Good Friday: Praying with Peter

Today, I think of the apostle Peter, who in the early morning of Good Friday denied Jesus three times.  After Jesus was arrested, numerous people came to him, asking if he knew Jesus.

 69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. 70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. 71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” 73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” 74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26: 69-75)

I imagine Peter’s eyes widen in fear as he turns, looking for the source of the rooster’s wail.  He stumbles away from group and rushes behind a deserted corner, where he slumps to the ground.  His prayer is a simple one: Oh Lord, what have I done?   Guilt overwhelms him and he wonders, ‘How could I have betrayed the one I love most? The one who put his trust in me?  In his time of need I abandoned him…’

Through the rest of the day, Peter watches from afar, as Jesus is beaten, mocked, burdened with a heavy cross, and hung up high to die with nails in his hands.  He sinks deeper and deeper into depression, replaying his betrayal in his mind.  The bitter eyes of the servant girl bore into his, as he jumps back in defense: ‘I do not know the man!’

But Peter’s guilt doesn’t relieve Jesus’ suffering.

It may have helped Peter to hear the following prayer, written by St. Francis de Sales.

 Stop worrying.
Whatever it is that you must do
to follow the path that God has shown you
do to the best of your ability.
And when you have done it
move on to the next thing.
Don’t keep rerunning it in your mind
trying to decide
whether your efforts were too little
or too much,
whether it was a great deed or a small one,
whether you might have done better.
If it wasn’t sinful and
you were trying to do the will of God,
it is enough.
Don’t worry. Move on.
Simply.
Calmly.
Peacefully.
Follow the path the Lord shows you
free of anxiety.
Otherwise
your anxiety will undermine
your efforts to grow.
If you do fail,
don’t let anxiety
overcome you,
but admit your failure,
quietly, humbly,
and in God’s presence.
Then get on with following the path
that God will continue to show you.
– St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, journalists, and educators

Peter made a mistake by betraying Jesus, but his worrying won’t do anything to change that.  Like Peter, we often need to be reminded of the meaningless of our worrying.  Despite Peter’s missteps, Jesus still chose him to lead his Church, to be the first pope.  And despite our own mistakes, God still manages to work through us, to make good out of our sinful lives.

I’ll end with the following quote, which is often referenced by the Jesuits:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”

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