St. Peter and the Unforgivable Sin

When we read the gospels, we discover that the Lord Jesus declared one sin to be “unforgivable.” Blaspheming the Holy Spirit.* And if it doesn’t terrify us that the Divine Mercy Incarnate declared one sin unforgivable, it should.

st-peter-in-penitence-el-grecoLord, we beg You in Your mercy to deliver us from ever even facing such a temptation! Deliver us from such perilous danger! May we never even know what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit!

Now, we know that St. Peter did a pretty daggone rotten thing. At table with the Lord, He had declared, “I will die with You, Master, rather than deny You! See, I’m brave and consecrated to the truth, just like You!”

Then, when push came to shove, and the Jerusalemites recognized Peter’s rustic seaside accent, the fisherman said, “Oh, yes. Indeed, I am a Galilean. But I have no dealings with this fanatic rabbi, whom they now rightly condemn as a lawless miscreant. Please excuse me while I go about my business, which most certainly does not involve following this lunatic as one of his disciples!”


Rotten. Weak. Cowardly. Small. Faithless. Heartless. What kind of friend is this? An ungrateful, wicked, self-deluding one.

But: None of this involved blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Not at all. Jesus spread out His arms on the cross and gave up His Spirit precisely so that we rotten, weak, cowardly, small, faithless, heartless, ungrateful, wicked, self-deluding sinners could be forgiven.

Christ never expected us to be good before He died to redeem us. We sinners need to behold the Lamb of God, crucified out of love for us, first. Then, we can find the strength to examine ourselves and face the truth.

St. Peter never came close to blaspheming the Spirit which Christ breathed into the world by redeeming us on the cross. When his Lord was crucified for him, faithless, weak, self-deluding Peter loved Christ more than ever before. Peter’s own confused and sinful heart broke with love for his Jesus, crucified for him.

No. The one who blasphemed the Holy Spirit wasn’t Peter. It was… Judas. And betraying Christ to the Sanhedrin did not itself involve blaspheming the Spirit. We know that the Lord Jesus would have forgiven Judas’ betrayal just as freely as He forgave Peter’s.

No, Judas blasphemed the Divine Mercy not by betraying Jesus, but by despairing. Judas blasphemed the Holy Spirit when he made his own evil the ultimate sovereignty of his little life. When he hardened his heart and closed himself off completely from the merciful gaze of the gracious Father.

Lord, we beg You: Pour out Your Spirit upon us, to soften our hearts and illuminate our souls, with the warm light that shines from the face of Christ crucified—Christ crucified for us.


* Matthew 12:31, Mark 3:29, Luke 12:10

St. Peter, Fisherman and Priest

fishing1St. Peter figures prominently in both readings at Holy Mass today.

In the gospel reading, he announces, “I’m going fishing.” And his confreres reply, “We’ll go with you.”

Now, we might think of going fishing as a cheerful, relaxing occasion. A quiet day, away from the hustle and bustle. No Honey Do lists. Just the calming sound of water.

But St. Peter and the Apostles didn’t go fishing on the Sea of Galilee for a getaway. It meant something else to them. It meant: “Well, I guess our mission as apostles has come to an end. Let’s go back to our old way of life, and try to pick up where we left off, before we met our Teacher, Whom they crucified.” The Apostles’ fishing trip in John 21 didn’t mean relaxation; it meant disappointment, disillusionment, confusion, maybe even despair.

St. Peter’s speech in our reading today from the Acts of the Apostles took place about fifty days later. And we hear St. Peter fearlessly preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem, having reclaimed his role as the heroic Prince of the Apostles.

bloody and unbloody sacrifice crucifixion massA startling change.

In the course of those fifty days, Peter and the other Apostles not only had seen the Lord risen from the dead. They also had heard His further teaching, enabling them to grasp the meaning of His Passion and death. We know that the Lord Jesus had to rise from the dead—for many, many reasons. But one reason why He had to rise was: simply to explain to the Apostles what His crucifixion and death had really meant. He had suffered no catastrophic defeat; His mission had not ended in failure. To the contrary, on the cross, He had triumphed. Omnipotent and eternal love had triumphed.

Now, we might wonder: What part of the Lord’s words at the Last Supper had the Apostles not understood? We might wonder that. But we have the benefit of hindsight, and our own years of participating in the Mass. The Mass that Christ gave to His Church on Holy Thursday offers the key to understanding His death on Good Friday. Jesus did not suffer a tragedy. He offered a sacrifice. The sacrifice by which God united Himself with all our suffering, and our own deaths, and has reconciled the world to Himself through the establishment of the new and eternal covenant.

So: What changed between St. Peter’s dejected fishing expedition in Galilee and his heroic preaching in Jerusalem? He came to understand the Mass that Christ had given him to celebrate. On Holy Thursday, Jesus had made the Apostles priests of His mystery. But it took them until Pentecost to understand that His crucifixion and death was not just a slaughter, but was in fact a mystery, the mystery of His life-giving Body and Blood, of which He had made them priests.

And when we understand this, we become true apostles, too.

The Man with the Future in His Hands

Rabbi Gamaliel

Our first reading at Holy Mass on Sunday, from… Acts.  Chapter?  Five.

The Supreme Court of ancient Israel conducted a “trial” of the Apostles.  “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name?!”  ‘That name,’ namely…  Jesus!

St. Peter gave his famous response.  “With all due respect, Your Honors, must we not obey God rather than men?  After all, we have seen Jesus since He rose from the dead.  He told us to proclaim the Gospel to all nations.”

Then the Sanhedrin re-iterated their previous order, and dismissed the Apostles.  That’s all that happened, right?

Trick question, my friends!  Today we can identify the serious Bible scholars.  Our Sunday Lectionary skips eight verses in our reading from Acts, chapter 5.

What did we miss?  The rabbi with whom the young St. Paul studied—that rabbi sat on the Sanhedrin.  Right!  Gamaliel.  What did Gamaliel say about jailing, or scourging, or otherwise punitively trying to thwart the Apostles’ activities?

Gamaliel cautioned his fellow judges:  Let’s leave these Galileans alone.  If what they say is not true, then their movement will die out of its own accord, as many so-called Messiah Movements have died out before.  But if their endeavor does indeed come from God, then we will not be able to destroy it.  And do we want to fight with God?

So then the Sanhedrin dismissed the Apostles on their own recognizance.  And St. Peter and Co. rejoiced in what they had suffered for the sake of the Gospel.  Because the Apostles of course knew that God really is in charge of history.

Gamaliel helped the Sanhedrin to focus on the central question, the perennial human question:  Who governs the course of history?  What does the future hold?  The Future, an old friend of the People of God.

God made an alliance with Abraham, based on the future.  Generations later, the Lord gave the Divine Law to one of Abraham’s descendants, namely… Moses.  The Mosaic Law concluded with a promise about the future.  In the ensuing centuries, the prophets of Israel received divine communications about…  the future!

In other words, the religion of the Old Covenant fundamentally had to do with the future coming of…the Messiah.

Woodrow WilsonNow, I don’t think this is merely ancient history, my friends.  I think we can go so far as to say this:  the “Messiah” is: the person who holds the future in his hands.

That’s not a strict Hebrew definition, but nonetheless it is true to put it that way.  We human beings get anxious about the uncertainty of the future.  This anxiety of ours can utterly overwhelm us.  We find the medicine we need, the answer, the source of calm and hope, in one thing:  The Messiah.  Within the human soul, a profound force operates, seeking the trustworthy Messiah who truly holds the future in his hands.

During the century previous to ours, “modern man” had a tendency to imagine that our own human ingenuity could control the future.  Twentieth-century man thought of technology and “progress” as the Messiah.  That’s called being a ‘technocrat.’  During the 20th century—precisely a hundred years ago, in fact—President Woodrow Wilson told the American people that we would fight World War I in order to “end all wars.” An amazing technocratic-idealist thing to say.

But, as we now know, a century later, “human progress” has turned out to be a false and fickle Messiah.  Our delusion that our own ingenuity can produce a perfect future has probably caused more anxiety about the future than human beings have ever experienced before, in the entire history of time.

What about the 21st century?  Careful observers have pointed out a strange imbalance in our pre-occupation with presidential campaigns.  The coverage which cable news gives to presidential elections dwarfs by a huge proportion the actual impact that the President of the United States has on the day-to-day existences of 99% of Americans.

After all, the Constitution of the United States intentionally limits the powers of the President.  But you wouldn’t know that from tv.  To quote one of the wise observers:  “The occupant of the White House has become a combination of demigod, father figure, and, inevitably, the betrayer of inflated hopes.”*  In the 21st century, presidential politics has become much less a real practical matter, and much more a big game of “Pick Your 15-Minute Messiah.”

What’s the answer?

How about keeping all the other foolishness to a minimum, and focusing on the actual, real Messiah?

According to St. John Chrysostom, rabbi Gamaliel himself eventually embraced the Christian faith.  The work of St. Peter and Co. did, in fact, proceed from God, rather than from some human fantasy.  One man actually does hold the future in His hands—Jesus of Nazareth.

And what does the real Messiah ask of us?  It’s all in His concluding dialogue with St. Peter, which we read at Sunday Mass.  Feed My lambs.  Tend my sheep.  Forget yourself.  Take care of others.  Take care of others until it hurts.  Then you can follow Me to eternal life.


*Andrew Bacevich

Dance with the Invisible One*

[John 21]

Lord Jesus rose from the dead. ‘Go on back up to Galilee. I will see you there.’ Okay, Lord.

Back up in Galilee…Time passes…Lord’s nowhere to be found… What to do? St. Peter says, ‘I, for one, am going fishing.’ The others joined him.

Best not to sit around like lumps, waiting for a ‘spiritual experience.’ They knew how to fish. They got in a boat and put off from the shore. Then they proceeded to have a long, hard night of it. It’s not that they came up with a meager catch. They caught nothing.

Ancient_GalileeThen the sun rose, and the Lord Jesus appeared. “My children!” They were hungry and had no breakfast to eat. He revealed Himself by giving them a miraculously huge, last-minute catch. Then He fed them from His own fire.

Now, we do not need to focus on the idea of having fish for breakfast. Not everyone likes fish for breakfast.

Let’s focus on what maybe seems like the strange game that the Lord Jesus played with these Apostles. Perhaps we could see it as a kind of dance.

“I am alive. You will see me again. But not now. Soon. Go to Galilee and wait…

“Oh—no luck fishing? That’s okay. See! Here I am! Relax. Eat!” But, before we know it, He vanishes again…

Continue reading “Dance with the Invisible One*”

The Sea Christ Sailed (and Walked on)

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Today we visited the sites of Upper Galilee.

There is a church built over the stone where the Lord set five loaves and two fish–before He multiplied them and fed 5,000 men and their families. The place is known as Tagbha, and the German Benedictine fathers have built an absolutely beautiful church, where we prayed.

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On the Mount of the Sermon
We ascended the Mount of “Sermon on the Mount.”

At the top is a Barluzzi church dedicated to the Beatitudes. We celebrated Holy Mass in the crypt and then strolled through the beautiful gardens.

A short distance away, we visited the Church of the Primacy of Peter. This church encloses the Mensa Christi, Christ’s Table, where the Lord cooked fish for some of the Apostles after He rose from the dead.

We were at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Some of the pilgrims waded in and collected water, stones, and shells to bring to back home.

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Then we went to eat some fish caught in the Sea of Galilee. The fish were served with their heads. We played with the heads, using them as ventriloquist dummies.

After lunch, we took a breezy boatride, looking at the the entire Sea of Galilee—the scene our Lord Himself gazed upon two millennia ago.

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Synagogue in Capernaum
After the boatride, we visited the excavated town of Capernaum. We saw the ruins of the house of St. Peter, where the Lord Jesus lived for long periods of time and worked miracles.

We sat and meditated in the reconstructed ancient synagogue, built on the foundations of the synagogue where the Lord Jesus taught.

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