On May 17, Archbishop Gomez celebrated the Baccalaureate Mass for the Queen of Angels Center for Priestly Formation. The following is adapted from his homily. The day’s Gospel reading was John 21:15–19. 

Congratulations to all our graduates! And what a beautiful Gospel we’ve just heard, it’s perfect for men who are preparing for the priesthood.

We can think about this Gospel as a kind of “job interview.” The questions Jesus asks Peter today are the questions that he asks of every man who would be his priest: 

Do you love Jesus more than anything else? Are you ready to shepherd his people, to feed them with the Word of God and the Bread of Life? Are you ready to tend to their spiritual needs and guide them in the ways of holiness?

This scene today takes place on the shore at the Sea of Galilee. It is the third and final appearance of the risen Lord in the Gospel of John. And it is a scene filled with powerful emotion.

Here is Peter, the “rock” upon whose faith Jesus said he would build his Church. Peter who fell away, who was scattered with all the rest when the Shepherd was struck. Peter, who three times denied the Lord before the cock crowed, though he had vowed: “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.”

Now Peter stands before Jesus in humility and contrition. And the Lord looks upon him, not with anger or judgment. But with eyes of love.

Jesus asks Peter to make a new confession of faith: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Three times Jesus asks Peter, just as Peter had denied him three times.

Peter doesn’t try to justify himself or explain. He puts it all in Jesus’ hands, making that beautiful, humble confession: “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.”

I’m always touched at how tender Jesus is with Peter.

Because we are all like Peter. We love Jesus, but sometimes we don’t act like it. We are weak, we get afraid, we make mistakes. Sometimes we deny him by our words and actions, sometimes by our indifference.  

But like Peter we can always turn to Jesus with a contrite heart and confess: “Lord you know all things, you know that I love you.” 

And in the Lord’s mercy, we can find forgiveness and strength. In his mercy, we can begin again. To love him, to follow him, and to serve him.

Jesus said that if we love him, we will keep his commandments. So, he commands Peter three times: “Feed my lambs … Tend my sheep … Feed my sheep.” 

For our brothers who are preparing to be priests, these are “marching orders.”

Jesus entrusts the priest with caring for his flock, with caring for his Church. And the priest knows that those he serves belong to Jesus, they do not belong to him.

These are “my” sheep, Jesus tells Peter, these are “my” lambs. Each one of us is precious to him, each one of us is worth the price of his own blood.

Later Peter will write to his own priests: “Tend the flock of God … Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock.”

The priest is not the boss, he is the model, he is the image of the Good Shepherd. And the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

That’s what Jesus is telling Peter in the final part of today’s Gospel. And of course we know he is talking about how Peter will die, crucified as Jesus was.

The point for priests — the point for all of us — is that loving Jesus means putting our lives in his hands.

Loving Jesus means following him. Even though he might “lead you where you do not want to go,” as Jesus says to Peter.

Today in this holy Mass, Jesus is speaking your name and my name.

He’s asking each of you, personally, the same question that he asked Peter: Do you love me more than whatever the world has to offer? Will you follow me wherever I lead you?

Let us ask for the grace to respond as Peter did, with confidence and joy: “Lord, you know all things! You know that I love you!”

Let’s keep praying for our brothers who are graduating today, and let’s pray for the new priests who will be ordained on June 1!

And let us ask the holy Virgin Mary, Mother of Fair Love, to help us all to grow in love for her Son. May she help us to respond with a generous heart when he calls to us, as he called to Peter: “Follow me!”

All with Peter to Jesus through Mary!