“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail” (Lk 22:31-32). Let’s talk about the sin of giving up on Jesus, and, more importantly, how Jesus prays that we stay faithful to Him! No one right now is going to kill us for following Jesus, but that time may come in the future.
In the meantime, how will Satan tempt us? Typical reasons are scandal (like the sex abuse crisis), being too busy for Jesus, suffering (some tragedy enters our life and so we’re discouraged), certain relationships (people we love make it hard for us to follow Jesus, or someone at our parish hurts us), or cultural pressure (the Church’s teaching is out of sync with society’s).
So, here are three truths from today’s Passion Narrative that will strengthen us to stay close to Jesus:
1) Make a commitment and ask Jesus for the grace to be faithful to it. St. Peter says, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (22:34). That’s a wonderful, sincere statement, but Pope Benedict XVI comments that St. Peter was rash in his commitment. He didn’t rely enough on grace. He should also have added, “Lord, help me to be faithful.”
About 300 of us put up our hands last November indicating that we’ve made Jesus the centre of our lives, and this gift gives us strength. But ask for the gift of fidelity. And, if you haven’t made Jesus the centre of your life but love Him, think about making that choice soon. Holy Week, which we’ve now begun, is the holiest time of the year, a great time to place Jesus at the center of our lives.
2) Temptation comes with repeated pressure. St. Peter breaks down under repeated accusations. The text tells us that three different people accuse him, and it happened over the period of one hour—that’s interesting! It didn’t happen all of a sudden. And these people are symbolic of how the world tempts us away from Jesus.
In the past two years, we’ve had repeated crises that threw people into a panic, and indirectly affect our love for Jesus. COVID challenged the faith of some, because they prioritized their physical health over their spiritual health, or they became lukewarm in their love of God. Then the death of George Floyd had some people even in Canada talking about defunding the police. Then the residential schools outrage had many Catholics say the bishops should apologize. But they have apologized, every single one of them whose diocese had a residential school. This is not the same as asking the Pope to apologize, which he now has done. My point is that many people got into a panic, and started sounding off on social media without looking into things.
The way our society functions, there will probably be another crisis in the next 12 months. And then there will be more crises that make people panic, and, over time, people will have a variety of emotional reasons to choose what is popular over faith in Jesus.
3) Failure isn’t irrevocable. The text tells us that “Peter went out and wept bitterly” (22:62). Jesus’ prayer was efficacious! St. Peter failed in his actions, but never gave up his trust in Jesus. He’s humbled and learns from his weakness. He knows that he needs Jesus’ forgiveness and strength. Jesus is the source of all faith, and He offers this gift to us, too! In three weeks, we’ll hear the Gospel in which St. Peter renews his faith in Jesus with the words, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn 21:15-17).
Maybe some of us, hopefully not, will turn away from Jesus in the future. But He is compassionate, His forgiveness inexhaustible, and He will always take us back. He prays, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34), and this applies to us, also.
One of the most inspiring examples of God’s grace is that we have saints who betrayed Jesus, and then came back.
St. Alexius U Se-Yong was a 22-year old Korean layman executed in 1866. At the end of his life, in the village where he was staying, all male Catholics were arrested and confined to prison. St. Alexius renounced his faith in Jesus and was set free, but, soon after, repented and fasted in penance. He then sought out a bishop who was in prison himself, in order to go to Confession. After absolution, he was arrested on the spot, tortured, and died for Jesus.
The same thing happened with St. Peter and nine other apostles, as well as a few other saints. Jesus’ power is greater than our sin and fear, so trust in Him! Jesus prays that our faith may not fail, and, if it does, with His grace, we can turn back.