Of the twelve images that I spoke about on my tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last Saturday, I received the most positive reactions to Jusepe de Ribera’s Tears of St. Peter. In this painting by the 17th-century stylistic descendant of Caravaggio, we see a remorseful Peter against a dark Good Friday sky entreating Heaven for his denial of Christ. The light and the composition focus on the repentant face of Peter, but there are some details that remind us of the hope and forgiveness that he is bound to receive: he leans against a rock, a reminder that he is still the Rock upon which Christ will build his Church, and the Keys of the Kingdom lie next to him – despite his sin, his dignity and responsibility remain.
Two people betrayed Christ on the night of Holy Thursday and both regretted what they had done: Peter and Judas. Peter denied Christ three times, but when the cock crowed, he realized what he had done and wept bitterly. Judas betrayed Christ to the chief priests and elders, but when he saw that Jesus was condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver that he had been paid for the betrayal. Both hurt Christ, and both were remorseful. However, there is a big difference between the two of them: one despaired and the other did not. Peter repented and was eventually forgiven by Christ; Judas, on the other hand, did not trust in God’s mercy and ended up killing himself.
The devil tempts us in two different ways, both before and after we sin. Before the sin, he entices us with pleasure or gain. If we break down and sin, he employs a new type of temptation: he tempts us to hate ourselves for what we have done and to think that God would never forgive us.
The devil’s only goal is to destroy us and to take us away from God’s love. He uses whatever is at his disposal to accomplish this, be it enticement to sin or temptation to self-loathing. Sometimes, the latter can be harder to resist than the former. Even when we do repent and ask God for forgiveness, the guilt and self-loathing may linger. It is very important that we calmly and peacefully push away such feelings. Self-hatred never comes from God.
We have to realize that God’s love is so intense that nothing we can do can make His love for us any less. Jesus made that very clear to us in His Parable of the Prodigal Son. To resist the temptation of identifying ourselves with our past sins and of hating ourselves for them, we have to return to God’s love again and again. We have to put ourselves in the presence of Our Lord and bask in his unconditional love for each of us.
During the rest of this Holy Week, take time to attend the liturgies at your local in parish in which Christ’s Passion, Death, Resurrection – the ultimate manifestations of his love – will be sacramentally actualized and re-presented. As you participate in the liturgies, remember that Christ went through his Passion for you, and he would have done it even if you were the only one who needed it. As Peter did, you may feel intense remorse for your sins, but allow that sorrow to be gradually displaced by Our Lord’s intense love for you. Let His love and peace fill your heart.