Reflections on the Readings
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 28, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
Spiritual Highs and Lows
But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! Your are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men."
"Do you think it is of God?" I asked. It was a snowy and cold Pifford, NY early morning as I sat there talking to my spiritual director about things spiritual. As I recall, it was December of 2004, and I was seriously praying about leaving the priesthood in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. I learned something from the Hermit into whose eyes I was looking for direction and wise spiritual words.
Dom John Eudes Bamberger listened carefully as I was relating some dreams my wife had during this time of discernment. It was about those dreams that I asked the graceful Hermit what he thought. His simple answer was, "We'll see." And then he taught me that spiritual discernment is about three questions: Is it the devil? Is it the Spirit of the Lord? Or is it just something my own mind is telling me?
These are ancient questions important for anyone seeking spiritual direction. I suspect they may have their root in this gospel passage before us today. Peter soared the heights of spiritual understanding and spoke with clarity and conviction when he answered Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter stepped forward and answered with these timeless words, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." I bet you could have heard a pin drop. The faces of all the disciples standing there exhibited a new understanding as they looked on Jesus with new eyes. The moment was pungent with the sweet aroma of words announcing the end of sin's dread sway - "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" Peter appears illumined both by the words just now escaping his lips and the words Jesus proclaims about this servant's role in leading and guiding the Church - "And you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it."
It is simply too profound to find the words adequate to capture this holiest of moments. Beginning from that very moment Jesus begins to show his disciples his destiny, the cause for which He came into the world. To save sinners, to rescue the perishing, Jesus explains his sufferings, mockings and betrayal, his death and his resurrection. Somewhere along the way, perhaps after a few days of listening to this, Peter takes the Lord to the side. He does not want to cause a scene, but enough is enough. "Let's get on with this 'building the Church' and giving the devil his due and defeating the powers of death," Peter is thinking to himself. Rebuking the Lord and most likely explaining, "Hey, if I'm anything like those things you said about me, then I'll be sure that those nasty elders, chief priests, and scribes will deal with Peter first," he proudly and lovingly asserts.
The others are over there somewhere no doubt resting and catching their first real sleep in days. This conversation is between Jesus and Peter, the one called to be the first keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And looking deeply into Peter's eyes with discernment that would raise the hair on the neck, Jesus speaks, "Get behind me, Satan!" Peter's color drains from his face as Jesus continues, "You are a hindrance to me." Peter adjusts his feet, he is thinking sitting down at the Master's feet is sounding good about now. Then with these riveting and revealing words, Jesus says, "For you are not on the side of God, but of men." This is a moment you would think Peter won't ever forget. But then there is that fateful hour when Peter insists to the young maiden, "No, I don't know him. You're mistaken, and now you've really ticked me off. I told you ******I DON"T KNOW HIM!"
So why is Peter shown to have spiritual highs and lows? Perhaps it's because like Peter, we need to know when we're motivated by Satan, or our own imagination or - hopefully more often than not - by the Spirit of the Lord. My dear brothers and sisters, each one of us here know we have let that other spirit take us into anger and vengeance and self indulgence of all kinds. Thank God there is forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation - an opportunity to drink deeply again of the living water of the Holy Spirit.
It is my prayer to have more moments when I'm truly led by the Spirit of God. After the Resurrection and the Day of Pentecost, Peter walks more confidently and powerfully in the Spirit. Coming to Mass this morning we can be assured that who we seek is truly that One who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God! Let us come to his Table and eat this bread and drink this wine - true food for our soul. Then we will return into the world as a living sacrifice of that same Lord whose body and blood fills us now. Amen.