On Saint Peter’s Denial of Our Lord

A Lenten Reflection for Tuesday after the Second Sunday in Lent from Holy Cross Publications

“The Denial of St. Peter,” by Caravaggio, finished in 1610 during the last months of his life.

 

PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.

My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.

Tuesday after the Second Sunday in Lent.
On St. Peter’s Denial of Our Lord.

If, in the palace of Annas the high priest, our Lord had to endure the suffering of a cruel buffet, in the house of Caiphas, whither He was next led, His tender heart had to sustain a yet more painful blow in the denial of all knowledge of Him by Peter, the chief of the apostles. Try to realize this sorrowful occurrence; see the apostle, standing with the soldiers and servants in the outer court; before the cock has crowed twice he denies his Master no less than three times; denies Him for whom he swore that he would die, from whom he has received nothing but benefits and graces. The fall of the apostle was indeed far more painful for Jesus than the blow dealt by the rough soldier’s hand.

1st. Consider the sinfulness of this denial. Peter went into the court of the high priest from the best of motives, out of love to our Lord. His heartfelt affection for his Master made him anxious to know what befell Him; but fear soon gains the ascendancy, and the courage he displayed on Mount Olivet sinks to a low ebb. Now when he is unexpectedly asked whether he too is not one of Jesus disciples, the question takes him by surprise, and out of sheer timidity, without a moment’s reflection he hastens to declare that he is not. But if this may be pleaded in his excuse, alas! the first fall is surely and speedily followed by another, like links in a chain, and the second is a worse one; see how in this instance the offence is added to at each repetition. The second time Peter confirms his lie with an oath; the third time he goes still further and accompanies his denial with curses and imprecations. O unhappy apostle, how low thou hast fallen! Learn a salutary lesson from this, my soul; learn to beware of a first sin. If like St. Peter you allow yourself, not out of malice a forethought, but merely from human respect and precipitation, to be led into an infraction of the law of God, an infringement of your Rule, then the dyke is already broken through. Satan has already put one of his fetters upon you. You will soon sin again, sin more easily, more thoughtlessly, and the third time you will divest yourself of all shame and scruple. Resist beginnings! Do not give so much as your little finger to the devil; let the resolution you make to-day be to guard against the commencement of evil.

2d. Consider the cause of St. Peter’s denial. If we picture the apostle to ourselves, if we remember the courage and generous fervor that marked his words shortly before the Last Supper, his conduct upon the Mount of Olives, it seems perfectly inconceivable how in so short a time he could have changed so utterly and could have gone so far as to deny his Master. There is not, however, much cause for wonder. The cause of his fall was threefold. In the first place he exposed himself to temptation with culpable, foolhardy rashness; he actually sought the occasion of falling by going among the bitterest enemies of our Lord. Can you feel any surprise, my soul, that by going so close to the fire he got burnt, that by touching pitch his hands were defiled? He who wilfully incurs danger must not wonder if he perishes in that danger. The second cause of the apostle’s fall was his undue confidence in himself, not to say his pride. He alone—as if his fellow apostles were below his notice—presumes to declare that he will go with our Lord unto death, and will not allow anyone to assert the contrary; nay, he will not even pay any heed to the loving warning our Lord addresses to him, so confident is he of his own strength and fidelity. But alas! pride comes before a fall, even in the case of an apostle. The third cause is that Peter lost sight of Jesus, lost sight of Him physically and spiritually. As long as he had his Master before him, not only present to his bodily eyes but present to his spiritual vision in His character of his God and his Lord, his fidelity and courage did not waver. But as soon as Jesus was no longer visible to His outward eye, and he no longer with the eye of faith beheld Him to be the Son of God, then he said: “I know not the Man of whom you speak.” (St. Mark xiv. 71.) Then he fell, and how great was his fall! Here again is a lesson for you, my soul. If you would guard against falling, avoid occasions of sin; do not rashly rush into danger; and if temptation comes, do not withstand it as Peter did, in reliance on your own strength, but with firm confidence in God. Keep God always before your eyes and before your mind. Whoso walks continually in the presence of God will not fall; hence it is the chief and surest preservative against sin to accustom oneself habitually to remember the presence of God.

3d. The benefit to be derived from this denial. This occurrence is fraught with twofold profit: it was profitable for Peter, it is profitable for us. St. Peter was destined for great things. He was to be the rock, the foundation of the Church, the ruler of all the faithful, the chief pastor of Christ’s flock. Well was it for him that his own fall kept him ever humble, and inspired him with charity and compassion towards the wandering sheep. Wherefore, my soul, learn to be truly humble and full of compassion for sinners, for if you are not, be assured that God will permit you to fall, in order that you may thereby acquire these virtues. But if you have already fallen, how much consolation you will derive from Peter’s denial of Christ! If so great an apostle, one so warm-hearted and fervent, fell into sin, such grievous sin, let his fall serve to keep you on the one hand from discouragement and despondency, if you have had the same misfortune, and on the other hand to admonish you to be constantly vigilant and cautious; for if an apostle could swerve so far from the right way, must not you, who are a sinner, be ever on your guard?

PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.

My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.

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