I have always been fascinated by the figure of Saint Peter, our first Pope. He was such an unlikely choice! God could have chosen a priest, a very wise teacher, a prophet, a ruler, even, Heaven help us, a lawyer. Someone who, to most superficial human eyes, would have been vastly more suited to be the first head of His Church on Earth. Instead he chose a humble fisherman. Why? Any number of reasons, I suppose, many of them still known only to God. Perhaps one of the major factors was the love that Peter bore for Christ. We see this after their first meeting when Peter urges Christ to go from him because Peter is a sinful man. I think that at that point Peter desperately wanted to follow Christ, but he thought he was unworthy to because of his sins. He was willing to have Christ depart from him in order to protect Christ from Peter’s sinful nature.
Peter is heartbroken when Christ reveals that he must die on the Cross. Peter tells Christ that this must not happen, only to be rebuked by Christ for acting as a Satan attempting to tempt His human weakness. This was said shortly after Christ, no doubt to Peter’s immense shock, advised him that He was going to build His Church on him, and committed to him the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. How strange it must have all seemed to the Fisherman from Galilee! However, his love for Christ kept him at the side of Jesus.
At the Last Supper when Christ reveals the Eucharist, He has this dialogue with Peter:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”
And he (Peter) said unto him, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.”
And he (Jesus) said, “I tell thee Peter, the cock show not crow on this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.”
After seeing the great miracle of the Last Supper, Peter did precisely that, deserting Christ in His hour of need, denying him three times.
After the Resurrection Peter would lead the Church until his execution under Nero in Rome. He would take the early steps that transformed a movement among Jews in Judea into a new religion spanning the Roman Empire, spreading rapidly among both Gentiles and Jews. His papacy would be capped by his martyrdom, dying on a cross upside down at his request because he was unworthy to die the death that Christ had died.
In choosing Peter, God demonstrated the immense possibilities in the most unlikeliest of God’s children when transformed by the love of God and His grace. God granted us the Eucharist to bestow upon us this grace and a never failing reminder of His love. We live in a Fallen World, and our lives are often marred by cowardice and doubt and endless sins. Holy Thursday reminds us that like Peter we often deny Christ by what we have done and what we fail to do. However, Holy Thursday also reminds us that also like Saint Peter as long as we live we always have the possibility to do great things for God and our Neighbor if our hope and love can overcome our doubt and fear.