Love heals and challenges

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Third Sunday of Easter

In June 1974, while I was parish priest of Kabacan, Cotabato, I figured in a vehicular accident which rendered me permanently paralyzed from the waist down. I was confined for several months in several hospitals, first in Davao City and later in Manila.

When I felt better, I began celebrating Mass every night in a big ward on my wheelchair. There was a lady, a teacher afflicted with cancer, who regularly participated at Mass with her mother beside her stretcher. One evening, she was not there. After the Mass, I asked her mother about her. With deep concern etched in her face, she told me that because of extreme pain, her daughter had already been cursing God.

We then went to see her in her room. I could see that she was really in pain and already very weak. I repeated to her what her mother told me and offered to hear her confession. Which she did. I then suggested that instead of cursing God when the pain came, she should unite her pains with the sufferings of Jesus during His passion and as He hanged on the cross. I asked her to say the following when the pain came: “My God, I offer you all my pains because I love you.” No sooner had I said this when she started groaning in pain. I thought to myself, “Here come the curses again.” But what came out of her mouth were the words I suggested earlier. I was very happy with that and advised her to do the same every time the pain came. Then I left.

When I said Mass again the following evening, I did not see her nor her mother. After the Mass, I inquired from the other patients about them. They told me that they left early that morning. Moreover, they got news that she died on the way. I was sad to hear this development but was happy that finally she was back in the bosom of her loving Father.

The gospel reading (Jn. 21:1-19) is about the apparition of Jesus before seven disciples headed by Peter by the Lake of Tiberias. Depressed on what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem, they went back to their original calling: fishing.

Let us focus on the dialogue between Jesus and Peter. Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, do you love me more than these?” At first, Peter found it easy to answer the question. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” he responded confidently. But when asked the same question a second and a third time, Peter was distressed. He might have thought of the many times He failed Jesus, specially his triple denial of Him during His passion. But he nonetheless answered, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

After Peter's triple protestation of love, Jesus gave him his definitive mission: “Tend and feed my lambs and sheep,” that is, care for His brethren and His Church. For Jesus, there was only one requirement for the responsibility He entrusted to Peter: love. And despite his faults and falls, Jesus reaffirmed His first call when after a miraculous catch of fish, Peter, falling on his knees, said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” to which Jesus answered, “From now on you will be catching men.”

Note that throughout the entire episode, Jesus did not bother with Peter's past failures. Why? Because for Jesus love is not only forward looking but also constantly challenges the person to outdo himself.

The dialogue also expresses what being a Christian is all about. If we only bother to listen, Jesus constantly asks us the question, “Do you love me more than these?” Given this, do we like Peter answer “yes” despite all our inadequacies and sins? Or rather, in spite of them as they will be with us for the rest of our life? We should. And when we do so wholeheartedly, we will discover that after our every “yes,” Jesus will continue to invite us to follow Him more closely until the time comes when we do so not out of a moment's impulse but out of love — as Peter did till his martyrdom.

Let us go back to the lady teacher in the hospital. Before she got sick with cancer, she was practicing her faith as best she could and she expressed her love for Jesus in her own way. She continued to do so till she got sick. Though her pains led her to curse God, He reminded her of His unending love for her through my ministration. She responded and immediately returned to His love and then died — thus passing from near despair to hope, to a new life.

The task of caring for our brethren and the Church was not handed to Peter alone. Each one of us has a mission to fulfill among them and in the Church. And this we alone can do considering our unique capabilities and talents as well as our exposure to circumstances and experiences exclusively our own. There will certainly be many obstacles and failures along the way. But with our love for God egging us on, we can overcome everything.