Listening to the Veneration Gospel during the Veneration of the Cross Mass this Good Friday afternoon, my attention was caught at the scriptures of how Peter denied his affiliation with Jesus thrice. I would understand how difficult and lethal it was to become one of Jesus’ disciples during His time as His mere existence was being condemned by the Jewish priests, hence Peter’s denial of his discipleship in order to save his life. On the contrary, Peter’s denial of Jesus shows his weakness in professing his faith, and raising his life and owing it up to the Lord.
Denial of Peter (Caravaggio, 1610)
Peter’s denials show us the bitter end of being human, of how we can become vulnerable at times in contrast with how Jesus professes His faithfulness and faith in humanity that He has given up His life for us. But Peter is no exception as we all have become like him many times in our lives and has denied Jesus’ existence. We have denied our faith to Jesus and has succumbed to our fear due to uncertainty. Our faith became weak that it became easy for us to give up our faith.
I, too, has become Peter at some point in my life and denied Jesus. The first one was back in high school when I became very interested in Wicca. I became so bored with Catholicism that I wanted to try a new religion. Being young and curious back then, I just went and tried to do the spells and the rituals, but that put me farther away from God. I worshipped other gods and imagined myself being in a higher position — only to find out that I became weaker and less focused. Years later, I came back to the Lord.
The second was when I was struggling with my sexuality. It was very convincing for me as a young gay man to discount from believing in God because of the opposition and rejection that I get from the priests at every homily, the pressure from some of my friends who denied our sexualities and told us that being gay was wrong, and living in secrecy inside my home. It was tough to live and I would always question my faith, and so I thought leaving my religion was an easy way out. I was wrong — shifting from a believer to a non-believer was even more difficult. Every time I deny God, I experience this pain inside me like a red ant was pinching my heart, a regret that kept on haunting me. One day, I had a eureka moment — it was not really necessary for me to reconcile the irony between my religion and my sexuality; that despite the Catholic priests denouncing my existence, my faith in Jesus should be stronger. Jesus taught me to love God as I loved my neighbor, and while tolerance is not a good trait in being an activist, letting things be and traversing the difficult route and win the non-believers’ support by arguing within the same level of understanding of where they were coming from became my pathway towards enlightening other people.
The third time I denied God came from the pressure of my peers. As an activist, it is a rule of thumb to take things from a human rights perspective. Unfortunately, many people who do not believe in human rights come from the right wing who are most of the time, religious fanatics. It is very easy to get swayed and to denounce my faith, especially when you are asked to reconcile your faith with what you fight for. But then again, I realize that some things are better left as they are, and face their arguments one at a time.
Through these different experiences, I came to learn that denying my faith is denying my history, my values, and my heritage — the roots of my personhood. These things defined me, and has continued to define me, and denying my religion or making that drastic shift to be away from my religion is both unhealthy and unwise.
Similar to Peter, when Jesus came back from the dead, despite Peter’s fear of seeing Jesus again, he still went to see him. Same thing with life — we fall down, we fail, and we give up, but we must never give up our faith. We must never deny who we are and where we came from. Whether we believe in God or not, regardless of whether we are Catholic, Muslim, Jew, Wiccan, or belonging to any other religion, believing is not something that you force yourself into — you just let it happen.