"He revealed himself in this way" (John 21:1).
The late spiritual writer Fr. Ed Farrell tells the story of a time in the 1960s when he was in ministry with a religious sister and close friend, and she asked him a very personal question: "Do you love me?" He looked at her, paused and said, "Yes, I love you." Later, he wrote, she persisted, asking him a second time, then a third time, "Do you love me?" As the question went deeper, Farrell said he knew that he did not love her.
How many relationships reach the point where love takes hold and a mutual bond is formed so deep that two lives are joined in an irreversible and intimate journey forward? In the light of this truth, has there ever been a love story so anguished as the one between Jesus and Peter? From their first encounter, Simon the fisherman felt a look of love and recognition from Jesus that pierced his very being. He was called and chosen to accompany Jesus on a journey that blew down the horizons of his former life and offered him the chance to realize his deepest dream and destiny in a way he only understood by growing into it over a period of years, a life he could not have imagined at the outset.
Yet in a single terrifying night, the whole thing fell apart. Faced with life-threatening danger, Peter seized his chance to pull back from the brink and save himself, slipping into the anonymity of the crowd, from the center of the story to its periphery, losing everything. Jesus had called him his "rock," but, in a terrible moment of truth, Peter again retreated to to his former self as Simon, a "reed" blowing in the wind. His cowardice had cost him everything, and when the rock was shattered, out flowed a river of bitter tears of regret and self-lacerating rejection.
But, like every love story that begins and ends with God, this relationship would be healed around a campfire on a beach, during a breakfast of bread and fish, where Peter was given a second chance to answer three times the question, "Do you love me." This time, the rock broken by failure would become the foundation of the church by the terrible, wonderful mercy he received and would preach for the rest of his life. Yes, he knew that he did love Jesus, and their friendship and journey would continue to the day he himself was crucified in perfect communion with his friend, master and Lord.