Crucifixion of St. Peter

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2016/04/24 at 12:00 AM

In the church of Santa Maria del Populo in Rome is an often-overlooked painting by the master artist Caravaggio called The Crucifixion of St. Peter.
In this painting the apostle is elderly but still virile and muscular, and it depicts the moment when three men are just hoisting the newly crucified Peter and his cross off of the ground.
The three men, whose faces are obscured, are obviously struggling with the weight of this cross, perhaps suggesting that the crime they are committing is already weighing upon their hardened consciences.
In our Gospel today Jesus gives St. Peter a foreboding of his death, telling him that some day he will grow old, will stretch out his hands, and will be lead where he does not want to go – signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
Tradition tells us that St. Peter was crucified in the area of the modern day Vatican City during the persecution of Emperor Nero around 64 A.D., and his body was buried in a nearby cemetery, above which the Basilica of St. Peter now stands.
Tradition also tells us that, because he didn’t think himself worthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus, St. Peter asked to be crucified upside down, which is the way Caravaggio depicted Peter’s martyrdom in his painting.
No doubt being crucified upside down was an act of humility for St. Peter, but perhaps it was also an act of reparation, for a man of St. Peter’s character and holiness surely understood the depth of his sinfulness and his need to make reparation.
In fact, we see St. Peter’s first act of reparation in the Gospel today. Having denied our Lord three times, Jesus requires St. Peter to make a three-fold confession of love to make amends.
While our Lord has undoubtedly forgiven Peter for his sin on that first Holy Thursday night, in justice St. Peter still must make reparation for his sin.
Last Sunday we celebrated our Lord’s Divine Mercy, the Church’s annual reminder to us that the mercy of God is inexhaustible and always available to those who are sorry for their sins.
The primary message of Divine Mercy Sunday is that we must never despair of God’s mercy because it is deeper and richer than we can possibly imagine. But all the same, we must never presume upon our Lord’s mercy.
There can be no doubt that our Lord is generous with forgiveness of sins. In fact, when St. Peter asks Him in the Gospel of Matthew how many times he must be willing to forgive those who injure him, our Lord replies “seventy-seven times” (cf. Mt 18:22).
This response by our Lord is a symbolic one, meaning that we must always be willing to forgive those who injure us. But the generous requirement of forgiveness does not in any way cancel out the requirements of justice.
In no passage of the Gospel does forgiveness or mercy imply an indulgence toward evil, sin, injury or insult. To the contrary, making reparation for our sins and for the evil and scandal they cause, as well as making compensation or satisfaction for injuries and insults we commit, are conditions for forgiveness (cf. JPII: Dives et Misericordia).
This is precisely why we are given a penance whenever we go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our penances are the way we make reparation for our sins.
Without doing penance, our confession is not complete. Simply put, there is a price to pay for our sins. Of course the existence of Hell is the ultimate proof of this truth.
So we must in some way right the wrongs we have committed and the damage we’vecaused, even though our sins are forgiven. While making reparation through penance doesn’t undo our sins, it does set them aright by rectifying the injustice our sins cause.
If we fail to make satisfaction for the temporal punishments due for our sins, but die in a state of grace, then we will have to undergo a final purification in Purgatory before we enter into Heaven.
So while Lent is over and with it our Lenten fasts, our need to make reparation is not over – for we still sin, do we not? Therefore, penance must continue to be a part of our lives even now during this glorious season of Easter!
Not only should we make reparation for our own sins, but like the saints, we should strive to make reparation for the sins of others as well, as so many people in our world habitually sin without any thought to asking for forgiveness, let alone making reparation for their sins.
At the heart of our penances and reparations must be a genuine love for God.
While it is a good and holy thing to fear the pains of Hell and seek to avoid them andto mitigate as much as possible the sufferings of Purgatory, ultimately we shouldmake reparation for our sins as a sign of our love and respect for God.
More than fearing the pains of Hell, we should fear ever offending our Lord even inthe smallest matter, for that is where merit is to be found.
Indeed, what makes our reparation just and our penances satisfactory is not the rigorof the penances we take on as much as it is the love with which we do them.
In fact, St. Catherine of Siena taught that one Hail Mary, said with perfect love, wasenough to atone for the sins of a lifetime! Just one Hail Mary!
So not only must we make penance a regular part of our daily lives, we shouldconstantly strive to do our penances well, with deep love and devotion, with truesorrow and contrition.
The beautiful thing about living a habitually penitential life is that, over time, ourpenances will foster a deeper love for our Lord and for our fellow man within our souls. As we learn to do our penances with a deeper love, they become more efficacious and beneficial.
During this happy season of Easter we, as a Church, put a great deal of effort into celebrating all of these marvelous feasts and festivals. This is completely and wholly appropriate as we consider the sheer magnificence and vital importance of our Lord’s Paschal Mystery.
But in the midst of our celebrations this time of the year, even if we lessen our penances to some degree in order to more fully celebrate, we mustn’t lose sight of them altogether!
Even after His resurrection, Jesus still bore the wounds of humanity’s sin. The holes in His hands, His feet, and His remained. In like fashion, we must still be willing to
bear the wounds of sin through voluntary penance – even in this time of joy and


Like good St. Peter may we be willing to welcome with both courage and deep lovefor our Lord whatever crucifixions He deems us worthy to bear.
Through our daily voluntary penances, may we make reparation for our sins and thoseof others, and in so doing may we show our Lord just how much we truly love Him.
14 April 2013

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio.
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