How Much God Loves You
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
May 6, 2019

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year C) on April 14, 2013, at then-Blessed John XXIII Parish in Knoxville, TN. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; and John 21:1-19.

After the greeting:

The Precious Blood priest Robert Schreiter is an expert on the theology of reconciliation. In addition to studying the Judeo-Christian theologies of reconciliation, he has extensively studied the work of various truth and reconciliation panels that have been set up around the world, such as the ones set up in South Africa at the end of apartheid. He’s a great speaker, and a friend of mine is currently taking a class with him at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Schreiter suggests that the best way to understand the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are through the lens of reconciliation.  

Today’s gospel passage is one of those post-resurrection appearances. Last Sunday evening at the graduate students and young professionals group, Dr. Ruth Queen Smith was on fire as she led us through a study of today’s gospel passage. I will just give you one little nugget from that study: charcoal fires are mentioned twice in the gospel of John. We heard the first one on Good Friday. St. Peter was warming himself by a charcoal fire when we denied Jesus three times. The second mention is at the conclusion of our gospel passage today. As Dr. Ruth said, there are no coincidences in the gospel of John; we’re supposed to make a connection between the two scenes.

To help get us in the proper frame of mind for the fireside conversation between Peter and Jesus, I will read a short children’s story before our second scripture reading today.

After the psalm:

I’d like to share with you an abbreviated version of the beloved children’s story, Guess How Much I Love You? by Sam McBratney, with illustrations by Anita Jeram.

Little Nutbrown Hare, who was going to bed, held on tight to Big Nutbrown Hare’s very long ears. 

He wanted to be sure that Big Nutbrown Hare was listening. “Guess how much I love you,” he said.   

“Oh, I don’t think I could guess that.” said Big Nutbrown Hare. 

“This much,” said Little Nutbrown Hare, stretching out his arms as wide as they could go. 

Big Nutbrown Hare had even longer arms. “But I love YOU this much.” he said.

Hmm, that is a lot, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. 

And on the story goes:

“I love you as high as I can reach.” …

“I love you all the way up to my toes!” …

“I love you as high as I can hop!” …

Then he looked up beyond the thorn bushes, out into the big dark night. Nothing could be further than the sky. “I love you right up to the moon,” he said, and closed his eyes.

“Oh, that’s far,” said Big Nutbrown Hare. “That is very, very far.” 

Big Nutbrown Hare settled Little Nutbrown Hare into his bed of leaves. He leaned over and kissed him goodnight. 

Then he lay down close by and whispered with a smile, “I love you right up to the moon…and back.” 

After the gospel:

As I often say, I’m not a psychologist, and I try not to play one in the confessional. In fact, when I was in my first semester of theology graduate school, we had one course where the professor repeatedly said, “You all know this; it’s Psych 101.” Every time, I would raise my hand and say, “Jim, I don’t know this.  The only classes I took in college that began with the letter ‘P’ were in Physics.”

Nevertheless, I had a powerful prayer experience in that class, based on one of our textbooks, called Healing the Eight Stages of Life by Matthew Linn, Dennis Linn, and Sheila Fabricant. They suggest that if there is an event in your past that has caused you significant pain, go back to that scene in your mind’s eye in prayer. Then, invite Jesus to come into that scene and interact with the other characters in the event that caused you the hurt. One day that semester, I decided to try this prayer experience with an event from kindergarten that I remembered vividly, when some of my classmates treated me badly. In prayer, as I forlornly stood on the sidewalk, watching my classmates run away, Jesus came and walked with me.  He took me to a playground and we talked about my feelings, and I received a rush of insights about my classmates, my family, and myself. It was powerful.

And even though I’m not a psychologist in the confessional, I sometimes suggest that people engage in a similar prayer experience.  

John tells us that St. Peter had a unique opportunity to relive a terrible moment… reliving that moment of denial around the fire, but now with Jesus of Nazareth physically with him. We may never have such an experience in our lives, but we can engage in a prayerful simulation.  

So, I’d like to give you a moment to try this prayer experience. If you’re not prepared to try something like this right now, please think quietly about when you might want to try this prayer in the future, giving the rest of us a few moments of silence to try it now. Please, close your eyes.

Take a few moments to think about something bad you’ve done or something about you that makes you feel ashamed. Sit with that feeling of sinfulness for a moment.

Now imagine that you are sitting at a charcoal fire, alone with Jesus.

Look into Jesus’ eyes. He looks lovingly back into your eyes, with a gentle smile. And he gently says your name and asks, “Do you love me?”

How do you respond?

He calls your name a second time and asks, “Do you love me?”

What do you say?

Jesus continues to gaze at you with love, fully aware of your feelings. He asks a third time, “Do you love me?” 

Jesus loves you farther than your arms can reach. 

Jesus loves you beyond the depths of the sea. 

Jesus loves you to the moon and back. 

Drink in that love. 

And then Jesus rises from the fire and bids you to stand. He reaches out a hand and simply says, “Follow me.”