In chapter 16 of Matthew’s gospel, we hear Peter exclaim, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). This was a statement of faith by Peter, spoken from his head. But this faith didn’t stand up. On the night of Jesus’s arrest, Peter denied him three times.
Today’s gospel narrative took place after the resurrection. Jesus confronted Peter on the seashore and asked him three times, “Do you love me?” (Cf. John 21: 15-25), and three times Peter responded with a strong, “Yes”! This was a statement of faith by Peter, spoken from his heart.
Then Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.” And Peter did. He served the Lord faithfully, even unto martyrdom. The rest of Peter’s life was a statement of faith, spoken from his will.
Yes, full faith involves the total person, the head, heart and will. Faith is not an accent to a dogma. It is a relationship with the person of Christ. It is a commitment of our whole human being to God,
At Sunday Mass we all recite together the Creed, affirming what we believe with our heads. At Communion time, we say, “Yes,” to receiving Jesus, affirming our love for him from our hearts. Then at the Dismissal Rite we are told to go forth to love and serve the Lord. We say, “Yes,” committing ourselves to putting our wills to work. We choose to bring about the Kingdom of God more fully upon this earth.
Professing our faith with our minds, hearts and wills involves our total person, and brings about a sense of wholeness. We know who we are and to whom we belong. We are in a relationship with God
How can little humans like us possibly have a relationship with almighty God? Littleness with Infinity?
Many years ago I worked in a parish with a priest who was very different from me. For one, he was thirty years older than me. And we had different tastes in music, different tastes food. He golfed and I played racquetball. We had very little in common. And yet we grew into having a very positive relationship. What brought us together? We both loved the same people. The people in the parish were dear to our hearts. And we loved to share about them.
Today Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” When we can say, “Lord, your lambs and your sheep are my lambs and sheep, too,” then we are bound to God by a relationship of love. That is at the core of faith.
A famous prayer by Cardinal Newman sums up this faith relationship. The prayer, slightly adapted, goes like this.
Lord Jesus, help us to spread your love everywhere.
Flood our souls with your spirit and life.
Come and dwell in us so completely
That our life will be a beautiful radiance of You.
Shine through us and be so in us
That everyone we come in contact with
Will feel Your presence in their life.
Through us may they be led to You. Amen