The following comes from Word on Fire:
How do we look back on past sins not as sins committed, but as sins confessed and forgiven? Fr. Damian Ference explains today using Peter as an example, showing how although he knew he was a great sinner, he also knew that Jesus loved him completely, as he was – a sinner.
We all know that Peter was the first pope. What we often forget is that Peter was also a terrible sinner. I can think of at least five times in the Gospels where Peter messed up, but the time that he denied Jesus was the absolute worst.
Saint Matthew tells us that it was a maid that first approached Peter in the courtyard – a maid, by the way, should not be able to intimidate a man that the Lord called “The Rock.” The maid recognized Peter as a friend of Jesus, but Peter denied knowing him. Second, another girl – not a woman, but a girl – saw Peter and said, “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.” Again, Peter denied it. The third time St. Matthew tells us that it was a bystander who recognized Peter as a friend of Jesus by his speech. And once more, Peter denied knowing Jesus.
That’s about as bad as it gets. Just when your best friend needs you most, you deny even knowing him. And it’s not as if those questioning him were all that intimidating – a maid, a girl, and a random bystander – three people who wouldn’t seem to be much of a threat to a future pope. And Peter knew it. Saint Matthew tells us that upon the cock’s crow, “Peter went out and began to weep bitterly.” If I was him, I probably would have puked too.
Earlier that night Peter promised Jesus that his faith would never be shaken, but there it was, a crumbled mess. And there he was, the one that Jesus had handpicked to be the fearless leader of the apostles, off in the corner weeping like a baby. How pathetic.
Of course we know that there is more to the story. After Jesus suffers, dies, and rises from the dead he has another encounter with Peter. This time it’s on the beach where St. John tells us that Jesus invites the disciples to breakfast. It’s also the place where Jesus asks Peter if he loves him – three times. Three times Peter responds that he loves Jesus, and in doing so, Peter experiences Jesus’ love, forgiveness, healing and mercy. Jesus makes all things new, and in that moment, he makes Peter new too.
But a question remains. How in the world can Peter ever forget that terrible moment in the courtyard when he committed the worst of sins by denying that he even knew Jesus? Surely if we know about his terrible and cowardly act two thousand years later, people also knew well about it back then. And I’m sure that some even reminded him of it from time to time, saying, “Come on man, you’re the coward who denied even knowing Jesus, and now you’re telling me that I should believe in him? Please.” How in the world did Peter ever forget his terrible sin and move forward?
Here’s the truth: Peter never forgot the fact that he denied Jesus. That cowardly act was something that he could never take back. What’s done is done once it’s done. Peter couldn’t go back in time and make things right again. So what happened? How did Peter do it? How did the worst coward turn into one of the most courageous men in Christianity, eventually requesting to be crucified upside down because he thought himself unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord Jesus?
What happened to Peter was that although he knew he was a great sinner, he also knew that Jesus loved him completely, as he was – a sinner. To paraphrase St. John Vianney, Peter knew that his sins were but a grain of sand in the ocean of God’s great mercy. It was the merciful love of Jesus that recreated Peter and that made him new. Peter couldn’t do anything about his sins other than confess them, but Jesus could. And he did. Peter denied Jesus three times, so in his love, Jesus offered Peter and opportunity to tell Jesus that he loved him – three times. And with that Peter was forgiven and made new. From that point on, whenever Peter thought back about the time he denied Jesus, he didn’t think about it as sin committed, but sin confessed and forgiven.
Read the rest here.