Monday, June 30, 2008

The Symmetry of Penance

Do our failings ever "just go away," just disappear, without our ever having to address them?

On the night before Jesus died, as He was being interrogated by the high priest, Peter was outside in the courtyard, warming himself at a charcoal fire with the high priest's servants and officers. That charcoal fire was the setting for Peter's three denials (Jn.18:17-18, 25-27).

It was no coincidence then when Jesus, after His resurrection, invited Peter around another charcoal fire, and asked him three times whether he loved Him (Jn.21:9-17). Cruel on Jesus' part? No, He loved Peter. He had already forgiven him for his denials. This was part of Peter's healing from his sin - a penance.

Penance is meant to undo the damage of ours sin. The scene of Peter's denial is recreated, and his professions of love put in place of the denials; there is symmetry. In our own lives we rarely see it as perfectly as in Peter's, but it is a reality; and if we try to avoid it we are hindering our own progress. Think about it: which of our problems really "just go away?" Isn't there always a need to turn and confront them? Don't we have to deal with our failings and make amends before we can truly move on? God has forgiven us, but there is still a need to deal with the consequences of our sins.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with your sage and mystical reflections. I actually had glazed over the coal fire details (funny that the true mystical message is in the details).
    I can't help but thinking about being refined through fire...being purified and tested like gold when I think of your idea of penance.