The Gates of Hell

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. John 21:15-17

I have spent the past several weeks thinking about how Our Blessed Lord choose a man to lead the church who messed up over and over again. It would seem by human standards that Peter would not be a good leader. He doesn’t always quite get it. But we know that God’s ways are not our ways and Gods thought are not our thoughts. Another thing we know is that God is way bigger than we ever give Him credit for. We always seem to think that our problems are too big for Him to make good of them. We are wrong.

You can see this in the exchange at the charcoal fire, after the resurrection. Jesus asks Peter 3 times if he loves him, a chance for Peter to undo his thrice denial of the Lord. And Peter answers in the affirmative. We see the mercy of the Lord. But this exchange in English doesn’t give the full extent of what was happening here.

In Greek the first two times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, he uses the word Agape. Agape is divine love. Peter answers Jesus by using the word phileo, a word that essentially means brotherly love. Peter is hurt in this exchange, and so the third time Jesus asks about Peter’s love he too uses the word phileo, stepping down into the mess of the place where Peter was. He prophesies of Peter’s death – a death in which Peter is elevated to the Divine Love of the Cross.

I have to imagine that Peter answers with brotherly love instead of Divine Love because Peter knows what he has done by denying Our Lord. He knows Our Lord has forgiven him. He has accepted the Lord’s mercy, but Peter still doesn’t get the greatness of the Lord. He doesn’t understand yet that the Lord can lift him into Divine Love. Sure, the Lord can give him mercy, and sure, the Lord loves Peter unconditionally, all these things Peter understands. But Peter feels weak, unable to love the way Jesus does, knowing he screwed up so many times. He doesn’t believe his weakness can be elevated, so he is hurt by the questions. Peter is still relying on himself and he recognizes his limits but he doesn’t understand that he is putting a limit on God. Peter doesn’t understand that God’s power can be made perfect in His weakness and that the Lord Himself can elevate Peter to a higher love, even though Peter has done nothing to earn it. It is a surrender of oneself that allows Divine Love to fill you. It is a realization that you are in fact unworthy, but God gives it anyway and even your own weakness cannot stop Him as long as you turn to His mercy.

God did not give up on Peter. He ascends to heaven and Peter hides praying with the Mother of the Lord. God knows exactly who Peter can be. God knows exactly how to elevate Peter. Peter surrenders in the upper room and Pentecost comes. This is truly Good News for all of us. The Gates of Hell came screaming at Peter through the Passion and death of Our Lord. Even at the resurrection He struggles. But it was upon the Rock of Peter that Jesus made a promise. And God elevated Peter to Divine Love at Pentecost and 3000 were baptized in one day. Why would we doubt our Lord now, even if the Gates of Hell seem to be screaming at us?

God can take a man as weak as Peter and God can make of Him something better. Peter realizes his worth as a leader comes from God alone and not from his own strength, and the spirit dwells within him. God accomplishes these things in Peter and through his Blessed Mother’s intercession, the church is truly born.

So what does this mean for us? It means that no matter where you are today, how weak you feel, how many of your loved ones seem lost, it means God has a plan. God has a plan to elevate us to Divine Love. There are things you just can’t control and don’t need to worry about, you only need to pray and trust. There will be many crosses on this path. Each cross is meant to be another layer of surrender. God takes His time for healing to be complete. There is nothing warp speed about the way God works. Speed is the antithesis of steadfastness. Speed burns out. Steadfast love remains. The demons are operating at high velocity right now, but it won’t be the end of the story. Wait on the Lord like the Lord waited for Peter’s surrender to make Peter everything he was meant to be. God has stepped down into our mess, he is present in the Eucharist in the mess. God will elevate us to Divine Love in His time, if we let Him, because His promises are true.

St. Anthony described the Peacock as purified by tribulation, then adorned with virtue.

About veilofveronica

I am a mother and wife as well as an RCIA and Adult Faith Formation catechist at a parish in the south. I have 3 children and a great husband.
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6 Responses to The Gates of Hell

  1. jewelsword13 says:

    Thank you for this reminder. It seems like I need to be reminded more and more in these times that 1) God is in control and 2) I need to surrender every day … Every minute of every day! I’ll be keeping this post handy to read often! 😉

  2. Tom Kuipers says:

    Amen, Susan. Thank you for this very spot on reflection. God is greater than our sins, thankfully!

  3. Betty Zinke says:

    Like Simon Peter our first Pontiff of Holy Church, may we all be creatures who are:
    • of goodwill
    • of abject sorrow for our sins
    • of continued spiritual growth that we may leave our tendency to view Christ as the Son of God to Whom we may overindulge our familiar relationship to become humble children who fully cherish and love Him as our Divine Savior
    • able to die to ourselves and, if it be God’s will, to be martyred for our Grace-strengthened adherence to the Truth

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