Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): When Peter tries to deny the Lord His passion – “God forbid that such a thing ever happen to You!” – he, in effect, is denying the possibility of happiness itself. “It is only by freeing himself through suffering,” says Pope Benedict XVI, “that man finds himself, that he finds his truth, his joy, his happiness.” Therefore, we eagerly offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. For no matter how much our sharing in Christ’s cross may make us an object of the world’s laughter and mockery, we know that our need to live our relationship with the Lord will become like fire burning in our heart. Pope Benedict adds: “The cross forces us to look upon the fact that we are loved by God. The cross becomes a new center of gravity for the bringing together of what is divided.”
(This weekend’s Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation – the one used in U.S. Catholic parishes – at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082811.cfm)
First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-9 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the book of the prophet Jeremiah.
O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived;
thou art stronger than I, and thou hast prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
every one mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the LORD has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Jeremiah knew what it meant to suffer for staying true to his Lord. God called him from an early age to declare to Judah and Jerusalem that their kingdom would come to an end – as had the kingdom of their northern Israelite brothers before them – as the consequence of centuries of inconstancy in keeping their part of God’s covenant with Moses. But the people and their leaders, clinging to false hopes and eagerly flocking to false prophets who told them all would be well, violently rejected Jeremiah’s words. In fact, he had just been beaten at the orders of one of the chief priests when the words of today’s first reading were uttered.
Humanity recoils at the thought of suffering pain. Even Jesus, in His human nature, prayed in Gethsemane that His Father would let the cup of His Passion pass from him. We, too, can empathize with Jeremiah as he essentially says, “Lord, You tricked me; I had no idea being Your prophet would bring me such agony!” And yet Jeremiah also realizes that the Holy Spirit was burning so strongly in him, inspiring every word of his prophecies, that he could not possibly hold it in. He could not but do the will of God, though it would bring him nothing but suffering. It did until and even after the armies of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon brought his words to pass by destroying Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple. But God never deserted His servant. Jeremiah came to know that the love of the Lord was all he needed to live.
Second Reading: Romans 12:1-2
A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans.
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: St. Paul, too, was intimately familiar with suffering for proclaiming the word of God. He already had been abused much by Jews and Gentiles before he wrote these words to the Romans he soon would come to know as a prisoner for Christ. But Paul, like Jeremiah, knew the comfort and inner peace that came from making himself a “living sacrifice” after the manner of the Messiah who directly called him to preach His Gospel to the ends of the earth. The world incessantly demands of us that we conform to its ways, even that we bend and twist God’s Word until it ceases to threaten our selfish preferences. But God called us to be holy – which means we are to be “set apart” from such destructive attitudes. Live out the Gospel in our lives, Paul says. Then the world will be forced to confront the Truth it prefers not to see.
Gospel: Matthew 16:21-27
A reading from the holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to You, Lord.
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 and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, 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 on the side of God, but of men.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: Our God loves paradoxes. Again and again, He tells us that the way back to Him lies in following paths that make no sense to our limited, self-centered minds. Now we hear how Jesus, having acknowledged Peter’s confession that He was not only their Messiah but the Son of God Himself, presents His disciples with the ultimate paradox: He, their Savior, would save them by being rejected, abused and killed.
They seemed not to hear that Jesus also told them He would be raised on the third day. How can our King become king by – dying? It was too much, especially for Peter, whom Jesus had just made His future prime minister, the first pope of the Church. He tells Jesus so to His face: No! You just confirmed that You are the Son of God Himself! As he would brashly declare later in the upper room, so he says here: This will not happen to You!
And Jesus responds by – calling His first pope “Satan”? One has to understand that label, though, in the light of the next sentence. Humanity’s limited wisdom cannot grasp God’s limitless wisdom on its own – and it is through that weakness that the devil was renewing His temptation of our Lord. One need not be conscious of being used by Satan to be his tool. Eventually, Peter would come to realize that when his Lord, whom he would deny knowing three times, melted his pride with one sad glance.
Jesus then completes the lesson. He further explains the paradox. We, too, must be prepared to suffer for His sake, as Jeremiah had suffered, as Paul would suffer, as indeed all those who heard His words would suffer. The world, lost and wallowing in what St. Catherine of Siena would call “selfish sensuality,” doesn’t want to hear that self-sacrificial love, that total surrender of ourselves for the good of others, is the way to heaven, the way that God created us to live. Of course we will suffer as all the faithful witnesses of the Old and New Testaments and the Church suffered. It will happen to Me, Jesus said – and when it happens, then you will see. Take up your cross. Follow Me. It will be all right.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be