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. Peter was the Rock, the leader of the Apostles and the first pope. He had just been at the Last Supper, and was ordained a priest in the process of that event.
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. And all on the night of his ordination.
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. He knows that she will have pity on him. Three times she reaches out to him, and three times he pulls back. In sorrow herself, she consoles him and prays for him. The video below captures some of this drama.
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. We have the examples of countless holy lives over the past two thousand years to give us an example of how we should live. We have received the sacraments. Depending on our age, we may well have received the Lord in the Eucharist thousands of times. And still we deny Him by our unfaithfulness. Perhaps we even deny Him by joining in with criticism of His Church, by undermining the teaching of the Gospels, 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. Judas, too, could have been repented. Jesus would have forgiven him. We would today know him as St Judas, perhaps the greatest convert in history. He could have been an extraordinary witness to the mercy of Christ. But alas…
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 told that he followed Jesus “from afar”. Was it his lack of closeness with Jesus that undermined his resolve and fortitude? We are told that his first denial came after a maid asked him if he knew Jesus. Was he more fearful of the judgement of the maid (the judgement of the world?) than the judgement of God? Did he fall because of what is termed “human respect” – a fear of the opinion of others? 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.
And Peter was not alone. Apart from the newly ordained Judas betraying Jesus for silver coins and then committing suicide and probably losing his soul, the other Apostles ran away and abandoned Him, with only John eventually returning to the foot of the Cross, with those women who had enough love and devotion to remain faithful.
But not everyone was asleep that night. The enemies of Jesus were wide awake and coming in the night to take Him by force, all while his friends slept and abandoned Him. How little has changed in the last 2,000 years…