A question often asked of Catholics is this: How can you believe what you do about Peter when he denied the Lord?
That is kind of the whole point:
cb(1,18); 1:18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying, but to us who are saved it is the power of God. cb(1,19); 1:19 For it is written,
- “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
- I will bring the discernment of the discerning to nothing.”*
1:20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the lawyer of this world? Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of this world? cb(1,21); 1:21 For seeing that in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom didn’t know God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save those who believe. cb(1,22); 1:22 For Jews ask for signs, Greeks seek after wisdom, cb(1,23); 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Greeks, cb(1,24); 1:24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. cb(1,25); 1:25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. cb(1,26); 1:26 For you see your calling, brothers, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, and not many noble; cb(1,27); 1:27 but God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; cb(1,28); 1:28 and God chose the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, and the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are: cb(1,29); 1:29 that no flesh should boast before God. cb(1,30); 1:30 But of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: cb(1,31); 1:31 that, according as it is written, “He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.”*
Since the Church is born and built up through conversion and repentance, of what possible use could a perfect Peter be to his fellow failures (i.e. the rest of us)? Even Jesus was tested for our sake: cb(4,14); 4:14 Having then a great high priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold tightly to our confession. cb(4,15); 4:15 For we don’t have a high priest who can’t be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4)
It is fitting therefore that the one who asked “how many times should I forgive” should himself feel the need for forgiveness, repentance, and conversion.
And let us not forget that when Our Lord predicted the failure of Peter and the other Apostle on the night he was betrayed, he, in the same breath, promised to go before them to Galilee after he had risen; and, once there he sent them on their mission, in spite of the fact that some doubted his resurrection!!! (See Mt 26:31-35 and 28:16-20). Such is the folly of the wisdom of the cross when viewed by human standards and the debaters of this age. Our Blessed Lord would make a poor corporate executive, and Donald Trump would make a lousy Saviour.
And so, our faith too is always an initial one and we have still to carry out a great journey. But it is essential that it is an open faith and that we allow ourselves to be led by Jesus, because he does not only know the Way, but he is the Way.
Peter’s rash generosity does not protect him, however, from the risks connected with human weakness. Moreover, it is what we too can recognize in our own lives. Peter followed Jesus with enthusiasm, he overcame the trial of faith, abandoning himself to Christ. The moment comes, however, when he gives in to fear and falls: he betrays the Master (cf. Mk 14: 66-72).
The school of faith is not a triumphal march but a journey marked daily by suffering and love, trials and faithfulness. Peter, who promised absolute fidelity, knew the bitterness and humiliation of denial: the arrogant man learns the costly lesson of humility. Peter, too, must learn that he is weak and in need of forgiveness.
Once his attitude changes and he understands the truth of his weak heart of a believing sinner, he weeps in a fit of liberating repentance. After this weeping he is finally ready for his mission.
On a spring morning, this mission will be entrusted to him by the Risen Christ. The encounter takes place on the shore of the Lake of Tiberias. John the Evangelist recounts the conversation between Jesus and Peter in that circumstance. There is a very significant play on words.
In Greek, the word “fileo” means the love of friendship, tender but not all-encompassing; instead, the word “agapao” means love without reserve, total and unconditional. Jesus asks Peter the first time: “Simon… do you love me (agapas-me)” with this total and unconditional love (Jn 21: 15)?
Prior to the experience of betrayal, the Apostle certainly would have said: “I love you (agapo-se) unconditionally”. Now that he has known the bitter sadness of infidelity, the drama of his own weakness, he says with humility: “Lord; you know that I love you (filo-se)“, that is, “I love you with my poor human love”. Christ insists: “Simon, do you love me with this total love that I want?”. And Peter repeats the response of his humble human love: “Kyrie, filo-se”, “Lord, I love you as I am able to love you”. The third time Jesus only says to Simon: “Fileis-me?”, “Do you love me?”.
Simon understands that his poor love is enough for Jesus, it is the only one of which he is capable, nonetheless he is grieved that the Lord spoke to him in this way. He thus replies: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (filo-se)“.
This is to say that Jesus has put himself on the level of Peter, rather than Peter on Jesus’ level! It is exactly this divine conformity that gives hope to the Disciple, who experienced the pain of infidelity.
From here is born the trust that makes him able to follow [Christ] to the end: “This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God. And after this he said to him, “Follow me'” (Jn 21: 19).
From that day, Peter “followed” the Master with the precise awareness of his own fragility; but this understanding did not discourage him. Indeed, he knew that he could count on the presence of the Risen One beside him.
From the naïve enthusiasm of initial acceptance, passing though the sorrowful experience of denial and the weeping of conversion, Peter succeeded in entrusting himself to that Jesus who adapted himself to his poor capacity of love. And in this way he shows us the way, notwithstanding all of our weakness. We know that Jesus adapts himself to this weakness of ours.
We follow him with our poor capacity to love and we know that Jesus is good and he accepts us.
It was a long journey for Peter that made him a trustworthy witness, “rock” of the Church, because he was constantly open to the action of the Spirit of Jesus.
Peter qualifies himself as a “witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed” (I Pt 5: 1). When he was to write these words he would already be elderly, heading towards the end of his life that will be sealed with martyrdom. He will then be ready to describe true joy and to indicate where it can be drawn from: the source is believing in and loving Christ with our weak but sincere faith, notwithstanding our fragility.
He would therefore write to the Christians of his community, and says also to us: “Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls” (I Pt 1: 8-9)-Pope Benedict XVI, PETER, THE APOSTLE