You probably guessed it: The grace offered to Simon Peter is forgiveness.
The question “Do you love me more than these?”–asked three times–is the giveaway. Three times Peter denied Jesus that first Holy Thursday night. He was afraid of being identified with Jesus and of being arrested too. He tried to overcome his fears as he followed Jesus, but once confronted, he succumbed to Temptation by Pain.
When the cock crowed, he had, as predicted by Jesus, denied his Master three times. When, in the account of Luke, our Lord turned to look at him, Peter was so overcome with grief he wept bitterly.
And if Peter is like many of us, he was also probably too hard on himself, as we tend to be sometimes, and felt not only grief, but also shame: Not just “I made a mistake,” but “I am a mistake.” Peter was carrying this shame inside him like a poison, and he needed the Lord to give him the chance to forgive himself and to heal.
Going to confession isn’t a very fashionable thing today, is it? We hear people declare: “I can confess directly to God, so what’s the point?” Or: “Confess to a priest? They’re sinners too!”
All that is true, of course. The Church does teach that we can receive God’s forgiveness without approaching to Sacrament of Reconciliation. All we need is what is called “Perfect Contrition”–i.e., we are sorry for our sins because we love God.
And of course, priests being human are sinners too. That has become all too clear with the still-unfolding scandals involving the Catholic Church.
There is, however, still value to considering confessing your sins to a priest.
First of all, it takes a lot of humility to go to confession in the first place. It’s certainly beyond our comfort zone. Saying we’re sorry for our sins privately is certainly much easier to do. But if we have to make time for confession, exert the effort to go find a priest in some church–that counts for something, doesn’t it?
Secondly, it takes a lot of faith to confess your sins to a fellow sinner. It’s not the priest who’s going to grant you forgiveness. It’s God through the priest. To receive forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation demands that we make an effort to believe that God’s love and mercy will flow through a sinner just like yourself.
And finally, making a good confession requires a lot of courage and honesty. But this courage and honesty–it’s therapeutic: We need to be able to name our sins and to own them in order to let go of them. Sometimes we need to go to confession in order to believe that God has forgiven us, so that we too can forgive ourselves.
So is now a good time to think about going to confession?
If you’ve been away, Easter is a good time to return.