What a harsh rebuke St Peter receives from our Lord! “Get behind me Satan!” What could possibly warrant such words, especially since St. Peter had just been called “blessed” for confessing that Christ is the Son of God? Sadly, the rebuke is aimed at a mentality which is all too present in our culture: a denial or hatred of suffering. Just as last weekend, we reflected on our unwillingness to act in a “radical” way as witnesses to the value of the Gospel, so too this weekend the Church draws our attention to the absolute, central importance of following the path of Christ in its entirety, a path which necessarily includes the Cross.
It was the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen that reflected on two mentalities we can see in our world: that which desires Christ without the Cross, and that which desires the Cross without Christ. In the former, we have those who see the Christian Faith merely as comfortable, feel-good, self-affirmation, where we and our ideas are the most important and Christ is peripheral (except insofar as what He says affirms us and fits with what we already live). Such a mentality can corrupt a soul and a parish, as it can lead us to pat ourselves on the back and create our own little world, rather than desire the Truth of Christ which demands change of us, even if it is very painful.
The latter mentality – desiring the Cross without Christ – characterizes those nations and cultures that deny God, but still demand an unwavering, sacrificial and disciplined fidelity to some godless end, for example the government or secular society. Surprisingly, Sheen says that it is this mentality, not the former, that is more prepared to receive Christ. So important is the capacity to suffer with humility, that the soul which has this selfless virtue, even if it suffers for the wrong end, is more likely to be open to God’s grace. This is because if we are able to suffer, we are less detached to the comforts of this world. And when we are less attached to our own comforts and pleasure, the more we are open to and focused on what is outside of us. Perhaps now we can see why Christ reacted in such an extreme way to St. Peter’s denial of suffering – for it is only through Christ’s suffering that we are redeemed, and only through our participation in that suffering that we participate in the Resurrection.