The Key From St. Peter
All which thy child’s mistake Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home: Rise, clasp My hand, and come! —The Hound of Heaven, Francis Thompson
In the life of St. Peter, there are two scenes that bookend His earthly relationship with Jesus. They are mirror images. Indeed, they are so closely united that one may be forgiven for confusing the one for the other. There is, however, one profound change between the two scenes; one that we ought to note well, because it is nothing less than the the key to unlocking eternal life.
Recall that the first time Peter encountered Our Lord, he was in his boat after a long night of fishing. Or, rather a night of sitting, for he tells Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” Nevertheless, he follows the request of Our Lord to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” The expression of Our Lord here is rather lovely. He doesn’t say, “Put out into the deep and you may be rewarded.” No, His request isn’t a hope, but a promise: trust in Me and you will find joy.
Our Lord always fulfills His promises in greater ways than we can imagine, so in this case, the catch of fish was so great that the boat nearly sank. And here we come to the difference between this scene, and the scene at the end of John’s gospel. For at this point, Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Linger for a moment here on what Peter is saying. He asks the Lord to depart from him. And why? Because he is sinful. This is the sick man exclaiming, “Depart from me, O physician, for I am ill.” It is a man crawling through the desert crying, “Away from me, vast oasis, for behold I am dying of thirst.” Yes, St. Peter looks upon He who can forgive His sins—the only One able to do so—and asks Him to depart.
Yet, we may find ourselves doing the same. When we ourselves fall into sin, rather than immediately throwing ourselves into the sea of mercy, we hide our faces in shame. Prayer then becomes difficult because we are ashamed to speak to Him Who is without blemish. This is the great irony—and the great danger—that we may run from Our Lord at precisely the moment when it is most important to run to Him. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
St. Peter made that mistake once; he would not make it again.
As we know, St. Peter did not become an immaculate angel after he started following Our Lord. Indeed, Peter would deny Our Lord three times. We know that Our Lord visited the Apostles in the upper room, but we are not told of any conversation that He had with Peter specifically. It is quite possible then that the first private conversation Jesus has with St. Peter takes place in our final scene.
Imagine the setting. Peter knew who he was: a sinful man. And now he personally knew Who he sinned against. Peter had denied him. He had run away. He had run from the One who called him a friend.
And so in this setting, we find Peter, once again, in his boat. Once again, he had caught nothing after a night of fishing. Though they do not recognize Jesus on the shore, again He makes them a promise, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and you shall find.” Once more, His promise is overwhelming and the quantity of fish is more than they are able to haul in. John exclaims to Peter, “It is the Lord.” Here, the story diverges from our first scene. Peter does not recognize his own sinfulness and ask Our Lord to depart. No, this time he recognizes his sinfulness, and dives headfirst into the sea—and the sea of mercy— so eager is he to be healed by the Divine Physician.
From three denials, to three affirmations of love.
“Be not ashamed to confess thy sins.”
Peter was given the keys to the kingdom, but he has granted one to us, and it is this: never ask the Lord to depart due to your sins. Rather, ask Him to stay and bind your wounds. And never be afraid to say to Him, “Stay with me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have You present so that I do not forget You. You know how easily I abandon You.
Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak
and I need Your strength,
that I may not fall so often.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my life,
and without You, I am without fervor.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my light,
and without You, I am in darkness.
Stay with me, Lord, to show me Your will.
Stay with me, Lord, so that I hear Your voice
and follow You.
Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love You
very much, and always be in Your company.
Stay with me, Lord, if You wish me to be faithful to You.
Stay with me, Lord, for as poor as my soul is,
I want it to be a place of consolation for You, a nest of love.
Stay with me, Jesus, for it is getting late and the day is coming to a close, and life passes;
death, judgment, eternity approaches. It is necessary to renew my strength,
so that I will not stop along the way and for that, I need You.
It is getting late and death approaches,
I fear the darkness, the temptations, the dryness, the cross, the sorrows.
O how I need You, my Jesus, in this night of exile!
Stay with me tonight, Jesus, in life with all it’s dangers. I need You.
Let me recognize You as Your disciples did at the breaking of the bread,
so that the Eucharistic Communion be the Light which disperses the darkness,
the force which sustains me, the unique joy of my heart.
Stay with me, Lord, because at the hour of my death, I want to remain united to You,
if not by communion, at least by grace and love.
Stay with me, Jesus, I do not ask for divine consolation, because I do not merit it,
but the gift of Your Presence, oh yes, I ask this of You!
Stay with me, Lord, for it is You alone I look for, Your Love, Your Grace, Your Will, Your Heart, Your Spirit, because I love You and ask no other reward but to love You more and more.
With a firm love, I will love You with all my heart while on earth
and continue to love You perfectly during all eternity.
—Saint Pio of Pietrelcina