St. Peter, the man who never quit.
I don’t know about you, but I seem to have two major styles of reaction: underwhelmed and over reaction. I tend to be underwhelmed by big things, emergencies, or the unexpected. Generally, I can take them in stride. I don’t panic in an emergency, or in the middle of a riot, or a calamity. I also tend to be unimpressed by great events or phenomena. On the other hand, the small things can drive me over the edge, and I tend to overreact, get loud, pace up and down, raise my voice, get excited, I have even been known to say a bad word now and then. It is at these times that I say things like: “I’m not picking up this trash anymore, I’m just going to leave it and soon we will be another dump!” Or “That’s it, I’m done, I’m going home to Ireland!” Or “I’m writing the archbishop to tell him he needs to assign someone else as the pastor because I’m done with having to deal with all this.” Or “I can’t believe this person.” Or words to that effect! Funny, isn’t it? The big things don’t bother me, but the little things set me off. Of course, once I calm down, I get on with life, the job, the mission, the journey, I get on doing what I’m supposed to do.
Saint Peter is one of those characters who has quick and very definite reactions to things, but his first reaction is not always his best, nor his lasting reaction. In St. Matthew’s Gospel Peter is fishing when Jesus calls him, and he immediately follows him. Yet St. Luke tells us that after witnessing the miraculous catch of fish Peter tells Jesus to depart from him for “I am a sinful man.” St. Matthew tells us that it is Peter who says to Jesus that He is “the Son of God, the promised one” and Jesus says Peter is the “rock.” But, almost immediately after, Peter argues with Jesus that he won’t allow Jesus to be taken and persecuted. To which Jesus says: “get behind me Satan.” We know that at the arrest of Jesus Peter pulls a sword and is ready to die defending Jesus, but only a few hours later he denies Jesus three times. Peter is absent under the Cross but is the first to enter the empty tomb. Peter is passionate in all that he does, and he is especially passionate in his love for the Lord. There is no doubt that Peter loves Jesus, and despite his failures, his falls, his weaknesses, Peter still follows the Lord to the very end. Weakness, failure, setbacks, don’t define who Peter is, nor how he lives, or the journey he makes.
Very often in life we start something and overtime what we began can seem to overwhelm us, ask for too much, demand more than we can carry. We start with great intentions, but we falter as we make our way. It’s as if the waves of life are just too strong and the water we walk on is just not solid enough to carry the weight. We falter, we sink, we can feel ourselves drowning. The story of Peter tells us that at every stage the Lord’s hand is reaching to grasp us, to lift us up, to save us. In spite of our own weaknesses and idiosyncrasies God sent us into the world to make a difference. He will provide all that we need. We may be imperfect but that should not prevent us from doing what we need to do, or being who we need to be, or helping those whose lives we share and whose burdens we can help carry. If we don’t do what God has sent us into the world to do, well then, who will do it. In spite of his flaws Jesus chose Peter and Peter became the rock. He chooses us also. What will we become for Christ?
Just outside Rome on the Via Appia there is a little church named Quo Vadis. It marks the spot where Peter, fleeing from Rome, met Jesus walking toward Rome. Peter asked Jesus: “Domine, quo vadis?” (Lord, where are you going?). And Jesus said: “Eo Romam iterum crucifigi.” (I go to Rome to be crucified again). At those words, the story goes, Peter, who had been running away for fear of the Romans, returned to Rome where he was crucified for his love of the Lord. Saint Peter is always strong enough to try again, to remain faithful, to start over, and that makes him a great man. Failure does not define who he is, how his life is lived, or his commitment to the Lord and God’s people. He picks himself up and he gets on with the job, the mission, the work, the journey, and it seems to me that this attitude makes all the difference.