St Peter: first pope, bishop of Rome, top apostle, witness to the Transfiguration, writer of epistles, crucified upside-down, the rock on which the church was built-
And the biggest screw-up in the whole New Testament.
Peter was a goof. He never could get anything right. He was hotheaded, stubborn, a coward, and at times, just plain stupid. In today’s gospel, when faced with the glory of The Transfiguration of Christ, instead of mutely adoring like James and John, Peter starts babbling about building some tents. Really, Peter? Your best friend has just been revealed as God in all His glory, and He is floating in the sky chatting with the two greatest prophets in the Jewish canon, and your buddies James and John are on the ground in shock, and you want to build some tents?
(Meme unabashedly stolen from Catholic Memes.)
And later, during the last supper, Peter says in a burst of bravery that he would never betray Jesus. Just a few hours later, he curses Jesus’s name rather than be seen as a follower of Christ. He is so scared that what is happening to his best friend will happen to him, that he denies he even knows Him. Imagine how wretched, how absolutely filthy and low he must have felt, watching Jesus be scourged, mocked, and crucified! Imagine his self-loathing, thinking he would never be forgiven, that he was a failure, that he could never make up for what he’s done. God couldn’t use him now, could He?
But after the resurrection, what does Jesus ask him? Let’s take a look at John 21.
“15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Look at that- Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves Him. Why? To make up for the three times Peter denied knowing Jesus! Then be commands Peter to feed his lambs- in Jesus’s parables, he often talked about shepherds. Jesus was anointing Peter as temporary shepherd of His flock, the Church, until Jesus returned!
And, as the good shepherd dies for his flock, Jesus even prophecies how Peter will die for the Church, under the reign of Emperor Nero. Peter will have his arms stretched out on a cross, but demand to be crucified upside down, because he does not consider himself worthy to die like Christ. Peter even tries to run from this fate, abandoning Rome as an old man as the persecution begins! But on the way out, he comes across Jesus on the road, beaten and carrying his cross. “Quo Vadis?” Peter asks, “where are you going?” Jesus answers, “to Rome, to be crucified again.” Struck to the heart, Peter returns to Rome and his fate, following the last command of Jesus- “Follow Me.”
Why did I tell you that story? To show that even after Peter became Pope, even after he wrote holy letters and converted tens of thousands, he still fell. He was still a coward. But his faith in Christ, his love for Christ, gave him the courage to get back up and keep on his path. And Jesus still loved him, even when he said goofy things, even when he denied Him, even when he ran from Rome and his duties there!
We all have sins and shortcomings that we struggle with. We all fall, even when we try not to. But we are called to get back up, it is our duty to get back up, and go back to Christ. Because if God can make such a great saint out of a screw-up like Peter, He can make a great saint out of you, too.
Love to all!