“Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs… as you yourselves know. This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him”. (Acts 2:22-23)
Today our first reading at Holy Mass comes from St. Peter’s proclamation to the Jews following the graceful event of Pentecost. Peter had just received the grace of fortitude and so he boldly asserts in public for the first time that Jesus is the Savior of the world.
One can only wonder what Peter was thinking when he uttered the words “delivered up by the set plan of God” especially as he had played a role in that plan by falling asleep at Gethsemane when Jesus had asked him to pray with Him (Mt 26:40). Of course, Peter tried to prevent the arrest of Jesus by taking up the sword to save Him (Jn 18: 10-11). However, later he denied even knowing Jesus (Mt 26:75). Did Peter ever recall his failings while he was preaching about the capture and detention of Jesus. Would Peter wince, as say Frodo did, with remembrances of his dark moments? Probably not.
We can surmise that Frodo was healed when he travelled to the undying land. Peter, in his turn, was blessed for being in the presence of the Resurrected Lord who forgave him his weakness and chose Peter to lead His apostolic mission (Jn 21:15-19). The Peter who speaks confidently at Pentecost is the repentant Peter who has humbly accepted his failings and now his appointed role strengthened by the Holy Spirit. Now as the forgiven Peter, he can never be gainsaid, because his Lord Jesus Christ would never permit it!
For this 3rd Sunday of Easter, we place on our bulletin cover a mystical work by El Greco entitled The Repentant Peter (1600). El Greco was a Greek who painted in Spain during the Counter-Reformation. Raised in Crete, he became a local master of the Post-Byzantine style. Working in Venice he encountered the Mannerism of Tintoretto. One might say that El Greco’s work was an amalgamation of the Cretan and Venetian styles with a splash of Rome. Yet, even this could not sufficiently describe the expressive style of this artist who seems his own species.
Here we see St. Peter in dutiful repentance, just as he is dutiful to the infant Church whose keys to the kingdom hang upon his wrist. A tree stands behind him reminding us of Gethsemane. To our left we see Mary Magdalene already on foot, leaving the empty tomb, rushing to Peter as seen by the waving hem of her garment. Behind her is the tomb magnified by angelic glory. The sky above the tomb appears as a waterfall of light; this glimmering light also fills the cape, tunic, and face of Peter.
Some say that El Greco abandoned all form for light. However, line and form still exist with El Greco. It is just that he has filled these with bright color and light; perhaps “colored light” is an apt description. A much better description would be “spiritual light” and it is interesting the God gave El Greco and St. John of the Cross to the Spanish church as contemporaries in the resurgence of the faith.
In our meditation of this work we can think on the repentant Peter as ourselves: forgiven, still perhaps wincing over past sins, yet moving forward confidently in God.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services