Of all the Saints, Peter is one of my favorites… definitely in the top 10 (and by far my favorite apostle). Mostly because I can relate to him more times than not. He is constantly trying to do the right thing- thinks he’s doing the right thing, and so often it turns out – ehhh – not so much.
Take this Gospel for instance [Readings can be found here]. He goes up to Jesus with this question “Lord if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?” and he even has an answer in mind (which he is probably thinking is generous) – 7 times? You wonder what the back story was like did his biological brother Andrew tick him off… maybe the apostle James took Peter’s seat? Had Thomas taken the last fish at dinner??? We can only speculate. But the thing is, Peter had just finished listening to Jesus complete a lengthy teaching on the reality of sin, the tremendous Mercy of God, and stressing the importance of forgiveness – both on a human level (if your brother sins against you…go and tell him his fault) and then as the foundation of the Sacrament of reconciliation. Jesus had told them “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven…”
So Peter is probably thinking Jesus will be impressed that he was listening and paying attention in the first place. After the whole scene where in one instance Jesus calls Peter the rock of the Church and moments later Jesus tells him “get behind me Satan” – Peter’s probably learned to take things a little slow. Think before speaking and reacting. – He’s got the message: Jesus is saying forgiveness is a big deal and important. He just wants to know what are the parameters? How many times before “enough is enough”? Surely 7 times is generous.
Jesus blows their minds once again…Not 7 times – 70 times 7… or rather, beyond our ability to account. Because that is how our Heavenly Father lovingly forgives us – and God’s deepest longing for each of us is to know how much He loves us and for us to strive to be like Him.
The reality is, most of us probably can’t even picture ourselves in this discussion, can we? We’re often asking other questions like “Do I have to forgive?” “Did you see what he did? Did you hear what she said? God don’t you know how much that hurt me?” God did see what he did or she said or knows deeply, intimately how that hurt… But this call to forgiveness is one of the amazing ways that God continues to confound us, break us out of our narrow mind sets, expand our hearts and work miracles with and through us.
St. Patrick who’s feast day is today, his life and mission gives witness and testimony to that. Most people limit to being “Patron Saint of Ireland” and something with shamrocks – but when you read his backstory, you realize there’s so much more: Patrick was kidnapped as a teenager, taken to Ireland and sold into slavery for 6 years before he was finally able to escape. If anyone had reason to be angry… nurse his hurts and resentments at how he was treated, but mourn the time that he lost, stay focused on the injustice of it all and simply hate the people who had done this to him – to even look at the whole isle of Ireland as a “trigger” for him and this dark period of his life – it would be Patrick.
But in that painful time of slavery, Patrick grew in his love for Christ. And His love for Christ caused Patrick to see things differently, to act differently. He saw God’s divine hand protecting, guiding and leading him from slavery to freedom. If God could do that for him in a way that impacted his personal life in that day and age – he trusted that on a deeper, more urgent, spiritual level that was even more the case. God wanted Patrick free from slavery on a human level, but also the more important freedom that comes from knowing and being one of God’s beloved Sons. When Patrick was able to learn and able to offer forgiveness to the people of Ireland and not simply in his mind or heart – but in the radical way of going back to that very country and sharing God’s love, God’s mercy and offering them both his own forgiveness and even more the forgiveness of God – they too had the opportunity to be led from slavery of sin, slavery of limited lives to experiencing the freedom of being God’s beloved sons and daughters themselves.
That’s what St. Patrick’s Day is meant to celebrate… more than Irish Pride, it’s how he responded to Christ’s call to share the good news of the Gospel – of God’s tremendous love with all humanity of every day and time. St. Patrick learned that lesson… St. Peter did as well. They pray their lives and witnesses will help us to as well…