Agape

Jen called me early Sunday morning, and she was very excited.

“I know you’re getting ready for church, but I just wanted to tell you that you are going to LOVE today’s readings,” she said. She knows me well.

I really did love all three of the readings.

First of all, the weeks following Easter Sunday, I enjoy the stories from the Acts of the Apostles. In fact, I like the stories so much that it makes me wonder why I don’t simply READ the Acts of the Apostles several times a year. It is my most sincere hope that I don’t get struck down by lightening generated by St. Paul, but I mostly enjoy reading about the time before Paul’s conversion. I love reading about the apostles’ enthusiasm right out of the box and St. Peter’s rather bungling ways. But in Sunday’s first reading, Peter is not bungling. He thumbs his nose at the Sanhedrin  when they tell the apostles that they must – they simply MUST – stop preaching about Jesus as they had been instructed. Peter tells them, “We must obey God rather than men.”

No bungling. As clear as a summer morning in the Rocky Mountains.

The second reading was from Revelation, but instead of being confusing, as I find most of the Book of Revelation, the message is clear: Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. And perhaps I like this reading because as the lector reads the words, I hear Handel’s version of Worthy is the Lamb that was slain being sung in my head. Next to the Hallelujah Chorus, that is my favorite Chorus in Handel’s Messiah.

But actually, what grabbed Jen’s attention and to what she wanted me to pay attention was the St. John’s Gospel. It was actually kind of a two part gospel. The first part tells the story of a handful of the apostles going out fishing and having a terrible day. They caught nothing. Suddenly, a man on the shore suggests they cast the net again, which they do. This time, the net is so full of fish that it begins to break. All of a sudden, they realize the stranger was actually Jesus. (Well, actually, in John’s gospel, here’s how he puts it: So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. SO THE DISCIPLE WHOM JESUS LOVED said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”

John refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved several times thoughout his gospel, and it always makes me laugh. Biblical scholars probably have theories about this; I, on the other hand, always want to slap him aside the head and tell him to have some humility. It’s the mom in me.

The second part of the gospel tells us that Jesus takes Peter aside (ahem, leaving THE DISCIPLE WHOM JESUS LOVED behind; just sayin’) and asks him three times, “Simon Peter, do you love me?” Three times Peter says yes, getting a bit crabbier each time. I always found it understandable that Peter got annoyed. At first glance, Jesus sounds needy.

Here’s where Jen’s phone call came in. The homilist at her Mass explained why he believes Jesus asked three times. In the Greek language, there are three words for “love.” One refers to intimate love such as that between spouses. The second refers to the love one has for a friend. That word is phileo. The third refers to a deep and profound love, such as the love God has for us. That word is agape. In the Greek interpretation of this gospel, Jesus uses the word agape. When Peter responds to Jesus’ question, he uses the word phileo. Jen’s homilist suggests that Jesus wanted Peter to promise that he loves Jesus with agape love. It is only when Peter feels agape love that he can truly follow Christ.

I think that Jesus asks me every day of my life, Kristine Rae, do you love me? I’m pretty sure my answer is pretty much what Peter said. Of course I love you. But is it phileo or agape?

Evil

142198193.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeIt so happened that the gospel at Mass this past weekend as we near the season of Advent was St. Mark’s take on what Jesus said about the end times.

….the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

Dang, that gospel – as well as similar words coming from St. Matthew, St. Luke, and let’s not forget the light-hearted Book of Revelation as written by St. John – scared the HELL out of me when I was a kid. Frankly, it makes me squirm even now as an adult. I used to get caught up in all of the predictions about end times until Bill reminded me that Jesus goes on to say But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Oh yeah. I’ll start using up the canned beans stored in my basement in preparation for the end of the world.

Despite becoming so mature, I will admit that I was struck by Mark’s gospel in light of the dreadful circumstances in Paris this past week. I wondered if and how the priest would address all of this in his homily. Is the world, in fact, coming to an end?

The priest who said our Mass retired from somewhere in Minnesota to the warm climes of Arizona and serves our parish during the winter months when the church’s population doubles in size. He is probably in his 70s with a gruff-sounding voice which belies his always wonderful and generally gentle homilies. But it became clear very quickly that he was PISSED OFF. He started off by saying should one of the ISIS members who terrorized Paris walk into the church, if he could make it back to him before he was gunned down by an AK47, he would punch the crap out of him. Not particularly priestly, but certainly an honest representation of the way many of us feel.

But he went on to remind us that it’s pointless to point fingers at God or wonder how God can let something like that happen. No one, said Father O’Neill, can truly understand evil. Probably not even the evil-doers themselves, who claim to terrorize in the name of Allah.

Father O’Neill never once used the word devil in his homily. Instead, he continued to use the word evil. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how I feel about the idea of a devil. It’s a concept my teeny little brain can’t wrap itself around. But I do know that evil exists in our world – incredibly, horribly, awful evil. But God didn’t shoot those people who went out to hear some music or enjoy a nice meal with friends or family. Evil human beings used man-made weapons to do their evil deeds. And there has been evil in our world since Adam and Eve. The Paris attacks — and all other evil in our world — are not sure signs of the end of the world. Only God knows when that will be.

Father said perhaps God is testing our love, both for Him and for our fellow human beings. “But if I could,” said Father O’Neill looking up at the ceiling and heaven beyond, “I would definitely ask the Holy Spirit to stop the testing.”

Me too.