Escaping the trap of failing in love

  • June 1, 2023

There are moments when the ground beneath us shakes, and we get a shocking glimpse of our failing in love.

It’s difficult to face a lonely elderly person who has applied for “MAiD” — euthanasia — not seeing any other way out of isolation and poverty.  More painful still is to face a society that is comfortable with granting this request, masking our collective acceptance of killing as a compassionate response to social pain.  It’s shocking to be confronted, all at once, with the many levels of our failure here, as we encounter the darkness we can’t escape and the fear that grips the human heart and keeps us running from ourselves.

We are not told the inner workings of Peter’s heart and mind in the ultimate darkness between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Yet he surely faced all levels of human failure at once.  He faced his own failure to love Jesus, his companions’ similar failure, those of his faith community, his society, and all the social and political institutions. He witnessed from the inside humanity’s massive failing in love.  At all levels, God is rejected.  Utter darkness is created by the “assembly of humanity” (cf Psalm 2:1-2).  The Crucifixion destroys not only a human life but also, in its complete destructive power, all vestiges of humanity and hope. Where can Peter run from there?  The trap in which humanity sits has been revealed to him with clarity, as his decision to betray all he holds most dear is laid bare.

Surprisingly, this shattering moment is the event he stands on when he speaks to the assembly on Pentecost, inaugurating the birth of the Church as he addresses people gathered from “every nation under Heaven” (Acts 2).

How can that Good Friday of devastation be his foundation for speaking? Wouldn’t he want to forget and “move forward”? Yet for him, that darkest night is his unimpeachable credential — the key opening the hearts of his listeners.

He betrayed the one he loved.  He betrayed love itself, he who knew Jesus intimately and clearly named Him the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16).  At that dark place, he was given the way to redemption: a chance to love again. Pain carves out spaces in the human heart, and the pain of his failure to love, precisely when love most needed him, enlarged his heart as he accepted the offer.

Peter’s Pentecost speech is grounded in the truth he knows with every cell of his body and whisper of his soul.  He has stopped running away from his rejection of God. He invites his listeners to do the same. Somehow these people, from all places under the sun, have the capacity to hear and recognize their own rejection of the pearl of great price. “You crucified Him,” he tells them, though they weren’t there that night. Still they are cut to the heart, able to accept from the lips of Peter — not as somebody above them, but as a forgiven sinner — that they too have crucified God.

“What shall we do?” they ask.  Peter’s answer follows the way he himself has taken. “Repent … be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins … you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” How does he know? He, and all the apostles, have lived it.

To accept truth is to be willing to repent. To repent is to yield to the salvation offered at the far-flung limits of our running away from God and ourselves. Without the forgiveness of the Resurrection, Peter could not have a Pentecost Sunday.

Sometimes we are confused about the Church because we get to thinking it’s only an institution.  The Church is a living body, not a business plan. It simply flows from the wounded side of Christ, in suffering love pouring out on all.  Communion among persons, not individualism and isolation, is the life the Church offers. It allows and invites us to become persons, able to give and receive God’s love and seek nothing but this.

As we become persons, we come into communion in Christ. This is possible only for those who can admit in their souls they have crucified God, and in the Resurrection experienced the great mercy of God. The Church can therefore overcome our failure to love and be an antidote to the world’s sickness. 

(Marrocco can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca.)