This article was originally published in Fr. Gordon Mac Rae’s blog: These Stone Walls I suggest reading also the very interesting comments posted there by Fr. MacRae and other readers.
The title above is taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXVI written by the Bard to muse about the steadfastness of true love.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove.
Oh no! It is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Earlier in the day I learned about a new book by Antonio Socci that attacks the legality of the papal conclave that elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio on March 13, 2013, after the historic abdication of our beloved Benedict XVI on February 11 of the same year.
Most curiously Shakespeare’s sonnet compares true love to a vessel that has to endure the storms of life. In the days of the Bard boats were built for different purposes. Most of them, if not all, were made of wood. The good ones were carefully crafted to stay afloat even if they sustained heavy damage. One could go romantically punting down the River Cam on a nice breezeless sunny day, but to go fishing on the Northern Sea definitely demanded a well-built ship. The same is true of steadfast love that simply sticks to the beloved through thick and thin. That kind of love is steady and sturdy like a rock.
This reminds me of the time when the resurrected Lord appeared to the disciples by the shore of Gennesaret, as related by the Beloved Disciple in John 21: 4-19.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.
That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.
Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
The scene can be used as a representation of the history and mission of the Church and the ministry of Peter, and how God’s love for mankind ties both together. The seven disciples have been working all night but caught nothing. Then at daybreak someone appears on the shore: it is Jesus, penetrating the darkness of the world.
He tells them to try one more time and that is, to persevere in their mission. Perhaps Jesus had done that before in one of their many trips across the lake and that led John to recognize the Lord. He had been the first to reach the empty tomb just a few days earlier and was the only disciple to remain with Mary and Jesus at Calvary. This time John was again the first to recognize the Lord with the certainty of one who heard the Sacred Heart beating when his head was resting on the Lord’s chest. Here heart spoke to heart and John was moved to shout, “It is the Lord!”
Peter girds himself “for he was naked” before jumping into the water and swimming the short distance to shore. His reaction is the exact opposite of Adam’s: “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” Peter did not hide in spite of having denied the Lord three times and (unlike John) being absent at Calvary. Peter’s love was stronger than his shame. The charcoal fire waiting for him on the shore surely reminded Peter of a similar fire he had approached looking for warmth just a few weeks before. It was before that fire that he denied the Lord three times.
The Lord had breakfast ready for them, fish and bread, your flesh and My Flesh. He invites the disciples to bring more fish. They all know that man is the Lord, they don’t need to ask. If any confirmation is needed that is provided when Jesus parts the bread in his own peculiar manner, the same manner that allowed them to recognize Him at the inn of Emmaus three weeks before. They eat in silence.
When Jesus has finished feeding them He asks Peter the first question, then the second, then the third as a painful reminder to Peter who must affirm his love for Jesus three times, just as he had denied his Master three times in the darkness of the night before the Cross. But now he declares his love three times in the morning light, and he is confirmed on his mission: be a shepherd to Christ’s sheep.
Then the ominous prophecy comes: Peter will have to give his life for Jesus just as Jesus has given His life for Peter. He will have to follow the Lord to another Calvary where he will glorify Him with steadfastness so foreign to Peter’s character that only the Lord Himself could have planted it there. Peter the reluctant will be transformed to Peter the steadfast. Peter’s barc will go through tempests but it will not be shaken; the Lord will make of him a permanent sign.
St. Malachi predicted that the last Pope before the dreadful judgment “will pasture his sheep in many tribulations.” This Peter is Romanus, Roman as opposed to the first Peter, Simon the son of Jonah, the Jew. Is Pope Francis this second Peter? That I cannot answer with any certainty. Yet I know that this Pope’s mission is already to shepherd the Church through new and terrible tribulations.
We must remember that the first Peter professed the doctrine of Christ not taught by flesh and blood but by God the Father (Matthew 16:13-20), and yet by his actions Peter many times failed to reflect the perfect light of Christ. The Lord may have selected imperfect, cowardly, thickheaded Peter to show us our own imperfections and assure us that He was determined to save us in spite of them.
The fact that He can work to save the world with such blunt tools as Peter and ourselves is also a measure of His awesome power and glory. For anyone can win the Super Bowl with a great team but the glory will go to the Coach if he wins with a team of crippled, slow, untalented players. So it must be: all the glory goes to Him. All we have to do is what His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
Antonio Socci believes Francis was elected unduly and therefore he is not a lawful Pope. In my opinion the Lord anticipated those claims and gave us some assurance so we don’t end up being confused.
It was by no external or human design that our beloved Benedict XVI abdicated on the 11th of February, on the anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes through whom many miraculous cures have been effected. The Lord is thus telling us He is working to heal the Church.
Then Francis was elected on March 13, the first day of Lent. That seems to indicate that the Church will experience a purifying penance during the reign of Francis.
Finally, Pope Francis ascended to the throne of Peter on the Feast of St. Joseph, guardian of the Church. That gives us the assurance that the Lord will restore the Church to purity and holiness. The Lord will see that Pope Francis fulfills his mission without failing. There is simply no other way.
Going back to Shakespeare’s sonnet, let us remember that we have a promise from the Lord that His Church will not teach error or confuse the obedient. If one thinks about it the promise of our Lord to sustain the faith of Peter protects the Church and the Magisterium from teaching error. Additionally the Lord has given us His word that the Church will not disappear and her enemies will not prevail against her. We must count on persevering until the end. Shakespeare also wrote in the same sonnet:
Love… bears it out even to the edge of doom.
We may see defections under pressure, we may have to face suffering and persecutions that will test our endurance. Yet when we meet the Lord at the other side of this dreadful time we must be holding on to our faith in Him. “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). In our hearts there must be no other answer than “yes” to that question.