Saint Peter Weeping in the Presence of the Sorrowful Mother by Guercino, 1647.
My denial of Jesus has been baser than that of Peter, for I have refused to listen to His voice calling me back for fifteen years. But Jesus has won my heart in this retreat by His patient look of love. God grant my repentance may in some degree be like St Peter’s. I could indeed weep bitterly for the wasted sinful past in the Society. The time I have squandered, the little good done, and the amount of harm done by my bad example in every house in which I have been. What might I not have done for Jesus! Dear Jesus, You forgave St Peter, forgive me also, for I will serve you now.
COMMENT: The denial of our Lord by St Peter contains many powerful lessons for us. St Peter was an intimate friend of Jesus. He witnessed the miracles. He saw the dead rise to life, the blind see, the deaf hear and the dumb speak. He saw devils cast out and the paralysed get up and walk. He saw Jesus calm a storm and walk on water. He was there are the Transfiguration. Jesus taught him how to pray. He had left everything and followed the Master. He urged Jesus not to go to Jerusalem and risk death. He didn’t feel worthy to have Jesus wash his feet, and promised him that he would die for him. When the guards came to arrest Jesus, he pulled out his sword to defend him.
And then he failed. The man who would die for Jesus denied him when a maid and some other random bystanders said that he was a friend of Jesus.
Then Jesus looked at him. How low he must have felt. The movie The Passion of the Christ has a wonderful scene where, after his denial, Peter goes to Mary. Three times she reaches out to him, and three times he pulls back. The picture above shows something similar – Peter is in tears in front of Mary. In sorrow herself, she consoles him and prays for him.
We may not have physically lived in Jesus’ presence the same way Peter did, but we have received His grace and we have seen the effects of that grace in our own lives and in the lives of others. We have received many gifts from Him. And still we deny Him by our unfaithfulness. Perhaps we even deny Him by joining in with criticism of His Church or by staying silent when we could defend it.
Like Fr Doyle, we may feel that we have gone on for years denying Jesus. Well, let us then learn some lessons from St Peter who was so contrite after his fall that he thought it nothing to suffer imprisonment and death for the One he had denied. St Peter repented. He did not despair like Judas did.
There are other important lessons we can take from this episode. We are told that Peter was warming himself at a fire when he denied Jesus. Was it the lack of a spirit of mortification that weakened his will and lead to his fall? We are also told that instead of watching and praying with Jesus in the Garden, Peter slept. Not only once, but three times. Perhaps he failed because he did not watch and pray that he would not be put to the test.
But not everyone was asleep that night. The enemies of Jesus were wide awake and coming in the night to take Him by force. How little has changed in the last 2,000 years…
Let us pray for Pope Francis, the successor of Peter, that he will encourage us all in faithfulness to Christ and His message.
As a final thought today, here is Fr Doyle’s description of the Cross of Loos which he saw during his time as a military chaplain on this day in 1916. This cross was untouched despite the ravages of war all around it, and in this Fr Doyle saw a sign of God’s providence. God never sleeps on the job, even if we do.
I had an opportunity, a rare one, thanks to the fog, of examining closely in daylight one of the wonders of the war, the famous Crucifix or Calvary of Loos. This is a very large cross standing on a mound in a most exposed position, the centre of fierce fighting. One of the four trees standing by it has been torn up by a shell, the branches of the others smashed to bits, a tombstone at its feet lies broken in half and the houses on either side are a heap of ruins. But neither cross nor figure has been touched. I looked closely and could not see even one bullet hole. Surely if the Almighty can protect the image of His Son, it will be no great difficulty to guard His priest also, as indeed He has done in a wonderful way.