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I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | Peter teaches us how to embrace Christ’s mercy and resurrected presence

The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter vividly describe how the living, resurrected presence of Jesus transforms our lives, which is illustrated by St. Peter in the first reading.

In Peter's speech at Pentecost, the risen Lord's presence pours out of Peter, who had allowed Christ's resurrected presence into his heart, replacing the old and dark side of Peter.

Perhaps Peter's inner darkness reached its nadir the moment he denied Jesus in the courtyard. When Jesus looked at him with love, Peter went out and wept bitterly. Jesus' look of love entered deeply into Peter's heart and caused incredible pain — of regret and remorse, of self-hatred and self-condemnation.

Perhaps the desolation Jesus was a necessary preparation for transformation. Peter understood that he had been locked into self-destructive behaviors of sin over which he experienced little power. Every day was simply the repetition of egotistic self-assertions into which he had been locked all of his life. The life of sin came to a head beginning with the denial of Jesus in the courtyard.

The change began with Christ's appearance on Easter Sunday night. There Jesus' first words, ever repeated, were "Peace be with you." With these words, hope exploded in Peter's heart. Jesus didn't condemn Peter and the rest of the apostles for abandoning Him, but He gave them the dignity of extending that forgiveness to all sinners and to observe that Christ's power in their words set people free from sin.

Beginning Easter Sunday night, awareness of how Christ's risen presence was replacing his old life of sin brought Peter great joy and peace. We might call this the replacement therapy — Christ brought all mankind a different view of Christ's mercy leading to a different view of themselves.

The risen presence of Christ poured out of Peter's mouth in his Pentecost speech in the first reading. Unafraid and with raised voice he proclaimed, "Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." This was said with so much hope that the people experienced conviction instead of condemnation.

"Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and they asked Peter and the other apostles, 'What must we do, my brothers?'" Far from feeling condemned and rejected, they longed for the replacement therapy Peter had received, the risen presence of Jesus inundating Peter with mercy and hope.

Peter offered them the formula for change: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Three thousand people were converted to Jesus through Peter's first sermon. Not a bad start for someone so recently brought out of the depths of despair.

Now we better understand what Jesus teaches us about entering the sheepfold through Him. "I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture." We enter into His kingdom here on earth through baptism and the forgiveness of sins, just as Peter did. Receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit comes with baptism, though our actual experience of this fullness may come much later.

In Peter's experience of Christ's resurrected presence, he experienced no remorse over past sins or self-condemnation, only incredible joy of experiencing freedom from past slavery to sin, and the joy of coming into freedom.

It doesn't mean that Peter never sinned again, but it means that he didn't wallow in sin or self-condemnation or even in attempted futile efforts of denial or self-justification. Instead, he repeatedly went through the narrow gate of receiving mercy and forgiveness, so that's all he had to proclaim. He lived and radiated Christ's resurrected presence.

Peter was aware that those living the resurrected presence were called to imitate Christ in suffering. In the second reading, he wrote: "If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving for you an example that you should follow in His footsteps."

When others sin against us, we might turn their sin into intercessory prayer for them. This protects us from the evil one.Jesus did so on Calvary, and He also invites to do this.

Peter teaches us how to embrace Christ's mercy and resurrected presence in such a way that we experience Christ's merciful love flowing through us, filling us with joy so that we become a source of hope and inspiration for others.

Peter's humility in the face of his sinfulness enabled him to trade in his slavish ways of thinking and acting, and to receive the transforming power of His risen presence. Crushed pride led to the gift of surrendering to Jesus totally, without reservation. Such surrender is our key to allowing His Holy Spirit to rush into and change our hearts. 

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