[Jesus] said to [Peter] the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a 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.” Jn 21:17
Life with children offers abundant opportunities to grow in humility. I have to laugh: God has led me, a “recovering perfectionist,” to the vocation of motherhood, in which I’m constantly trying to teach my children that we learn from our mistakes. I find myself reassuring my kids with statements like, “It’s never too late to do the right thing,” or “learn from the experience and move forward,” or “God is always bringing about fresh grace and new life from our failures.” I’m fully aware that I’m preaching to myself, too.
My kids particularly love hearing stories about my own missteps when I was in Catholic elementary school. Recently, I told them about getting in trouble and having to stay in for recess after a second-grade class Mass. I was struck with a fit of the “church giggles” during the Holy, Holy and, no matter how hard I tried, absolutely could not stop laughing until the sign of peace was over. I remember feeling crestfallen at my teacher’s correction, angry with myself, and afraid that this infraction would upset my parents and maybe even delay my First Communion. Of course, I served my consequence, apologized to my teacher and parents, made my First Communion on schedule, and even got to proclaim a reading at a school Mass later in the year. As a rule-following kid, I recalled this incident for years with considerable embarrassment. Now my own kids delight in this tale of a time when I learned through a mistake. I have to think that it helps my children to know that their mom, who talks up the greatness of the Mass, serves as a lector, and encourages them to stay upright in the pews and to participate “with full heart and voice,” also had trouble staying focused at Mass, once upon a time.
Sunday's Gospel reading from John Chapter 21, in which the Risen Christ appears to the disciples by the sea of Tiberias, is one of my favorites. There is so much I love about this Gospel: the resurrected Jesus transforming the disciples’ old livelihood of fishing; the abundant catch of fish that the net barely contains; the incredulity and joy the disciples felt; the breakfast among friends on the shore of the sea.
I’m especially moved by the encounter between Peter and Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” I love that this conversation takes place by a charcoal fire, and that Jesus invites Peter to say, “You know I love you,” three times. Peter, on Good Friday, denied knowing Jesus three times while warming himself by a charcoal fire. Talk about an opportunity to learn from a mistake. I wonder if Peter felt afraid, even after the Resurrection, that Jesus would revoke his position as leader of the Church, or his name, or their friendship. Of course, we see instead that Jesus always offers love, mercy, forgiveness, and joy, and that his Resurrection transfigures everything, even the lowest moments and deepest regrets.
To me, St. Peter is an immensely relatable patron saint, a friend in heaven who reminds me to value humility and forgiveness over perfection. I have to think that Peter was an even more effective first pope because of this moment by the sea of Tiberias, when he faces up to his betrayal of Jesus and Jesus offers only love in return. Jesus chose imperfect Peter to tend the sheep, someone who knew firsthand that the love of the Risen Christ was the real “rock” of his leadership in the Church. What an encouraging Easter message for all of us who have been called to lead young people to a greater love of Christ. May St. Peter intercede for us as we bring our imperfections and our struggles to Jesus, and may Jesus, in His love, transform them and bring us to new life.
Sarah Perkins is a member of the national adjunct faculty in the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program