Appendix two of the Rite of Penance provides a number of sample liturgies. Under theme of “sin and conversion” three possible Gospel readings are given. One takes us to the conversation between the chief of the apostles and the Lord:
“Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded
to sift all of you like wheat,
but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail;
and once you have turned back,
you must strengthen your brothers.”
He said to him,
“Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you.”
But he replied,
“I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows this day,
you will deny three times that you know me.”
At our Lenten communal liturgy, the associate pastor preached on a later passage, verses 45-62, in which the cock crows and Jesus looks at Peter.
In this short Scripture, Peter gets a lesson in leadership. Peter won’t be perfect, but when he returns from sin, his role is to support the other apostles.
Sin is our fault. But sin does not absolve us of our responsibilities or gifts. I might fail as a parent. But I’m still a father to my daughter. Sin might make my role more difficult if my credibility is damaged. So be it.
As we live our lives, we have the best intentions. But we fail. Maybe it is good for us to utter cocky words, “I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you.” But then a bishop who has uttered those words finds himself seriously wanting in the eyes of his clergy, the laity, and the civil authorities. He enters into a plea bargain to avoid prison time. But the responsibilities for the flock remain, and he must deal with both detractors and sycophants, perhaps unsure of the deeper motives to the people around him.
In this passage, Jesus reminds Peter, and us, that sin has consequences. But that God’s regard for us continues. Despite sin and weakness, we are called to virtue, and to lead others in virtue. There’s no pity party, no getting around our God-given duty.