22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time-by Fr. Dennis
Once again, I fall back upon that quotation that I have used for a number of weeks these past few months about “Confession” by Monsignor Giussani, founder of the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation, which was supported greatly by Pope John Paul II. He told us: “Confession is a cry to God that he change me, because I am not capable of changing myself. It is the miracle of conversion.” I go back to this, not only for this thought, but for two paragraphs that were included the first week’s quote. In these, he proclaimed:
Our hope is not in man, or in our doings, or in the refuges we build ourselves, or in the situation we finally reach to become creative, but in this thing that is so tremendously present that it challenges anything that others can promise us, in this thing that is God.
[and] All my human hope in the salvation of Christ has grown because of my perception of being a sinner: Pardon my guilt. God’s pardon requires all his strength, all his power, to turn me, a sinner, to one who gives glory to him.
How we need God’s strength! How God must apply his strength to effect our conversion!
We see this so clearly in this week’s Gospel with Saint Peter, the supposed strongman! He wants to be in control. He thinks he knows how the mission of Jesus must be directed. He cannot accept, however, that the Messiah must first suffer, especially at the hands of their own priests and hierarchy, and be killed. I am sure it would seem as senseless to us as it did to him. We are very much like him. I am sure that he was acting with the best of intentions, when trying to protect Jesus, he cried out, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Mt 16:22). Remember, Peter’s attitude was the same at the Last Supper when Jesus said to him, along with the other Apostles, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later” [and] Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet,” [but] Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me” (Jn 13:7-8). He thought he was so right, but happened to be so wrong at the same time. In today’s Gospel, Jesus has to “turn to Peter” and say, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23).
How many times do we think we are so right and unknowingly are so wrong? How many times do we think we are such helps to God and his plans, and we are nothing but obstacles? How many times are we such obstacles that God must push us aside, or behind, or just out of the way so that we do no harm, and do not upset his plans? How many times could he have said to us, “Get behind me, Satan! [Because] you are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do”?
Monsignor Giussani is absolutely right! God does not need us. We need him! We need him to “turn to us,” as he “turned to Peter.” It might sound strange, but Saint Augustine describes that this is what the Lord did with Peter. He explains as follows:
Let us imitate, as far as we can, the example of the Lord in his Passion. We shall be able to carry this out if we ask him for his assistance; not by going ahead of him, like Peter in his self-assurance, but by following him and praying to him, like Peter when he was making progress. Notice, you see, what the evangelist said, when Peter denied Jesus three times: “And the Lord looked round at him, and Peter remembered.” What’s this, “looked round at him”? You see, the Lord didn’t actually look round at him by literally turning his head to remind him. It’s not like that; read the gospel. The Lord was being tried in the interior of the house, Peter was being tested in the courtyard. “So the Lord looked round at him,” not in the body, but in divine majesty; not with a glance of his bodily eyes, but with his sovereign mercy. He, having turned “away his face,” looked round at him, and he became liberated. So the self-assured man would have perished, if the Redeemer had not looked round.
This same idea is reflected in the Psalms:
Turn again, LORD of hosts; look down from heaven and see; Attend to this vine, the shoot your right hand has planted. May your help be with the man at your right hand, with the one whom you once made strong. Then we will not withdraw from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. LORD of hosts, restore us; let your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. (Ps 80:15,16, 18-20)
We have no real strength without him. If we are faithful, he will accomplish what is necessary in our lives. We have the example of the Prophet Jeremiah in the First Reading today. In his own confrontation with God, he cries out,
You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it (Jer 20:7,9).
A few weeks ago, we said that when the Lord told Saint Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9), he discovered the mystery of discipleship, like finding the answer to a riddle. From that point on, he imparted the message to us,
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:9-10).
Like Saint Paul and the Prophet Jeremiah, Saint Peter had to learn about the value of weakness in his relationship with Jesus. As Saint Augustine remarked, “the self-assured man [meaning Peter] would have perished, if the Redeemer had not looked round.” And, he did this time after time until Peter got it, which only happened after the Resurrection. It was on the seashore. Jesus met them after fishing all night. There, beside a charcoal fire, he turned to Peter and,
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (Jesus) said to him, “Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.” (Jn 21:17-19).
We must do likewise. Peter initially tried to lead Jesus. There was no safety for him in this, nor is there for us only in following him. We need to change. We must let him “look round at us.” We have no real strength, but only in his glace, from which he will speak to us the words we need to hear. Let us learn to pray, “Turn again, LORD of hosts, restore us; let your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”
copyright 2005 Fr. Dennis