Friday 25 April 2014

The two calls of Peter


Some things remain for a long time. One of these is something I read for my BTh thesis years ago, an article by someone called Cullinan, I think, which spoke of the two calls of Peter, both by the Lake. In between these two calls is, of course, the crash. The first Peter is enthusiastic, impulsive, generous, but there is a sense of reliance on himself. The second Peter can no longer rely on himself. He has betrayed his friend. Now he can rely only on the love of Jesus for him, and on his own love for Jesus. This is the direction in which Jesus leads him, ever so gently, in a moment of extraordinary gentleness and delicacy.

In our own experience of following Jesus, perhaps some of us will identify with the Beloved Disciple, but most of us will probably identify with Peter, and most of us need to be called twice, or thrice, or many times, till we realize that we rely not on ourselves or on our own perceptions of our self-sufficiency, but on the love of Jesus and on our love for him.

So I ask myself today: where am I in the following of Jesus? At what point? Do I realize that I can rely only on his love for me, and on my response to him?

This is a very personal love, a love that is not only agape but also philia, as only the Greek text of the gospel reveals to us (twice AGAPAS ME? - PHILI TE, and then PHILI ME?), and not only philia, but even eros, as we might learn from the Song of Songs (hortus conclusus, fons signatus) and Hosea and Benedict XVI.

I am reminded also that Augustine reflected much on the figure of Peter in his musings on grace and his attempt to understand the dialectic of grace and freedom. He reflected on the Peter who impulsively declares his readiness to follow Jesus unto death, his betrayal soon after, and the Peter who, at the end of his life, did follow his master unto death, even death on a cross. And he found here the difference between the grace that is a good desire, and grace that is not only desire but also performance. (Desire alone is not enough. I found myself laughing yesterday, when I said to myself, I wanted to learn Hebrew, unfortunately I did not, and then immediately realized that this was one of those desires that have no teeth: I was not really serious about learning Hebrew. It was, as I often say to myself, a aesthetic thing. And so much of what seems religious in my life is really nothing but the aesthetic: it looks nice, it feels nice, it is beautiful. But it has no teeth, and so does not lead to transformation. Not enough to feel good. Tony De Mello: you don't really want to change, do you? You never really ask God to change you. All you want is that he repair your toys.) And then he asked: why does God give us desire but not performance? His answer: so that we might fall on our knees and beg for the performance. God moves our hearts without our wanting it, and that is the nature of the grace that is love. But love cannot be love if it takes away our freedom; and so there is the moment of freedom, the moment when I say yes to God, or I say no to him. Prayer is perhaps the supreme expression of our freedom. In between the two Peters is the whole dialectic of grace and freedom, which is a dialectic of love, the dialectic of "Do you love me?" and an often tearful "You know all things, you know I love you."

There is, at the heart of the Christian faith, something utterly personal, utterly personal relationship with Jesus, which cannot be substituted by word, by activity, or by New Age abstractions. It is a love which is agape, philia, eros, as I have tried to say.

The good news is that if w.r.t. a human love we can never quite be sure, w.r.t. the love of God, of this much we are sure, we can be sure: that on his part, he loves us, and not only loves but also waits, desires, longs for us.

And from this dialectic of love flows the pastoral commission: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Here comes the work and the activity so beloved to Salesians. Deep within the love of God, there emerges the love for our brothers and sisters. 

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