A rooster, stuffed or synthetic, is normally mounted on the carriage of the statue of Saint Peter, which leads Good Friday processions in the Philippines.
The rooster signifies Peter’s frailty, which got to him in the middle of the passion of the Christ although the apostle had pledged to stand by his master in the hour of suffering.
To Peter’s promise, the Christ responded with a sobering rejoinder. “Before the cock crows,” he said, “you will have denied me three times.”
Peter remembered this prophecy in the courtyard of the council of religious leaders or Sanhedrin, that safe distance from which he monitored the trial of the Christ.
On three occasions, Peter, while watching, was accosted by strangers, who recognized him as one of the Christ’s followers. Peter repeatedly denied this, and spewed curses the third time he claimed that he did not know the Christ.
“Immediately a rooster crowed,” Saint Matthew wrote. “And Peter remembered the word of Jesus… So he went out and wept bitterly.”
He had earlier contended with the Christ about what He foresaw. “Even if I have to die with You,” Peter said to his Master, “I will not deny You!”
There must have been love in that protest. Alas, the love caved in to fear. The Master was on trial in a kangaroo court, falsely accused, slapped, beaten, mocked. Strangers identified Peter with him. To them, Peter, too, should stand a farcical trial and take unjust punishments. Fearing an ordeal, Peter denied his Master.
The rooster crowed. Peter came to his senses. He remembered that his Master knew him, knew the shape of his love, knew how far it would go. He remembered the Christ’s foretelling of his denial, but he must have also remembered the Christ’s assurance: “I have prayed for you… that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Beholding the limits of his own and the infinity of his Master’s love, Peter wept.
Was there a rooster the morning the Christ — having risen from the dead days earlier and given the Holy Spirit to the apostles — prepared breakfast for some of them and helped Peter to turn back?
Peter, according to John, had taken him and six others on a night fishing trip on the Sea of Galilee. They caught nothing all through the night. At daybreak, someone called out to them from the water’s edge. They spoke with him about their empty fishnet. Upon his instruction, they threw the net into the right side of the boat so they could find some. Miraculously, the net was filled with fish and became so heavy, the apostles could not haul it in. John said to Peter: “It is the Lord!” At this, Peter put on his outer garment, jumped into the water and dragged the net to shore. It was filled with 153 large fish. The Christ invited the apostles to breakfast on grilled fish and toast that He had prepared.
After breakfast, the Christ took aside Peter (who was called Simon) and asked him three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter answered the same question in the affirmative twice: “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” To these replies Jesus said: “Feed my lambs” and “tend my sheep.”
The third time the Christ asked the same question, John wrote, “Peter was grieved.” We can easily see him being taken back to the night of his threefold denial of the Christ. Did Peter think the Christ was cruelly reminding him of his weakness, of his shortcoming? Was the Christ being a rooster taunting him?
Back at Eastertide on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus had said Peter would become a fisher of people, the apostle was already a changed man. He knew the Christ knew him, knew that he might waver, knew that he had limits, that he had flaws. Peter knew that he did not need to make a theatrical profession of loyalty to hide his brokenness, but he also knew that his human frailty was not everything, not the final word, hence his reply: “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
“Feed my sheep,” the Christ said in reply. “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”
The Christ was not being a rooster. He was being a like a mother hen, and was molding Peter’s heart to be the same, eager to gather the followers of the Christ like chicks under the wing.
In the Church or in the State, leaders are called to have the heart of a mother, the heart of a shepherd. No real motherhood, no genuine shepherding occurs when the leader stakes his leadership on his own merits, on his meager strengths. When the hard times come, every last one can be like Peter: weak, flawed, likely to abandon the flock for fear of losing control, convenience, and personal comfort, likely to break promises. This is why the people need to be the voice of the Christ, reminding leaders of their solemn duties. The true leader will hear in the people the sacred voice asking: Do you love me? To the extent that the leader does, he will hear the same voice, the voice of the One that died and rose from the dead to restore his love saying: “Feed my sheep.”
Let us elect leaders who will not gird themselves and walk wherever they wish. Let us elect the ones who truly love the people, who have matured enough to know that they do not know everything about power and responsibility, but who have enough love to stretch out their hands, ready to be taken wherever the sheep, who are the people need him to be — down the road of honesty, accountability, good governance, integrity, and transparency.
Let us elect shepherds who respect human life, rights, and dignity; who respect people’s faith and religious beliefs; who are efficient and accountable in service; who care for our environment and territorial integrity; who have a preferential option for the poor.
May the shepherds we elect have the courtesy, good manners, and authentic charity that will prove their reverence for fellow human beings and for God.