The Church presents us with the loves of saints with a double objective: to be intercessors in our journey towards Heaven and to be models of imitation of Christ. When we see their life testimonies, we are often encouraged: they were like us, weak like us, they fell like us, but persevered and allowed the grace of God to work more and more in them. The life of the saints has the power to take us away from a spirituality that is too disincarnated and gives us the humility to understand that a saint is not the one who never sinned, but who ultimately let God win.
Peter is one of the saints who teaches us a lot, because he is marked by his inconsistency and fragility. We all know who he is: one of the first of Jesus’ disciples, one of the closest and most intimate to the Lord (we can remember that he is the most mentioned disciple in the Gospels, more than 100 times, and present in the most diverse situations, which shows how he was by Jesus’ side at various times – at the healing of his mother-in-law, at the paying of tax in the temple, at the transfiguration, in the garden, etc.). We also know that God’s plans for Peter were not small: he is called to be a “fisherman of men”, to be the first among the apostles, to keep the keys of the Church. Yes, God really wanted Peter. But that does not mean that Peter had a lot to give. It was the grace of God, and the path of discipleship that Jesus walked with this apostle, which moulded in holiness in him. And how interesting and beautiful it is to see this path in Peter’s life, in which his gifts are being strengthened and his weaknesses are being exposed and integrated into his life.
The weaknesses of this apostle reveal a paradox (much like ourselves …). In him courage and fear, strengths and weaknesses, “yes” and “no”, light and darkness are combined.
For example, we have the episode when Jesus walks on water. The disciples are in the midst of a great storm and Jesus comes to meet them on the water. Peter cries out to Jesus: “Master, if it is you, send me over the water to you”, and Jesus calls him. Peter begins to walk boldly, but then he begins to be afraid of the strong wind that blew around him and begins to sink, until Jesus saves him and warns him about his doubt.
Another example is that of Peter’s profession of faith, in which he sometimes claims that Jesus is the Son of the living God, other times he means what Jesus must do (and he puts himself in his master’s place, receiving a serious warning from him). But a time when Peter’s inconsistencies and contradictions are shown with moving clarity is during the Lord’s passion. Peter assumes a prominent role in all narratives of the Lord’s passion, being mentioned several times (the second most mentioned apostle by name in the passion narratives is Judas). Take three of these moments:
1st moment: Prediction of your negation (Lk 22:31-34)
According to Luke, when they were in the middle of the Last Supper, Peter turned to Jesus and made a statement that showed all his love and his willingness to go to the end with Jesus. He said: “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and death”, to which Jesus replied: “I tell you Peter, the cock will not crow today before you have denied three times that you know me”.
Here you can see Peter’s great inconsistency. He was certainly sincere in saying that he wanted to go with the Lord to the end, but we all know where that courage ended up. Peter had a lot of love for the Lord, but he did not know his limits, his weaknesses, his disabilities. Nor did he know his interior divisions. Jesus, with great charity, helped him to discover himself and to accept himself.
We too need to take on our inconsistencies. We need to ask God for the grace to shed light on what is still unknown to us, we need to remain firm on our path of self-knowledge.
2nd moment: On the Mount of Olives (Lk 22:39-54)
On the Mount of Olives, Jesus, while going to pray, asks his disciples to vigil with him. They fall asleep and Jesus warns them (in some gospels, to Peter in particular). Then the guards accompanied by Judas arrive to arrest Jesus. Peter then takes the sword and injures one of the soldiers in his ear.
Here, you can see that Peter was willing to fight for Jesus, as he said earlier. But you can also see how much he still doesn’t understand Jesus’ logic and who his Master was. The latter, who had spent several moments with him, who had said several words about the peace and the cross that he should carry. Peter still wanted to do things his own way. He also wanted to step ahead of his Master and show him how he should act.
This shows, once again, how much Peter’s heart was still divided. Who was his master: Jesus, or himself? We can’t yet distinguish that. Peter will still need to continue his journey so that Jesus becomes, in fact, his Lord.
3rd moment: In the Sanhedrin courtyard – the denials (Lk 22:54-62)
In this passage, we see Peter denying Jesus three times and, receiving upon him the look of Jesus, he goes out to “weep bitterly”.
We reach the turning point of Peter’s experience with his fragility and incoherence. Peter accompanies Jesus, perhaps because he still hoped that He would “turn the tables”, but little by little, he realizes that this does not happen, nor will it happen. He then denies Jesus. But when the rooster crows, Jesus turns his gaze to Peter and he looks to Him. How beautiful and merciful must have this gaze of Jesus have been. Luke’s text says that after that, Peter remembers what Jesus had said and goes out to cry, regretfully.
Here, we can draw a parallel between Peter and Judas, suggested by the text itself, by the way the text refers to both men. What would be the difference between Judas and Peter? Both, in a way, betrayed the Lord. Both did not understand His words and preferred to listen to themselves, to their own plans for Israel’s salvation. Both saw the Lord perform miracles and also performed healings and wonders themselves in the name of Jesus.
The great difference between the two can be seen, in fact, at the moment of passion. Both betray Jesus and repent (we see Judas’ repentance in the text of Matthew). But Judas did not accept the Lord’s forgiveness. He did not understand what Jesus had said, throughout His life, about forgiveness, about mercy for sinners and the weakest. Judas did not understand that the
Lord was love and forgiveness, he identified himself with his own sin and his mistakes. He let himself be used by Satan.
Peter, on the other hand, was also slaughtered by the Devil (ref. Lk 22:31), but he knew how to recognize his sin and truly repented. Peter did not pretend that there was no sin, that he had not denied Jesus. But he knew how to recognize the Lord’s love for him. He remember what the Lord had said, not only that night, about his denial, but throughout the time that He had been by his side. Thus, he humbly knew how to accept forgiveness. Not a forgiveness that pretends that no mistake was made, but one that recognizes that the Lord is much greater and kind hearted.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two was this: humility.
It was Peter’s humble love and Jesus’ merciful love that made him overcome his inconsistencies. It was these two loves that unified his heart and gave him a great grace of chastity. With a single, undivided heart, he could say yes to the Will of God and to the pastoring of the Lord’s sheep. He is able to say yes to his mission and be confirmed by Jesus in it. He fell and faltered again, but he had found the way to the heart of Jesus and knew how to return, a thousand times if needs be. He discovered in his life that the Lord forgives up to seventy times seven, and with it he is also called to forgive, and to love.
And just like that also is our life. “To Fall, to get up. To lose, to start over”, says a song from a beautiful show by the Shalom Community. The most important thing is not to want to appear before the Lord with clean hands, but to live accepting His mercy so that, on the day of this encounter, we not look so much at ourselves, but above all at Him.
Fr. Edinardo de Oliveira Jr, CCSh
Translation: Gabriela Gois