“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat; but
I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31).
Jesus understood that Peter would not bring himself to confess that he was the Lord’s disciple. He knew also that after a period of inner struggle, Simon would again regain his faith. Thus He doesn’t say “if,” but “when you have returned.” When faith takes hold once again, Peter will be all the stronger for the experience. He will have compassion on others who will have fallen, then returned to the Lord.
Too often we feel that everything is lost when we fail in a crisis situation. In losing our self-confidence we lose faith in ourselves as well as in the Spirit of God Who never leaves us. Christ Jesus knows better. He can outline the broad aspects of our lives for us. He realizes that each human being is an ongoing adventure in faith. We are all in the process of finding and losing, searching then rediscovering our true selves on the journey through life towards the Kingdom of God.
We also hold illusions about ourselves which we cherish. We make idols of our ideals. Like St. Peter, we think: “Even though they all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14:29). The despair that he later would experience was caused by his failure to stand by Jesus that night when He was taken prisoner. Peter’s guilt was compounded by the awareness that he had failed himself. He never imagined that he would betray his Master. The idol that he had created in his mind’s eye of his invincibility had been shattered. Nobody did it to him; his will failed him. Imagine what were his thoughts as he sat warming his hands in the courtyard while Jesus was inside being tried by fire. Jesus wasn’t the only one on trial that night. Peter stood accused of being a disciple of Christ. The accuser, a lowly servant girl, and Peter his own defense attorney.
Everything works for good to those who love God. Thus we may claim a blessing on St. Peter’s denial for several reasons:
First, in order that he who was to be the first among the Apostles would understand and empathize with the weakness and failings of all who would look up to him for inspiration;
Second, so that he would never again rely in himself for spiritual gifts, but upon faith in the living Christ Who never forsakes or abandons those who trust in God;
Third, that we who read this intimate passage can reassure ourselves that although we fail the tests put before us, as long as our faith stays intact, we are able to gain from the experience yet another lesson about our inner composition, realizing the error of self-reliance and the need for God-reliance.
Even more important is the lesson that our integrity depends on us. Not the heavenly Father, nor the Holy Spirit, nor Christ Jesus will decide for us whether we shall respond to the delusions of Satan and trust in our own omnipotence, or if we are to crush the idol of self and live by faith in God alone.