Pride and humility
April 5th, 2016
By Father Joseph Previtali
What was the difference between Peter and Judas? They could have ended up the same. They both committed horrible sins against Our Lord in His Passion: Peter denied Him and Judas betrayed Him. They both saw the horror of their sins after the fact. Yet only one of them is called by Our Lord the “son of perdition.”
In our Gospel this Sunday, St. Peter is on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias, several weeks after having committed the denial he would mourn for the rest of his life. The Risen Lord Jesus has just worked a miracle of a great catch of fish for the Apostles. The first time He worked a miracle like that, Peter knelt before Him and begged Him, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man!” Little did he know how sinful he was; He hadn’t denied His Savior yet!
But Peter has no such histrionics for the Lord now. He has stared down the abyss of the horror of his sin. He truly knows now what a sinful man he is. You and I have had that experience. We have seen our wretched sinfulness, just like Peter (and just like Judas). The One he had denied is now with him on the shore of Genessareth, asking the Prince of the Apostles if he loves Him more than the others love Him, asking him three times to profess his love.
There is more to this encounter than meets the eye, though, because, after Our Lord asks Peter a third time, Peter becomes upset and troubled. Clearly, the third questioning reminds him of the three denials. St. Augustine tells us, “He was grieved because he was asked so often by Him Who knew what He asked, and gave the answer. He replies therefore from his inmost heart; you know that I love You. He says no more, He only replies what he knew himself; he knew he loved Him.” By asking him three times for his love, Jesus is healing Peter, allowing him to make up for his threefold denial with his threefold profession of love.
This love is ultimately the great difference between Peter and Judas. Judas, when faced with the guilt of his sin against the Lord, was consumed by shame and punished himself with suicide. This was a response of pride. Peter, rather, is filled with humility, which makes love possible. He weeps bitterly fruitful tears of repentance and his response is to make up for his denial with love. “While our Lord was being condemned to death, [Peter] feared, and denied Him,” says St. Augustine. “But by His resurrection Christ implanted love in his heart, and drove away fear. Peter denied, because he feared to die: but when our Lord was risen from the dead, and by His death destroyed death, what should he fear?” Thus set free from fear by Jesus’ Love for him, Peter was given love for Jesus as the ultimate solution to the problem of the horror of his sin.
You and I are faced with this same choice in our lives. In response to the sins we have committed, we can either respond with the pride of Judas, which leads to self-punishment and perdition, or we can respond with the humility of Peter, which leads to love and salvation. Love is the way forward. This healing love of Peter for Jesus (and Jesus for Peter) became the foundation of his ministry as the first Supreme Pontiff (“Feed My lambs…My sheep”). This love of Peter for Jesus (and Jesus for Peter) would eventually lead to Peter’s glorious martyrdom, which is prophesied by Jesus at the end of this passage. “He who denied and loved, died in perfect love for Him, for Whom he had promised to die with wrong haste,” St. Augustine tells us. “It was necessary that Christ should first die for Peter’s salvation, and then Peter die for Christ’s Gospel.” What will you and I do?
Father Previtali is parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Pillar Parish, Half Moon Bay.
From April 7, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.