2013 May Novena – Homily 1

The SMA Superior General, Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll, preached at the Opening night of our 2013 Novena. Reflecting on the readings for the day (Acts 25: 13b-21, Psalm 102 and John 21: 15-19), Fr Fachtna shared the following thoughts:

This is a pretty awesome title to give to Mary. Mary was a creature like you and me and yet we now refer to her as Mother of God. We have no difficulty in recognising Mary as mother of Jesus. But Mary, Mother of God – that requires real reflection. It is interesting to note that from the very earliest days of the Church the community began to recognise Mary as Mother of God.

How should we understand this? Mary was the mother of Jesus. Jesus was Son of God and was God. Therefore Mary is mother of God.

Mary was Jesus’ mother in two significant ways: she carried him in her womb and she also supplied all the genetic matter for his human body. Unlike all other human beings who get their genetic make-up from a father and a mother, Mary uniquely supplied all the genetic matter for Jesus’ human body.

When we speak of Mary as Mother of God we do not understand it as being older than God or as being the source of God’s divinity. What we mean is that she carried in her womb a divine person, Jesus Christ – God in the Flesh.

Of course, while it is important to have some theological understanding of the meaning of what we say, what is more nourishing to our faith is to understand that Mary’s relationship to Jesus was one of faith and also one of love. She loved Jesus the divine person in a human motherly way. This love enabled Jesus in his human person to develop a loving personality. Like all other human beings Jesus too needed the love of other humans to sustain him.

This evening our gospel gives us the beautiful scene of Jesus with Peter after his resurrection. They had travelled together in close proximity for three years. They must have developed a strong bond on the human level. This, no doubt, was what prompted Peter’s bravado before the crucifixion that he would never deny Jesus. Of course we know what happened there. On the human level it must have been a crushing blow to Jesus when Peter, who had protested how much he loved Jesus, actually denied him.

The scene in tonight’s gospel passage seems to be put in this way by St John to mirror the drama of denial. Earlier, in the passion scene, Peter had three times been given an opportunity to stand up for Jesus; three times he denied him. Now he is asked three times if he loves Jesus. It is tempting to read this drama in a slightly negative light, i.e. seeing it as Jesus acting in an almost vindictive way saying to Peter, “well you denied me three times so now I’m going to force you to proclaim your love for me three times”. I believe that is not what was playing out at all. In fact, it was a much more positive approach Jesus was taking. Jesus’ questioning of Peter three times was not for Jesus’ sake but for Peter’s sake. It was Peter’s need that was being served, not Jesus’.

Having denied Jesus, Peter must have really doubted himself that he actually loved him. Jesus wanted him to hear himself say, “yes I love you”. And he wanted Peter to know this deep down so he asked him to repeat it three times. Peter needed to hear himself say “yes I love you”. What Jesus is trying to get Peter to claim is that in spite of his denial he actually still loves him.

A strange question: “Do you love me more than these others do?”. Why that question? Because Peter would surely have thought that his own denial meant that he loved Jesus less than the others who did not deny Jesus. But Jesus wants him to hear himself say, “in spite of my denial I still love you”.

And this is the message that each one of us has to hear tonight. In spite of the many times we deny Jesus in so many ways, we still love him. We would not be here tonight if this were not true.

I want to suggest a good exercise for each of us to do now –

Close your eyes for a moment: imagine that Jesus is standing before you and he is asking you by name ……..

Do you love me?

Hear yourself respond to Jesus, “yes, I love you”.

And remember that you are saying that not so much because Jesus needs to hear you say it but you need to hear yourself say it.

Yes Lord I really do love you.