MISSION MATTERS: Peter, the Imperfect Disciple
I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.
- John 13:38
We read in the Gospel today the beginning of the end of Jesus' public ministry. We see Peter resolutely state he will support Jesus, no matter what it might mean, but Jesus — and we — know this will not prove be true. Peter has come a long way from being a simple fisherman, but still needs to grow more in his discipleship. We will soon see him cave under the pressure of his own lack of freedom ... his fear of rejection, and he will deny Jesus and His Cross.
As our Lenten observance comes to a close, many of us may feel a little like St. Peter. Some of our Lenten resolutions have not gone as well as we had hoped. We may feel we have not made the progress of becoming closer to God, becoming a better disciple. We may be disappointed in how our good plans have not become our reality. We may be tempted to feel guilty for not making the progress in faith and our lives that we know we should have, or, at one point, wanted.
In his first papal homily, Pope Francis, reminded us all what it means to be real disciples, followers of Christ, which may help us as we approach our own Easter celebration as imperfect disciples of Christ — like Peter.
Twelve days ago, Pope Francis reminded us we are all called to follow Jesus by "walking, building-constructing, professing." We are called to keep walking ... to be pilgrims, like the statue of St. Ignatius in the quad depicts. We are called — we are meant — to keep making progress toward our goals. The journey, and the profound trust it takes, is not about the end of this journey, but the progress we make on the journey. If we concentrate only on a destination, we miss what is going on around us; we are tempted to stop moving if we judge we are not getting closer. We need to keep moving, though, because God's destination for our journey of life may not be on our itinerary.
We are called to continue building-constructing God's kingdom, an activity, a destination for the long term. Our world and culture tempt us to build quickly so that it looks good now, but we know it will not last for long. God's Kingdom and plan are sustainable. It is not easy or quick, because it is meant to last beyond just the short-term scrutiny of our time or our perceived needs. God's Kingdom is like Jesuit education: it is meant to take us and to last us far into the future.
We are called to continue building-constructing, professing Jesus Christ and His Cross. We are called to profess Jesus as the message of God, with a divine love for each of us. As Pope Francis tells us, "When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord." The love of God in the gritty reality of human suffering is what our progress, our building, all our actions and words, needs to proclaim and be as a real part of our lives. Without this we may be good, well-meaning people, but people without direction, not disciples.
With this understanding of ourselves, we can see ourselves with a new awareness. We may be not in the place, or we may not have made the progress we had hoped for, but we are still moving. We may not have built what we hoped, but we may have added a small stone to the foundation of a sturdier structure. We may not always profess what we believe in everything we say or do, but we are getting better.
So as our Lent draws to a close, we all can be like St. Peter, become more aware of the reality that we are imperfect disciples, but we are progressing towards becoming better disciples. We may also take some consolation in that God has chosen us not because of our perfection, but for our imperfection.
Have a blessed Holy Week and the Joyous Easter to which it leads.
D. Highberger, S.J.
P. Stark, S.J.