By Father Casey
In the church’s calendar, this past Thursday was what is known as the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter. Unless you were one of the handful of folks at the weekday Mass, this day probably slid past you unnoticed. It might have for me, too, were it not the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood (now at 17, or only 53 behind Courtland Moore). But this day holds an important lesson for all of us, one I think is good to remember in the early days of a new year.
Peter is one of the greatest of all the saints. There are more stories featuring Peter in the Gospels and Acts than any other apostle. Jesus describes him as “the Rock,” on which he would build the Church. He is the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the authority of popes derives from their identity as his successor. And yet, the church’s only exclusive commemoration for Peter focuses on a particular aspect of his life: his confession.
We typically associate the word “confession” with the act of admitting our wrongs to God. We confess our sins, in order to experience divine forgiveness. But confession also has another meaning, too: a statement of belief. That is what the Confession of Peter is actually about. Though he certainly had much to confess in the way of sin, what this day is remembering is Peter’s declaration of belief about Jesus. Traditionally, this is connected with his answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” Peter boldly answers (Matthew 16:13-16). It’s a powerful moment, and it is this statement that elicits Jesus’ conferral of the keys to the kingdom.
But Peter makes lots of confessions in his life, not just one. After he joins Jesus in walking on water, he declares Jesus the Son of God (Matt 14:22-33). On the Day of Pentecost, he confesses Jesus as Lord before huge crowds in Jerusalem (Acts 2). And according to tradition, Peter’s final confession was before the authorities in Rome, which resulted in his death. Focusing on only one of them, as though that was the moment he believed, or the time when he testified to Jesus’ Lordship, is a bit misleading.
It’s important that we remember Peter’s long journey of confession, which included a lot of bumps in the road. For every bold declaration of belief had a matching failure of nerve. Right after declaring Jesus the Messiah, he rebuked Jesus for insisting that he would die. Days after riding into Jerusalem and announcing Jesus as the true King of Israel, he denied even knowing him. Confession, then, is not a one-and-done act. It is not a matter of getting it right, once and for all, and steadily moving forward in faith and obedience ever after.
Confession is a journey. We make it, and then we live in its truth for a time, until we make mistakes, or doubts creep, or we run into challenges. Then God’s grace goes to work on us, healing and enlightening us, until we are once again ready to confess our faith – usually with deeper understanding and greater wisdom. Then the pattern repeats, again and again, hopefully for a lifetime. And over that long arc of faith, the distance between what we say we believe and how live in response gets closer and closer. We are slowly reshaped by our confession, becoming more and more like the one in whom we put our faith.
That’s how it was for Peter. That confession at Caesarea Philippi was a huge moment in his life, but it was just a step in his journey. Naming Jesus as Savior was foundational, but he still had a lifetime ahead of figuring out what it meant. And so it is for us, too. So in these still early weeks of a new year, I hope you’ll pray today for grace to make your own confession. Not once, but day by day, week by week. For over time, by God’s grace, we may come to resemble in our lives what we confess by our lips.
Father Casey +