You all will not find crocodiles, or bows and arrows, or any of those things that we are accustomed to associating with Papua New Guinea in this chronicle. If you were hoping for a wild story full of adventures, I am sorry to spoil such hopes. I will tell you, however, about an incident that happened to me a few months ago in one of the five villages that our parish encompasses, called Yako.
The story is about a woman named Margaret, but she goes by “Maggie”. She is elderly, but to be honest, in Papua New Guinea it is very difficult to determine the age of person based on their features: sometimes they look much older than they actually are. She knew the first missionaries who came to this zone, and at a young age she made a decision: to consecrate herself to God by serving Him within the village chapel. It was such that, in order to fulfill this promise she decided not to get married, considering that children and a husband would be an impediment to her consecration which she considered very important. Thus, from a young age she served in the chapel where we go twice a week to celebrate Mass, taking care of the sacristy and participating in any activity that took place. In fact, the sacristy in Yako is the most organized of the five communities we serve and the one which is always impeccably clean.
In our communities we are accustomed to making an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament every day, and at the end of adoration we begin the Holy Mass. So what happened? One day she did not come to adoration. I was surprised because she had never been absent. Even more, she was always the first person to arrive. I did not see her during the whole adoration and when the adoration ended, I had to begin the Mass. And unfortunately, Margaret still did not arrive; which surprised me even more. I thought about waiting for her, but then I decided to go ahead and begin without her, considering I did not know when she would arrive. There’s more, I was not sure if she was coming or not. Finally, during the readings she arrived in a hurry and sat in the front pew.
During communion, when the last person had passed through, I noticed that she, herself, had not come up to receive, and looking at her out of the corner of my eye, what did I see? She was crying like a little girl. She attempted to cover her face so that no one would see, but doing so could not hide her tears. But why was she crying? Because, she could not receive Jesus. In other words, she cried for love of Our Lord. I confess that it pained me greatly to see her cry, but at the same time it brought me great joy because I thought; “this woman truly loves Jesus”. And it was at this moment when the words of Our Lord to Peter came to my mind like a bolt of lightning, and I felt like he was asking me: “Do you love me more than these?”. Now, faced with this phrase, I was the confused one. I also wanted to cry and be the one to cover my face in shame because of my own tragic answer. I would have to say to Our Lord, “More than her…unfortunately not”.
Back at the house, I continued to think about what had happened. This episode, in fact, gave me something to meditate about for days during the holy hour; above all, because Christ has asked us priests to exceed all others in our love for Him. He does not ask us to love like the rest, but to love more than the rest. Our Lord did not ask Peter if he loved Him equally with the others, but if he loved Him more than the others. Ever since that day it has frequently happened to me that, during Mass, seeing the chapels replete with people, I remember this question: “Do you love me more than these?”. And it is enough to make a quick “panorama” in order to see the number of holy souls that are present, and renew the shame once more, because the answer continues to be the same: “More than these…I believe not”. Once more, the Gospels brought peace to my soul: Peter, as we know from the original Greek text, did not tell the Lord “I love you”, but instead told him, “I love you a lot”. We know, in fact, that the first two times that Jesus asked him “Do you love me?”, and seeing that Peter responded saying “I love you a lot” and not just “I love you” (as Jesus would have wanted to hear), on the third time, Our Lord did not ask him if he loved him, but asked instead, “Do you love me a lot?”. Peter did not have the courage to tell him, “I love you more than these” because a few days earlier he had denied him three times, and he knew that telling him “I love you more than these” would have been a presumption on his part. But the story does not end with Peter’s sad answer, but continues. Jesus knows that Peter does not love him like he would like him to, however, he also knows that this “I love you a lot” in place of “I love you more than these” is sufficient. Therefore, having in mind this lack of love, the Lord confides to him the most precious thing that he has: souls. Commenting on this fact, Benedict XVI said: “This is to say that Jesus has put himself on the level of Peter, rather than Peter on Jesus’ level! It is exactly this divine conformity that gives hope to the Disciple, who experienced the pain of infidelity…From that day, Peter ‘followed’ the Master with the precise awareness of his own fragility; but this understanding did not discourage him…Peter succeeded in entrusting himself to that Jesus who adapted himself to his poor capacity of love. And in this way he shows us the way, notwithstanding all of our weakness. We know that Jesus adapts himself to this weakness of ours.” The first step is this: to take into account how far we are from loving the Lord as He deserves. Then, to humble ourselves like Peter and resolve from now on to do things in the best way possible, in order that from our miseries and egoisms, we will also be able to reach the point of loving Him as the saints have loved Him and as Maggie loves Him.