Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter, “You are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not."...Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said to him, "Are not you one of his disciples? He denied it and said, "I am not." One of the servants of the high priest, a kinsman of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him? Peter again denied it; and at once the cock crowed. (John 18:17, 25-27)
The denial of Peter is one of the most well known moments in the passion narratives, and is recorded in all four Gospels. There we see all of Peter's bravado and solemn declarations of loyalty spoken on Holy Thursday dissolve into a heap of panic and cowardice when he is faced with the reality of Jesus' arrest. Peter's repeated denial of Jesus seems to be an epic failure and an irrevocable breach of friendship. But that is simply not true. No sin or denial, no matter how grave, is ever out of the reach of the mercy of the Lord.
Pope Francis, in a February 2014 homily spoke about the necessity of understanding Peter "...within the context of a long journey, after having traveled a long path. A path of grace and sin." It is "the disciple's path", the Pope said. In fact, he added, "following Jesus enables us to know Jesus. To follow Jesus through our virtues" and "also through our sins. Always following Jesus!" (L'Osservatore Romano)
Perhaps we identify with Peter this Holy Week: afraid and ashamed of our own failings. Then, like Peter, we must persist in following Jesus in spite of our weaknesses, sins, and missteps along the way. We must trust completely in Jesus' mercy and seek his forgiveness when we fall.
Lord, in the depths of my heart I desire to follow you, but my fear of being persecuted by being associated with you is crippling my faith. Forgive me Lord, for the times when my fear has paralyzed my love for you and I have denied you before others. Strengthen me, through the power of your Holy Spirit, that I may become the bold disciple that you wish me to be.
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