In today's gospel we witness the prediction of the most famous denial in history. Peter is not just a disciple of Jesus but one of the great apostles.
Peter said to him, “Master, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
His enthusiasm and good intentions are unmatched. And yet,
Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.”
And of course we know the rest of that story. But what is interesting to notice is how that story played out in the long run.
Jesus, after the resurrection, gives Peter the chance to undo his triple denial, with the triple affirmation of love in John's gospel. And Peter goes on to be not just an apostle, the the Rock on which the Church is built, establishing the office we now refer to as Pope.
Imagine how that might have played out today. Would there have been this total, true forgiveness of his sin. More likely, the story of the denial would have gone viral on the internet. There would have certainly been calls for him to be removed as an apostle. And to avoid scandal he would have probably been tucked away from public view. After all, we couldn't have someone who denied Jesus in a leadership position in the Church.
All too often in this age we say we forgive, while in reality there is always a "but." No matter how many years pass, and even when the public figure is not found guilty. There is always the cloud, the stain. And the internet guarantees that nothing is forgotten.
Sadly we Christians are no more forgiving than the culture at large. If anything, we can often be worse, less tolerant of imperfection.
Yes, Peter did just as Jesus predicted; when put to the test, he failed. But in the true Church, that did not stop him from going on to faithfully carry the highest possible office. And ultimately he did as he said and gave his life for Jesus. Peter the denier and Paul the murderer were the two great leaders of the faith.
As this season of Penance comes to a close may we not only receive the gift of forgiveness but may we rediscover what it means to truly forgive.