Carlos Caso-Rosendi

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1Peter 5:8

Peter has just been anointed, given a new name, and confirmed perhaps the most important piece of news that mankind has ever received: that Jesus was the Messiah. It is well known that the twelve had an epic vision of what the Christ was going to be. They expected a warrior king, greater than any king that ever lived. They were ready for the realization of that vision; they were not ready for Calvary. So Jesus began to explain to them what was coming next. One cannot imagine how they felt when they got the news. I would say they were confused by the sudden revelation that the Messiah had to suffer an ignominious death. That new idea was not easy for them to grasp.

“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Mathew 16:21-23

In that context we can understand Peter’s actions, calling the Master aside to have a little private chat. Peter still has the “epic Messiah” model in his head, he knows Jesus is very popular in Jerusalem, he also knows many sincere Pharisees and Sadducees believe Jesus is a great prophet or even the long awaited Messiah. Jesus’ rebuke must have been a shocker. Why the strong words? “Satan”? “Hindrance”? Confusion sets in the mind of Peter. He remained perplexed but loyal to Christ.

These are the first confused moments of our first Pope’s reign. Of course Peter is not quite aware of the importance of his own mission but Jesus is. The scene that Matthew relates here is fraught with meaning but I want to concentrate now on the counterpoint between the glorious moment of Peter’s confessing Jesus as the Messiah, and this other moment of profound humiliation and confusion. The pendulum swings between those two extremes. Please make a mental note about Peter’s “dual state” of certainty infused by God about the identity of Jesus, and uncertainty only minutes later when he fails to understand the destiny of the Messiah. The scene teaches us that our first Pope had trouble processing the strange reality he was living. Later on —at the time of teaching the Church— Peter would not fail but he struggled to reconcile all those new revelations with his own preconceived ideas of what Jesus’ mission was all about. He was holding at the same time thoughts from God, and thoughts from men.

A few weeks before in the Mount of Olives, Jesus had explained to them many things about the future, things that the disciples only understood vaguely. Let us go back to that time:

“Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” [ … ] “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”

I am extracting the essential passages we need here from Matthew 24:1-38 that you should read complete in your Bible. Matthew chapter 24 is a “little Apocalypse” describing various aspects of the coming of the Son of Man. All I want to highlight here is the appearance of the Abomination of Desolation already mentioned in The fog before sunrise.

Here is another counterpoint we can build to understand this prophecy a little better. One part of the counterpoint is found in Mark 14: 61-63, the account of the trial of Jesus; the other part we will use is John 21:15-17 when Jesus appears to the disciples a Sunday morning by the shore after they have been fishing all night. Both accounts happen early in the morning, one immediately before sunrise, and the other immediately after.

The Messiah should have been received by His own people, in His own Temple, by His own Priests. That did not happen. Instead the leaven of human thought that contaminated the minds of Pharisees and Sadducees with false messianic expectations put the religious authorities, the Hebrew Church, so to speak, against Jesus. The night of the trial the Giver of the Law was accused of breaking the Law and condemned to death by the very race He had come to redeem. That first abomination was allowed by God so that the Passion of the Christ could take place, and the whole nation could be saved (John 11:50) but there was another passion, the passion of the Church, still to come centuries after that. The disciple is not greater than the Master, and so if the Master suffered, the Church must suffer also.

At the time of the trial of Jesus, a dominant group of the Levite Priesthood opposes Christ while Peter who is God’s designated new High Priest is outside confused and scared. Centuries later when the trial of the Church comes, the dominant part of the Church will be opposed to Christ also, while the High Priest —a Pope as confused as our first Pope was that night— will stand outside, his mind still struggling between God’s thoughts and human ideas. The trial of Jesus is a small model of the abomination standing where it ought not: Caiaphas is a High Priest named by the Romans; Annas is the true High Priest. In the last days, expect a Pope appointed by the world to judge the Church while the true Pope is outside confused and scared.

While that unjust imitation of a trial —in the wee hours of the morning darkness— is taking place, Peter is outside warming up by the fire…

“And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.” Mark 14:53-72.

In this account we learn that Peter denied the Lord three times at the darkest hour of night, just before the rooster crows. Peter is no ordinary man, Peter is the Pope, and he has denied his Lord thrice. He tried courageously to remain close to Jesus but he was tired, fearing to be recognized by the soldiers that had arrested Jesus at Gethsemane a few hours earlier. His triple denial hurt him deeply and will continue to hurt and humiliate him in the weeks to come, until the Lord swings the pendulum one more time and restores him. Let us read John 21:1-19 one more time.

“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.”

“When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the 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. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

A few weeks have passed since Peter’s triple denial. This time the Lord appears to them not as a prisoner about to be unjustly tried but as the glorious Pantokrator, the Ruler of the Universe with the sun majestically rising behind Him in the first minutes of the morning. It is Christ piercing the darkness of the world.

The scene resembles the arrival of God to Eden after the fall. Adam hid when he heard God’s voice in the garden but Peter has a different kind of heart. He is not less guilty than Adam; he could have said again “depart from me, Lord for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8) but his unfailing love for the Master shows when the old impulsive Peter returns: he quickly dives and swims ashore to meet the Lord. Adam was naked and hid from God’s sight but Peter still naked quickly “put on his outer garment … and threw himself into the sea.”

Jesus is waiting for them with breakfast ready, bread and some fish warming over hot stones. Notice that the disciples do not dare to ask this man who is he. It is Peter who addresses Him as the Lord after the third time He asks “Do you love me?” Three times he had denied the Lord, and now three times he had to affirm his love for Him. In the end Christ repeats the same words He had said years earlier when He found Peter for the first time: “follow me.”

The two scenes, the trial at the darkest hour, and the encounter at the lake at sunrise; form a natural counterpoint. Jesus and Peter are the main characters of the drama represented in these two scenes. They seem to represent prophetically the events that will happen when the passion of the Church occurs.

All the elements of that dreadful time are known, we know the Holy Spirit will guide the Church, we know the gates of Hell shall not prevail. We also know that in the end there will be a “little flock,” a small remnant. It has also been revealed that the mystery of iniquity is already at work but we do not know how far God will allow it to reach. We can see now that there is a part of Church “aching to be the Church of What’s Happening Now” as Fr. George Rutler so precisely describe it. Fr. Julio Meinvielle a saintly Argentine priest now greatly maligned, penned once this prophetic words:

“However there is no difficulty in admitting that the Church in public view can be conquered by the enemy thus converting from Catholic Church to Agnostic Church. There could be two churches: one in public view, a Church magnified in propaganda, with well advertised bishops, priests, and theologians even with a Pope with ambiguous attitudes; and another Church, a church of silence with a Pope faithful to Jesus Christ in his teaching and with some loyal priests, bishops, and faithful spread about as pusillus grex (little flock) all around the earth. This second church would be the Church of the promises while the other defects or apostatizes. The same Pope could preside both churches that would seem to be one in appearance. The Pope with his ambiguous attitudes would validate the confusion. Because on one hand — being the head of the Church of Promises — he may profess an impeccable doctrine while on the other hand, by sending confusing, even reproachable signals, he would appear to be advancing the subversion and pastoral message of the “public” Church.” [1]

Peter struggled with his weaknesses all his life but Christ was always there to help him. The Lord “knows what is in man” and His judgment is unfailing. As we see the events unfolding in the months and years to come, we may have to keep in mind that struggle that every successor of Peter has known. We are all soldiers in a battle of cosmic proportions. We are flesh and bones fighting the principalities of darkness. The lesson of Peter is in the Gospel to help us remember one thing: no matter how dark it gets, no matter how lost the battle may appear to be; the day will break and the Lord will be with us always in spite of our shortcomings, regardless of our inner struggles: Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.

[1] Fr. Julio Meinvielle (1905-1973) quoted from his book (first published in 1970, this quote below is from the Spanish 2nd. edition of 1994, pp. 363-364) From the Kabala to Progressivism. Original title: De la Cabala al Progresismo a PDF edition in Spanish is available on line. Quote translated.