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Formators’ Course in Spanish/Portuguese

Peter and John
in the life and service of Religious Missionaries of the Divine Word

Closing Mass, Formators’ Course,
Nemi (Italia), 25 June 200

Readings: Is 43:19-21; Jn 21:15-22

In tonight’s gospel reading we encounter two disciples of Jesus – Peter and John. In one of his many writings, St. Augustine makes a comparison between these two disciples: John, the disciple who was most loved by the Lord and Peter, the disciple called to love the Lord the most. In his comparison, St. Augustine asks the question which of the two was more blessed? The one who was most loved by the Lord or the one who loved the Lord the most? St. Augustine’s answer is rather surprising. For one would think that the one most loved by the Lord was the more blessed. But no. St. Augustine says Peter was the more blessed. Therefore he was chosen to be the prince of the apostles and the head of the church. To him were given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. To him was given the power to bind and loose.

Perhaps we can understand St. Augustine’s answer better if we relate tonight’s gospel with the gospel of last Sunday. The gospel was about the woman who came to the house of Simon, the pharisee, who had invited Jesus for a meal. Simon was scandalized that the woman, a public sinner, should come and wash the feet of Jesus with her tears, wipe them with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with ointment. In his response to Simon, the pharisee, Jesus makes two statements. First, he says, in the context of the parable he gave, that the person who is forgiven the most will love the most. Then, he says of the woman, her many sins are forgiven because she has loved much.

I believe the same can be said of Peter. Of the 12, with the exception of Judas, perhaps it was Peter who sinned the most. He denied the master. John and James, the sons of Zebedee, craved for the first places in the kingdom. Philip was reprimanded that Jesus had been with them for so long and still he failed to understand that he who sees Jesus sees the Father. Thomas doubted that the Lord had risen from the dead. The rest of the disciples were hard of understanding. And they fled and abandoned Jesus during his passion and death. And Peter? He denied the master three times. Three times, he categorically declared: “I do not know him”.

Peter’s was the greatest sin. Therefore, the forgiveness he experienced from Jesus was also the greatest. Therefore, now he is asked to have the greatest love for the Lord. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Having experienced the Lord’s tremendous mercy and forgiveness, Peter could only respond: “Yes, Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you”.

But perhaps we should not distinguish too much between John and Peter. It is not as if John was only loved by the Lord and Peter only loved the Lord. Both were loved by the Lord and both loved the Lord. Indeed, in a certain sense, we can say that John and Peter represent two aspects of our following of the Lord. In a certain sense, we can say that there is a John and a Peter in each one of us. Like John, we are all loved by the Lord. Like Peter, we are all called to love the Lord. The former is the basis of our call to the religious life. The latter is the foundation of our call to mission. Because we are loved by the Lord, we can follow him along the path of the evangelical counsels. Because we have been forgiven, we can love the Lord and follow him in his mission of witnessing to God’s kingdom. Because we are loved by the Lord, we can be “with him” and be like him in poverty, chastity and obedience. Because we have been forgiven and are called to love the Lord, we can be “sent out in his name” to proclaim to others the love of the Father.

Another way of putting this is to say that John and Peter symbolize two aspects of Christian life, contemplation and action. John, who rested on the breast of Jesus, symbolizes contemplation. Peter, to whom the keys of the kingdom were given, symbolizes action. Therefore, of John, it was said: “it is my will that he should remain until I come” – waiting in contemplation for the Lord’s return. And to Peter it was said, “you are to follow me” – following the master in the mission of witnessing to the kingdom of God. Contemplation: resting on the Lord’s breast and drinking from the well of the experience of being loved by the Lord. Action: following the Lord and expressing one’s love for him in sharing in his mission of proclaiming the good news.

My dear confreres, I believe all this is fundamental to our work of formation. In the last analysis, formation is really nothing else but making our formandi realize that, like John, they are loved by the Lord more than the others, and that like Peter, they have been forgiven and therefore are called to love the Lord more than the others. If our formation programs do not allow our formandi to experience this, then something essential would be missing from their formation. Only then will our formandi be genuinely formed for the religious life and for our missionary calling. Only then will they learn to live out their vocation in profound contemplation and in transforming action. Now, more than ever, we SVDs are called to be “contemplativus in actione”, contemplatives in action.

At the close of this formators’ course, I wish to thank you all once more for your work as formators. Please convey this gratitude also to your colleagues in your countries and provinces. Having been a formator myself, I know the hardships and struggles, but also the joys and bliss of being a formator. Often it is said that being a formator is a thankless job. Tonight I would like to belie this and thank you deeply and from the heart. Indeed, the Society is greatly indebted to you all.

I would like also to thank Tony, Martin and Sr. Lidia for accompanying this course with their experience and expertise. Thanks also to all the resource persons who came to help with the course. And finally, special thanks are due to the community here in Nemi – George, Joe Francis and Claudio (for whom we continue to pray), as well as all our lay collaborators in the kitchen, the office, the laundry and the house maintenance.

Thank you to all, and may God bless us all!