I love optical illusions. You know, those pictures where lines move, or elements of the picture are “hidden” like a giraffe in a tree or is it a tree and a girl standing? It’s fun to play with the elements of the eye and brain connections that allow for the illusion, and it is a compelling experience when you see the truth and then not “unsee” the truth. Sometimes we can see the “real” ourselves, sometimes someone points it out to us.
In life too, we hold illusions. We hold dreams, ambitions, beliefs of how things “ought” to be. At times these illusions become truths. At other times, they hide truths that we need to see. And when we do see them, or the reality is quite different from “the plan”. The illusion’s dissolution can be heartbreaking. It is in those moments however, when truth is revealed and we embrace it totally, putting behind fear, that our hearts don’t break but in fact transform and become even stronger to fuel new realities, even new dreams.
Real suffering occurs when we cling to illusions out of fear and stay stuck in falsehoods.
In today’s readings we are presented with encounters that involve revelations that dissolve illusion and false hope and an invitation to a path that awakens us and prepares us for true hope. The opening line in Isaiah is “The Lord God opens my ears that I may hear and that I have not turned back.”. It is divine grace that enables us to hear – to see – to awaken our truth and to have courage to move forward – not turn back. What does this mean? The encounter between Jesus and Peter in today’s gospel gives us the insight.
Let’s take a moment and imagine ourselves at that exchange between these two. Jesus, along with his disciples are on the road to Philippi. I imagine this scene casual, friendly, light yet ponderous. Like a band traveling between gigs. Or a traveler between cities or places. What’s the next city like? What’s going to happen here? And so, they ponder. Jesus, always the teacher, asks his disciples, who do to you say I am? Happy, perhaps even proud of their insights, they answer “Prophet, teacher, John the Baptist.” All these are illusions as Jesus knows. He is much more.
Then Peter answers “the Messiah”.
I wonder at that moment how Jesus felt when he was truly recognized by his friend, his follower? It must have been a powerful moment for then we next hear that Jesus begins to fully reveal his mission, his purpose. And it’s a chilling, shocking piece of news. It will involve great suffering, personal loss, pain. A cross.
But hey, there’s going to be something called resurrection – it will blow your mind. There is a power you’ve not ever seen and will struggle to understand – but it is miraculous, liberating, transformative forever. But don’t tell anyone!
Well, Peter will have none of that. He takes Jesus aside to rebuke him. Rebuke! What a strong word. He is going to tell Jesus a thing or two. He believes he can change his mind and change the outcome. This isn’t how the messiah thing was supposed to go. After centuries of slavery, abuse, destruction, there was to be a glorious and powerful kingdom for them all. He was supposed to bring that glory, that justice. Peace.
Jesus hears Peter. His response? “Get behind me Satan”. This is interesting. He doesn’t push Peter back, but instead recognizes the power of Satan, the false power that wants to deny God’s power that has overcome Peter. Jesus rebukes Satan – not Peter. He sees Peter as more than the power of Satan. He frees Peter so Peter can hear more freely the truth of Jesus’s mission.
As we know from the perspective of the full redemption story this will not be the last time Peter is consumed by fear and denial.
Jesus, after pushing away the power of Satan, instructs Peter – and the disciples who witness this exchange – that Peter was not thinking as God does but as human beings do. Notice that he does not tell Peter nor his disciples that they are not capable of grasping an ability to think as God does. In fact, he knows that eventually with the power of the Holy Spirit available to all of us, we are all capable of thinking as God does. What is that difference between thinking as God thinks and thinking as humans think? It is the difference between the love of power and the power of love. And what is that entail? It is the cry in Isaiah, “the Lord God opens my ears and I have not turned back”.
Okay. SO, what does that mean? We are given a clue in the second reading. In that piece we hear “If a brother or sister has no food for the day and one of you says to them 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also, of faith itself. If it does not have works, is dead.”
Here we are challenged to look at the realities of those who suffer and address them. No illusions. We are challenged then to look at our own suffering and the sufferings of others and address them – address them properly. We are asked to look deeper, see beneath illusions and act with love and care.
It is clear however, that this kind of power – the healing power of love, is not possible without God. Jesus knows that and teaches us that our path forward in grace is through suffering but through a suffering that is walked with in a friendship, a closeness with God. This is what it means to take up the cross. And Jesus is going to show them by doing it.
It seems our world today is in a thundering cascade of sufferings and revealing of ignored sufferings. Pandemic, racism, climate change with the earth crying, sexism, floundering institutions – you know the list. And we each encounter personal sufferings in our own individual lives as well as the lives of our family and friends. Somedays it can be overwhelming.
As we encounter our own “This isn’t supposed to be like this” feelings, today the Gospel challenges us and we hear we are invited to claim our own “Get behind me Satans” so that we can become, like Peter, usable for God in awakening the power of love in the world today. We can’t forget that despite his fears and denials, Peter was the one Jesus chose to build the future church of followers. That should give us courage.
I see such courage every day. In the parent whose child was born with severe disabilities, something surely not planned, who rises relentlessly each day to bring forth the best life possible, fighting neglectful systems. I see it in the men and women who stand up against abuse, in the teen who refuses to be bullied or stands up for her brother who is bullied. I see it in Catholics who challenge the church system to be just. I see it in the family who packs up lunches each weekend and goes to the homeless shelter to sit and talk with those who are trying to overcome poverty, illness, mental illness and then goes and advocates for more affordable housing and services for the mentally ill. I see it in the people who cry out for fairness and justice for those whose lives do indeed matter. I see it in the social service benefactors who ensure works can be well done and that faith is not dead, but alive.
Twenty years ago, this weekend, we all witnessed a devastating cascade of suffering as the Twin Towers collapsed. My cousin was there that day. And while we don’t know the full story, we do know that he was up there as part of his work as a Secret Service agent to do work ahead of a visit by the President in the upcoming weeks. Craig had left his hotel room in the towers to get some breakfast when the first plane hit. We are told he then rushed back toward the towers to assist in rescue. He didn’t make it out. I often wonder who did because of his acts, his works of faith. It was an instant moment of love and care for others that mobilized his courage and his sacrifice. The Lord God opened his ears, and he did not turn back. And he was one of thousands of people who acted in courage and care for others that day and in the days, months even years after in the healing and rebuilding efforts from that awful day. Let us follow their lead during our cascading sufferings in the world today. God was powerfully present, faith alive in works of compassion in the face of suffering. Healing, rebuilding is the power of love. That is why Jesus rebuked Satan, not Peter. When Peter, discerning God’s voice, acts out of love, free from fear, good things evolve. Acts of selfless love are bold and courageous. Taking up the cross is brave and transformative. It is these acts when illusions collapse, and suffering is embraced that save us.
What “get behind Satan” do you need said so you can be freed of fear, awaken, have ears and eyes opened, embrace suffering and be usable for God and the power of real love to heal and transform our lives and the world?
Take a walk and talk it over with God, with Jesus. You can even rebuke at first. Divine love empowers healing. As we hear in the Gospel, God can handle it and will give you grace you need to power the world with love. God’s listening to you. God needs you and every cross you carry. And the world stands ready for you.
Mary C. McGinnity
Mary C. McGinnity
With over 30 years in leadership positions in education, faith formation, pastoral counseling, parish ministry and faith-based non-profit social justice and service organizations, Mary’s vocation has been propelled by seeking ways to answer the question, “How can the Church and its institutions serve as a reflection of Christ as healer?”.
As a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, she served two years as a Jesuit Volunteer where she taught in two inner city catholic high schools. Upon completion of her terms of service with JVC she went on to pursue her graduate degree in clinical pastoral counseling at Iona College while also serving as a pastoral associate at a Franciscan parish. She co-founded and served as Executive Director and clinical director of a large parish based counseling and mental health center. Mary later went on to serve as deputy director and later Executive Director of the Department for Justice and Service at the Archdiocese of Washington (DC) where she was responsible for parish social ministry development, public policy advocacy on social justice issues, diocesan leadership for Catholic Relief Services and CCHD. She led the development of a leadership training institute for Catholic social teaching and is co-founder of four faith-based non-profit social outreach services.
Mary currently serves as President and CEO of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps a national service corps that enlists men and women over the age of 50 in service assignments in non-profit service agencies meeting needs of people in low-income communities across the US.
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