout the entire building you can wander through chapels dedicated to her many titles. One of the priests of the Basilica always welcomes visiting pilgrimage groups with a short message about how if we let the Blessed Mother into our lives, she will bring us closer to her Son. He reminds each visiting group that by allowing Mary a place in our hearts, she will teach us and help us grow in our faith. On Mother’s Day this is a particularly applicable message as we remember our own mothers as well as the Blessed Mother.
Mary has a unique place in the Catholic faith. She is the Mother of God, born without sin, yet still one of us. Her willingness to say “yes” to God’s calling is one which we try to emulate in our lives every day. Mary demonstrates the important role a mother plays in their child’s life, even if that child is the Son of God. We see her gentle guidance in Jesus’ formative years, and it was through Mary’s prompting that Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Through Mary’s “yes” to God we are also reminded of the importance of answering our own vocations. Although it is often difficult to find our place in this world, the example of the Blessed Mother reminds us that saying “yes” is the greatest choice we can make.
As we have spent this past weekend celebrating the mothers in our lives, let us also remember the special place that the Blessed Mother has in our faith. She can help us find and say yes to God’s calling in our own lives. I will leave you with one of my favorite prayers to Mary:
Remember, Oh Most Gracious Virgin Mary.
That never was it known, that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, our sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence I fly unto you, Oh Virgin of Virgins, my mother. To thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. Oh Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy, hear and answer me.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
Prayer for Christian UnityRead Now
"Commitment to ecumenism responds to the prayer of the Lord Jesus that 'they may all be one' (Jn 17:21). The credibility of the Christian message would be much greater if Christians could overcome their divisions and the Church could realize 'the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her children who, though joined to her by baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her' We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 244).
Over the nine years that I was at St. Jude Shrine in Baltimore, Maryland, I had the opportunity to participate in and then to host an annual prayer service for Christian Unity. It became a very popular celebration and leaders from various Christian communities participated, including the Archbishop of Baltimore. To me, though, the most important people who participated were the people who went week to week to their faith communities in various parts of Baltimore, but never had the opportunity to pray together with Christians from other communities. Prayer is powerful and to underestimate its power to unite us leaves us lacking in the virtue of hope. Such hope is not naïve, but is based on firm trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.
The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will begin on Saturday, January 18th and conclude on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25th. Year after year, Christians are invited to pray that “they may be one.” St. Vincent Pallotti, patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center and founder of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, worked diligently for unity in the Church, using the liturgical Octave of the Epiphany in Rome as a means to unite in prayer members of the Eastern and Western traditions of the Catholic community who were rather disconnected from one another. This celebration was held in the city of Rome from 1836 until 1968. His feast day, on January 22nd, is in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Collaboration of all Christians can lead us toward Pallotti’s vision, hope, and prayer that one day we may be “one fold, under one Shepherd, Jesus Christ” (Cf., Jn 10:16)
Since our mission as the Catholic Apostolate Center is derived from the charism of St. Vincent Pallotti, who fervently prayed for such a day, we invite you to pray not only individually, but draw other Christians together in prayer. Prayer, though, is not the only thing that we can do. We can learn more about what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about the needed work for building unity among Christians. We invite you to explore the many resources that we have on our new Christian Unity page. May we also take up the call of the Catholic Church spanning from the time of the Second Vatican Council to the appeal of Pope Francis today:
"The search for unity among Christians is an urgent task... We are well aware that unity is primarily a gift from God for which we must pray without ceasing, but we all have the task of preparing the conditions, cultivating the ground of our hearts, so that this great grace may be received" (Address to the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, June 28, 2013).
Our new Christian Unity resources can be found here.
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
It certainly surprised me to find out that one of Christianity's most popular saints never actually said this, nor did he write the "Make me an instrument of Your peace" prayer! While these often-used quotes are very much in the spirit of St. Francis, the sentiment was likely inspired by a line from the Franciscan Rule, in which he said, "Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds."
We all know St. Francis as the saint of simplicity, of appreciation for God's creation, and, of course, preaching to the birds. He was known in his lifetime as a man of great poverty, giving up all that he owned for the poor. In fact, as a young man, he stripped off his clothes in the middle of Assisi and renounced all worldly possessions, including his inheritance from his father. From that point on, Francis spent his life in service to the Gospel and God's people, spreading the message of Christ by the way he lived his life and interacted with others.
It comes as no surprise, then, that our current Pope, a Jesuit, made a nod to this charism of simplicity and authenticity in choosing the name of Francis. It is, I believe, a stark reminder to the Church universal of exactly what the New Evangelization is all about: encountering Christ in our everyday lives and bringing Him to the world in the simplest ways possible. There is no better delivery of the Gospel than to treat every person we meet with simple Christian charity, as though he or she were Christ Himself. We are, after all, made in His very image and likeness!
Two years ago while on pilgrimage to Rome, I had the great blessing of taking a day trip to Assisi. Many of us have heard the story of the San Damiano Cross, through which Francis heard the Lord say, "Rebuild my church, which as you see has fallen into ruin." Spending a day of prayer before that same cross, walking the hilly streets Francis traversed so many times in his life, and praying in the Porziuncola (the chapel Francis built with his own two hands), was like a step right into the life of the Saint. It inspired me in a very profound way to always remember that the goal of our faith is quite simple. If we live our lives with true authenticity to the Gospel, we rarely have need for words.
Looking, then, to the example of Pope Francis and his namesake, today's Feast reminds us to live our faith simply, to find God in the simplicity of nature, the beauty of His creation, and in the face of each person we meet. It is how Christ lived his life, and how we are called to live ours. With that reminder, may we all be the instrument of His peace that our world so desperately needs us to be.
Jay Schaefer is the Webinar Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
He is Risen!Read Now
Today marks the 8th anniversary of Bl. John Paul II death. He was a man who proclaimed Christ triumphant victory over death with great zeal. This day, as we pray for his intercession, let us mediate on his words on the Risen Christ that he shared on Easter Sunday, April 23, 2000.
'O death, where is your sting?' (1 Cor 15:55)
"Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando . . ." "Death and life have contended in that stupendous combat: The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal" (Easter Sequence). Once again, today, the whole Church pauses in amazement at the empty tomb. Like Mary Magdalen and the other women, who came to anoint with spices the body of the Crucified One, like the Apostles Peter and John who came running at the word of the women, the Church bows before the tomb in which her Lord was placed after the crucifixion. A month ago, as a pilgrim in the Holy Land, I had the grace of kneeling before the stone slab which marks the place of Jesus' burial. Today, Easter Sunday, I make my own the proclamation of the heavenly messenger: "He is risen, he is not here" (Mk 16:6). Yes, life and death were locked in combat and Life was victorious for ever. All is once again oriented to life, to Eternal Life!
"Victimae paschali laudes immolent christiani . . ." "Christians, to the Paschal Victim offer sacrifice and praise. The sheep are ransomed by the Lamb; and Christ, the undefiled, has sinners to his Father reconciled". The words of the Easter Sequence marvellously express the mystery accomplished in Christ's Passover. They point to the power of renewal flowing from his Resurrection. With the weapons of love, God has defeated sin and death. The Eternal Son, who emptied himself to become the obedient servant to the point of dying on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:7-8), has conquered evil at its roots by opening to contrite hearts the path of return to the Father. He is the Gate of Life who at Easter overcomes the gates of hell. He is the Door of salvation, opened wide for all, the Door of divine mercy, who sheds a new light on human existence.
The Risen Christ signals the paths of hope along which we can advance together towards a world more just and mutually supportive, in which the blind egoism of the few will not prevail over the cries of pain of the many, reducing entire peoples to conditions of degrading misery. May the message of life proclaimed by the angel near the stone rolled back from the tomb overturn the hardness of our hearts; may it lead to removing unjustified barriers and promote a fruitful exchange between peoples and cultures. May the image of the new man, shining on the face of Christ, cause everyone to acknowledge the inalienable value of human life; may it encourage effective responses to the increasingly felt demand for justice and equal opportunity in all areas of society; may it impel individuals and States to full respect for the essential and authentic rights rooted in the very nature of the human person.
Lord Jesus, our Peace (Eph 2:14), Word made flesh two thousand years ago, who by rising from the dead have conquered evil and sin, grant the human family of the third millennium a just and lasting peace; bring to a happy outcome the talks undertaken by people of good will who, despite so many doubts and difficulties, are trying to bring an end to the troubling conflicts in Africa, the armed clashes in some countries of Latin America, the persistent tensions affecting the Middle East, vast areas of Asia, and some parts of Europe. Help the nations to overcome old and new rivalries, by rejecting attitudes of racism and xenophobia. May the whole of creation, inundated by the splendour of the Resurrection, rejoice because "the brightness of the eternal King has vanquished the darkness of the world" (Easter Proclamation). Yes, Christ has risen victorious, and has offered man, Adam's heir in sin and death, a new heritage of life and glory
"Ubi est mors stimulus tuus?". "O death, where is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:55), exclaims the Apostle Paul, touched on the road to Damascus by the light of the Risen Christ. His cry echoes down the centuries as the proclamation of life for the whole of human civilization. We too, the men and women of the twenty-first century, are invited to be mindful of this victory of Christ over death, revealed to the women of Jerusalem and the Apostles, when they arrived hesitantly at the tomb. Through the Church, the experience of these eye-witnesses has come down to us too. It is a significant part of the journey of the pilgrims who, during this Year of the Great Jubilee, are entering through the Holy Door, and going away with renewed courage to build pathways of reconciliation with God and with their brothers and sisters. At the heart of this Year of grace, may the proclamation of Christ's followers be heard more loudly and clearly, a joint proclamation, beyond all divisions, in ardent longing for full communion: "Scimus Christum surrexisse a mortuis vere". "Yes, that Christ is truly risen from the dead we know, Victorious King, your mercy show!" Amen
URBI et ORBI Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II
“Do you Agape me?”Read Now
Without a doubt, the Gospel of John is my favorite book in the Bible. I love the mixture of philosophy and poetry in Jesus’ monologues. It is beautiful how it captures the whole of Salvation History. And it seems that it has quite possibly some of most quotable and recognizable verses in all of Scripture such as Jn. 3:16. Yet the simplest reason is that it contains the profound dialogue that Jesus and St. Peter have post-Resurrection in the 21st chapter.
The scene is simple: Jesus and Peter are sharing a meal on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asks a seemingly simple question especially for a man who is supposed to be the “rock” (Mt. 16:18) of the Church- “Do you love me?” Peter affirms his love for Jesus and then Jesus proclaims, “feed my sheep”. This sequence happens two more times, which shows Jesus’ mercy and sense of humor. As you probably know, Peter denied Jesus three times rather than stand up for his faith and Savior. This is Jesus allowing Peter to make up for his threefold denial with a threefold affirmation.
Unfortunately, the English translation does not fully capture the drama of this story and thus, we must look to the original Greek. The Greeks had three words for our word, “Love”: Philia (Friendship), Eros (Sexual Love), and Agape (Selfless, Gift-Love). In the context of this story, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you Agape me?” In his shame, Peter can only respond, “I Philia you” or “I am your friend.” While Jesus loves Peter with his whole heart, Peter is a wounded human. On the third try, Jesus meets Peter at his level and asks if they are friends. To this, Peter can agree.
From November 5 to 17, 2012, I had the tremendous opportunity to be part of a pilgrimage to the Middle East. What made the trip special was that I got to spend the time with my mom, who has been a great role model and exemplar of sacrifice and faith. And while seeing the Pyramids in Egypt and Petra in Jordan were great, the part that I was most excited for was the Holy Land. One of the places that we went to was the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, where it is said that Jesus and St. Peter had this final conversation as told in Jn. 21.
Like many of the other churches that we went to in Israel, I automatically felt the sacred presence of the Spirit. I went into the Church first to say a prayer and then walked along the shore of the Sea. I was so utterly moved to be standing on the ground and touching the water where Jesus and Peter shared this intimate moment. I was speechless to be present there and just gave thanks for this blessing.
The words that I kept praying were the words of Jesus’ command to Peter: Feed my sheep. All my life, I viewed my Catholic faith as an opportunity to be a role model for others. I participated in parish ministry through the Echo Program and taught high school Religion for two years. Now, I am taking a year off to discern my next step in my life journey and where exactly God is calling me to serve his people, to “feed [his] sheep”. Wherever I end up, I will be grateful and remember the incredible time that I spent on the shore of Galilee. The place that Jesus asked Peter a simple question for all of humanity, “Do you love me?”
Tae Kang has his MA in Theology from The University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Program and has worked both as a Lay Ecclesial Minister in a Parish and as a High School Religion Teacher.