Read John 21:15-17.
Many people have many different theories about the meaning of this story and why St. Peter was distressed by the third “I love You!”. Some will assume it was simply annoyance over the repetition of Jesus’ question, some will say it was guilt over his three denials last week, and some will go into this deeply theological discussion of agape vs. phileo and say St. Peter wasn’t ready to love very deeply yet. These theories could be true, possibly. (I would say though, that it would be mean for us to assume St. Peter wasn’t an agape disciple just because he didn’t pass the test on Good Friday. He made very clear at the last supper he was prepared in his heart to die for Jesus, and we shouldn’t think he was only boasting just because he was overcome by a very human fear and the weakness of his flesh couldn’t keep up with the willingness of his spirit. St. Paul went through the same dilemma every day according to Romans 7:15-20 and no one can deny the depth of his love.)
I have another theory, based more on personal experience than scholarly research. I have noticed a distress in my own soul that reflects the intensity of my love for such a perfect Jesus rather than a weakness in it. When I say “I love You!” to Jesus over and over and over and try to “prove it” in my actions, there is a certain pain of longing, desperation, sense of helplessness? It’s hard to describe, but it’s like I can’t say those three words enough, can’t prove it enough, can’t perfect myself enough, to give Him the me I want to present Him or to get through to Him just how much I care, just how deep the love in my heart goes. You see something kind of similar in the out of control extravagance of the birthday party Elsa throws Anna in Frozen Fever because she’s overwhelmed with the preciously heavy weight of love she carries for her sister. Three words that don’t seem adequate to describe how you feel, but they’re all you can say, so you say them with almost a groaning in your soul as frequently a broken record. What else can you do? What else can you say? It’s never enough. You can never quite fully explain or prove it, because it’s too deep, so deep that you’re afraid even God doesn’t get it. You can’t quite hear Him assure you that He realizes as loudly and clearly as you’re trying to make Him realize: thus the distress of deep love. At the end of the day, though, you have to make an act of faith for the sake of your soul and your sanity and say with St. Peter: “Lord, You know all things. Therefore, in Your Divine Omniscience, I must believe that You somehow know just how much I love You and just how deep and intense that love is. Even though I will never be satisfied with my expression or fulfillment of this love, I must have faith that You know it anyway.”
I probably sounds a little weird, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows this feeling. I think St. Peter was one of these souls and I believe the other souls out there like this will understand what I’m trying to say here. I have a whole new respect for St. Peter now in light of this, and it would make sense that this story is found in St. John’s gospel, since he also loved Jesus very intensely. We love You, Jesus, and we know You know now!
Many who follow me on my blog are aware of my desire to embrace the vocation of a bride of Christ, my pursuit of Monastic Life, my discerning out out of Monastic Life, and my struggle with the question of how to serve the Lord with my life. I finally remembered, one night, some past research I had done on private vows of perpetual virginity. As private vows, they are different from becoming a nun or consecrated diocesan virgin in the sense that you make this vow completely on your own rather than through the jurisdiction of the Church. They’re not any less real, though, and certainly not to be looked down on as this was the vocational path of the Blessed Virgin herself as well as many saints such as: St. Joseph, St. Agnes of Rome, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Philomena, St. Lucy, St. Cecilia, and many others. Excited as I was when I reviewed my research and discovered this was a way to pursue the call of Jesus in my heart without having to bind myself to all the other obligations Religious Life would require, I made myself wait more than a year to finalize and publicize this decision so I could make this was something I truly wanted and was able to, not rushing into anything like I did with the monastery. Now, the waiting period I set myself has finally expired, and I’m dancing with joy as I finally announce my “engagement” to Jesus Christ! I will be making my vow on August 11, 2019: the former feast day of my patron saint Philomena. You can read more about this kind of vocation
I strongly encourage all young girls like myself who have discerned out of Religious Life but still desire to marry the Lord to explore and consider this option the Church has allowed us, as well as girls who can’t even get into Religious Life because of health problems or some other reason. No more agony of “singleness” when you want so badly to belong to God. No more forcing yourself to take on the whole obligation of Religious Life just to satisfy the one desire for spousal union with Christ. Religious Life should be about being deeply committed to the Order itself, its way of life, its spirituality and way of thinking, and a passion for the other two vows of obedience and poverty. Religious Life is not to be pursued if you discover that all you really want is to marry Jesus; no need for all those strings attached if that’s the case. Loving the world and remaining in it to care for its soul shouldn’t be seen as inferior to leaving it. “For God so loved the world.” The world is your spiritual child, full of souls that desperately need the love and light of the Gospel, if you don’t stay and show them the way who will? I’m sorry to say that the number of laypersons who take their Faith seriously and actually obey the Ten Commandments and Five Precepts seems to be rapidly decreasing. You may very well be the only person in your neighborhood who can give an example of what a faithful Catholic who wants to go to Heaven actually looks like, the only one who can prove that you don’t have to be like everyone else and that holiness isn’t something only for Religious. There are plenty of nuns to pray, but not nearly enough laity to actually answer those prayers with action and evangelization. And if you do end up a Religious later, private vows won’t stop you, they will have served as an excellent preparation and a stepping stone.