Peter’s Denial

There is always so much to contemplate in the Scriptural readings for Holy Week.

This year, I found myself focusing on Peter’s denial of Jesus—and its lesson for us. It is really, when you think about it, another passion story, another story of suffering, death, and resurrection—one that all of us can probably relate to situations in our own lives. 

Think of what Peter went through—beginning with Jesus telling him, in front of all the other apostles, that “this very night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.”

How must that have felt! Jesus, to whom he had devoted his life, his entire being; in whom he had absolute faith and trust; Jesus, whom he loved with all his heart and soul, now believes—and tells the others—that Peter will deny Him in His terrible hour of trial.

How deep, how searing, the pain and hurt Peter must have felt, as he stammered in reply, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.”

Who can doubt that in that moment Peter meant what he had said, and believed with all his heart that he would never deny the one he had proclaimed “the Christ, the son of the living God.” 

 And then, only hours later, he did just that—denying Jesus in order to save himself. And not once, but three separate times! Given two subsequent chances to overcome his fear, and stand up for Jesus, he instead doubled and tripled down, as we say today, repeating his denials ever more vehemently.

Then the cock crowed—and Peter “went out and began to weep bitterly,” as Matthew’s Gospel tells it.   

He must have felt as though he were suffering death; not physical death, but something far worse: death of the spirit. For in denying Jesus, he had denied everything he had come to believe, that which gave his life, indeed life itself, its only true meaning. He had denied the Way, the Truth, and the Life; he had denied the Son of the living God; and he had thereby denied the transcendent meaning of his own existence.  

Yet, though he had succumbed to weakness, Peter had in fact never stopped believing. As he had done at other times after Jesus had rebuked him, he remained faithful. He stayed with the apostles, saw the empty tomb, and encountered the risen Christ. And then came the resurrection: Pentecost, when Peter, along with the other apostles, received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the courage they would need to proclaim the Gospel in the face of unrelenting persecution. And ultimately, Peter would fulfill his promise to Jesus, that he would remain faithful “though I should have to die” for Christ.   

Surely, all of us can relate to Peter’s succumbing to weakness, because we all have our own human weaknesses. Some manifest themselves in our personal lives: treating others badly, acting selfishly or pridefully, indulging various sinful desires, or just failing to maintain a healthy prayer life and keep our lives centered in God.

Or perhaps we fail in a way similar to Peter: allowing fear and weakness to prevent us from standing up for our beliefs, or against cruel persecution of another. Maybe we are silent—or even join in—when our Catholic faith is ridiculed, rather than risk being socially ostracized. Maybe back in our school years, we failed to speak up for the kid who was being bullied, afraid of being targeted ourselves; and now we repeat that behavior, refusing to confront cancel culture bullies and their media allies as they use vicious smears to destroy the reputations, livelihoods, and even lives of those who dare to differ with them.

In all of these areas, we may be aware of our shortcomings, and determined to change. But as we continue to repeat the same failings, it is easy to despair of our ability to overcome our weaknesses and improve ourselves. That is where the example of St. Peter can serve us.    

Christ did not choose Peter because he was perfect. Far from it. Peter repeatedly fell short and was rebuked by Jesus. But he persevered, allowing Jesus to work through him, to strengthen him; until finally—after suffering the devastation of his greatest failing, his denial of Christ—he opened himself to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and truly became the rock upon which Jesus would build His Church. 

And so we are called to persevere, in faith, through our repeated failings and shortcomings; allowing ourselves, like Peter, to be fortified by the Holy Spirit in overcoming our weaknesses, resisting temptation to sin, and finding the courage to stand up in defense of our faith, our Church, and all who are unjustly persecuted.

Published by Rick Hinshaw

I have spent the last three decades in primarily Catholic communications work: as a reporter, news editor, columnist, and for eight years editor of The Long Island Catholic; several years as co-host and co-producer of The Catholic Forum program on the diocesan Telecare channel; two stints as Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and a year as Associate Director for Communications at the New York State Catholic Conference. I also served for three years as Public Information Officer for the late Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, a staunchly Catholic and active pro-life leader. Over that more than 30-year career, I have gained an ever deeper understanding of and appreciation for the moral and social teachings of our Church. In my various roles I have lent my voice to articulating those teachings and their applicability to the critical issues of our time. That is what I intend to do with this blog. Moreover, at a time when our political and social disagreements seem to have degenerated into constant vitriol, vilification, verbal abuse and intolerance of those who hold differing opinions, I hope that this blog can contribute, in some small way, to a restoration of respectful debate and discussion, where we can defend our beliefs forcefully without demonizing any who disagree with us. As a Catholic commentator, that is what I have always striven to do--remembering that even as we are called to stand firmly in defense of our Church, her teachings, and our right to be heard in the public square, we are also called always to be the face of Christ to the world--most especially to those with whom we disagree.

3 thoughts on “Peter’s Denial

  1. Thank you for this fine reflection Rick. I find great hope when thinking of Peter. Besides his denial of Jesus during the Passion, on another occasion he was told by Jesus to “Get behind me you Satan…” and yet Jesus ultimately gives him the keys to the kingdom! What great hope for us to receive graces to stand against bullies like the abortion and cancel cultures.

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  2. A wonderful and very touching reflection. We do indeed focus on the passion this time of year. But it is interesting to contemplate how much pain the disciples went through. And wonderful to understand that multiple failings do not have to block us from our life goals or from God. Thank you for this.

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