Friday of the 7th week of Easter, May 26, 2023 Feast of Saint Phillip Neri, Priest
Acts 25: 13b-21; Ps 103-1-2, 11-12, 19-20; Jn 21:15-19
When we hear the readings for today, it is easy to wonder how they fit together. After all, the first reading with Paul is all about Paul’s imprisonment and how he is accused by the Jewish Priests for preaching about Jesus. In the Gospel, Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Him. In the questions, Jesus asks him about three different kinds of love. What we are missing here is the translation into English from Greek where we do not have a different word for each type of love. We can, however, relate with the first type of love, an empathetic or storge love, which is all about loving each other as a human being. The second being a philia love, which is like a friendly love, or like parents to their children and vice versa. And the last one is an agape love, where you love each other unconditionally. This is where Jesus wants Peter to be with Him. An agape love, where Peter can love Jesus unconditionally like Jesus loves Peter. It is after this last question where Peter, somewhat annoyed says yes, I love you more than anything that Jesus answers “Feed my sheep.” It is also at this point where Jesus hands His ministry over to Peter and establishes Peter as the ultimate shepherd of His flock.
However, if you think about it, in Paul’s case, he is at the agape love that Jesus is looking for. It is through that love that Paul teaches and preaches unconditionally about Jesus’ love for us, regardless of the consequences. Later on, in the book of Acts, Paul continues on his teaching, and shares the love of Jesus into Rome itself, not worrying about what may happen to him.
St Phillip Neri, whom we celebrate today, was another who showed that agape love. Born in Florence, Italy in 1515, he left the business world in 1533 to devote himself to God’s service. In 1551 he was ordained, and he began laying the groundwork for a new order which became the Congregation for the Oratory. His ceaseless desire to reach out to laypeople earned him great respect and the title, “Second Apostle of Rome.” He was also a renowned confessor who was able to read the hearts of those who visited him. He is also noted for his simple, agape love-way of teaching with short wise maxims. He died in 1595 and is entombed in the ornate motherhouse church of Santa Maria in Valencia, Italy. St Phillip Neri willingly answered the three questions Jesus asked, and said, “Yes!” to all of them.
Someday, unless it has already happened in your prayer time, we are all going to be asked those same three questions, “Do you storge love me? Do you philia love me? Do you agape love me?” Like St Philip Neri, St Peter, and many others, I hope we are all ready to say “Yes!”