06Jun 6th June. Friday in the 7th Week of Easter

Saint Norbert, bishop.

Norbert (1080-1134), from Lorraine, France, was a monk and itinerant preacher who founded the canons of Premontre, for the reform of clerical life. He was in close contact with and was influenced by the Cistercian founder, St Bernard of Clairvaux and like him campaigned strongly for clerical celibacy. Elected by the citizens of Magdeburg (Germany), e spent his last 8 years as archbishop of that city.

First Reading: Acts 25:13-21

(Paul, in prison at Caesarea, explains his predicament to king Agrippa.)

After several days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. Since they were staying there several days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man here who was left in prison by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me about him and asked for a sentence against him. I told them that it was not the custom of the Romans to hand over anyone before the accused had met the accusers face to face and had been given an opportunity to make a defense against the charge. So when they met here, I lost no time, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. When the accusers stood up, they did not charge him with any of the crimes that I was expecting. Instead they had certain points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. Since I was at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there on these charges. But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of his Imperial Majesty, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to the emperor.” Agrippa said to Festus, I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you will hear him.”

Gospel: John 21:15-19

(Jesus entrusts Peter with the responsibility: “Feed my sheep.”)

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.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

The pastor’s sacred trust

In the heat of the moment we often fail to choose the best. This happened to the great Saint Peter himself, our church’s chief pastor. Three times out of fear he denied Jesus. After the resurrection when Peter had returned to his former trade of fishing, Jesus appeared to him and three times asked, “Do you love me?” Peter was no longer the brash, impulsive man of earlier days, for he has tasted humility, after betraying Jesus. Now he has returned to the only occupation he felt able for, sobered by failure and ready to go on with his life.  He has learned compassion for others from tasting his own need for mercy. Now he is the kind of man who can effectively lead Christ’s Church. Not once, not twice, but three times Jesus asks and insists, “Do you love me?” When Peter answers with humble love, with total surrender, “Lord, you know everything,” then Jesus commissions him “Feed my sheep.”

Moving out from Jerusalem into a wider apostolic area, Peter brought the Gospel message first to Antioch and then on to Rome itself. Love, humility, cotrition and obedience to the Lord are to be the hallmarks of his ministry. As such, he is the rock of the Church and head of the apostolic missionaries. Even though Peter speaks with authority, there is a quality of patience about him that is reflected in his epistle (1 Peter). He is a man able to love and be loved, humble and open to others in their ideas and talents, aware of sin and able to appreciate the weakness of others, ready to obey Jesus at all costs. This is the kind of Petrine ministry that the Church needs to maintain and pray for. Jesus not only singled out Peter from all the apostles but called him particularly to “Feed my sheep.” And as Peter was to be the supreme pastor of the Church, so today that mission is entrusted to Francis, the man from Argentina, who equally has learned compassion and wisdom from sober experience.

Jesus does not have to ask us, “Do you love me?” He knows it and we know it. He says simply, “Follow me!” Hopefully, like Peter we will respond with our whole hearts, fully, actively, making a gift of ourself to Jesus.