The fact that Christ looked at Peter as the cock crowed for the third time is recorded only in St. Luke’s Gospel, but Luke, Matthew, and Mark all record that “Peter went out and wept bitterly.” That look of the Master cut Peter to the quick. As Moses’ rod once struck the rock and water flowed, so the gentle glance of Christ caused Peter’s heart to overflow. That heart was singularly touched, and the fear-frozen memories thawed into penitential tears.
Peter’s conversion followed a fine pattern. First, you will notice that Peter went out – he left the place and persons who occasioned his shameful denial of our Lord. There can never be any true and lasting conversion until, and unless, we are determined to avoid the occasions of sin – that is, any person, place, or thing that may cause us to fall. We will notice, too, that when Peter took himself away from the evil company he was in, he was able to look at Christ and Christ at him. Whoever wants to cleave to God must sever himself from God’s enemies. Avoid, therefore, evil companions.
Consider next that Peter’s repentance was immediate. He did not put off his conversion and repentance. Many of us desire to avoid sin and be really converted but, like St. Augustine, say in folly, “but not yet.” We seem to put more than ordinary trust in becoming holy when our vices have forsaken us. We dwell too often on the easy conversion of the Good Thief, but as St. Augustine warns: “Christ pardoned one thief on the cross to show that such things are possible, but only one to show it was rare.”
Let us ask ourselves why Peter wept. First, in his quiet moments he realized that he had denied his Lord. Have we not all at one time or another denied our Lord? If you have deliberately missed Mass; given scandal or bad example; resisted God’s will or that of His Church – then take your place with Peter.
The second thing that brought Peter to penitential tears was the thought of the excellence of the Lord whom he had denied. Have you thought seriously of how much Christ has done for you, the graces He has merited for and showered upon you – the home, the health, the advantages He has provided for you?
Third, Peter remembered the position in which the Lord had placed him – converting, befriending, and calling him to his apostolate. Has Christ not placed us all in positions of honor and trust as Christians? Do we not call ourselves Christians, followers of Christ? Yet not only have we not always followed Christ, but we may well have led souls away from Christ by our bad examples and sins.
Fourth, Peter recollected that he had been forewarned. Have we not sinned against the light and with full knowledge and full consent in grave matters? Oh, have we not all frequently resisted the Holy Ghost, our conscience, and the warnings of parents, teachers, and the Church? Think about your wanderings, backslidings and your small progress on the road to perfection!
Peter fell dreadfully, but by repentance rises sweetly. A look of love melts him into tears. Clement notes that Peter was so repentant that all his life after, when he heard a rooster crow, he would fall upon his knees, and weeping, would beg pardon for his sins. Beg of Peter to teach you the necessity and the way of true repentance.