Saint Pius X, Pope – Readings

Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:2-8; Psalm 88; John 21:15-17

The Gospel reading is from the very end of John’s gospel. The whole chapter is divided into three parts. In the first, seven of Jesus’ disciples are out fishing and have caught nothing. Then in the early dawn, as light breaks, a stranger on the shore tells them where to drop their nets. When they do so, they make a huge catch of fish and at that point the Beloved Disciple, the one with the deeper spiritual insight, realises that:

It is the Lord!.

They then bring the catch ashore.

In the second part, after coming ashore the disciples find that a fire has been lit and a meal is ready for them, a meal of bread and fish, a Eucharistic meal. The disciples are somewhat confused. Jesus, on the one hand, does not look familiar and yet they know it is he.

At the end of the meal, Jesus begins to speak with Peter, although he addresses him by his own name, Simon:

Simon, son of John, do you love me more than the others?

It sounds like a simple question, but in fact it makes Peter very uncomfortable. He has not forgotten the shameful moment during the trial of Jesus when he swore three times that he had never laid eyes on Jesus. And this on top of an earlier boast that, even if all the others betrayed Jesus, Peter never would. He was in effect saying that he did love Jesus more than his other companions.

In this scene it is now a more humble and remorseful Peter. After betraying his Master he had wept bitterly, deeply regretting his cowardice. Earlier on, when they were in the boat and the Beloved Disciple had cried, “It is the Lord!”, Peter immediately dressed himself. Only the innocent can go naked (like our First Parents in the garden before their sin) and Peter was deeply aware of his failings. At the same time, his diving into the water to get to Jesus first was a sign that, sinner though he may have been, he deeply loved his Lord.

Now, in answer to Jesus’ painful question, he simply replies:

Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

And, of course, Jesus did know. The reconciliation then takes place and Peter is told:

Feed my sheep.

He is fully restored to his role as Peter, as the Rock on which the community will be built and to which he will be responsible.

But Jesus is not yet finished. Twice more he asks Peter if he loves his Master and twice more his leadership of the community is re-affirmed. Peter is all too conscious why he is being asked three times and it hurts:

Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.

And, of course, it was true.

It is not surprising that this passage should be the Gospel reading for today’s feast. Pius X had been chosen as a successor to Peter. He, too, was someone who was deeply committed to the love and service of his Lord and conscious of his responsibility as Shepherd of God’s people.

The First Reading is from the Paul’s First Letter to the Christians of Thessalonica (modern day Thessaloniki) in Macedonia where Paul had preached. In the reading he speaks of the principles which guided him in preaching and teaching the Gospel.

It was marked by sincerity and conviction. At the same time, his aim was not just to please or flatter people, but to give them God’s message straight as it was, even if sometimes it might have been painful or challenging. His purpose was not to seek people’s approval but to give the Christian message as it was.

At the same time, Paul wants to treat his hearers with gentleness and even affection, like a nursing mother caring for her child. He did not just want to preach an impersonal Gospel message, but to give himself in loving care to the people.

Again, we can see a picture here of Pius X. On the one hand, he was known for his concern that the Christian message be preached without distortion. At the same time, he was a deeply spiritual person, he was an initiator of the renewal of the liturgy and opening the Eucharist to the young. He hungered for a life of simplicity and was not altogether happy living in the splendour of the Vatican.

There is much we can learn from him.

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