“Once we turn our back on the cross,” Pope Francis declares, “Even though we may attain the heights of glory, we will be fooling ourselves, since it will not be God’s glory, but the snare of the enemy.”
In his homily for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul this year (available here on the Vatican website), the Holy Father focuses on the transformation Christ’s love begets in His disciples, taking them from a life of deceived subservience to the Devil into the mysterious glory of the Cross. He emphasizes that, for this to happen in our own lives, we must learn like St. Peter to spot the traps of the Enemy of our souls. If we fail to discern the path of God in quietude and devotion, we will become obstacles in the way of not only our own healing and salvation, but also that of our struggling brethren:
“To proclaim our faith with our lips and our heart demands that we – like Peter – learn to recognize the ‘whisperings’ of the evil one, it demands learning to discern and recognize those personal and communitarian pretexts that keep us far from real human dramas, that preserve us from contact with other people’s concrete existence and, in the end, from knowing the revolutionary power of God’s tender love.”
Peter and Paul are exemplars of this process for us, one that must stretch across time through the weaving of our lives on earth. In an episode we all know well, St. Peter, in his misguided notions of the Messiah, became a stumbling block which Christ was forced to rebuke (Mt 16:21-24). And St. Paul, as well, was assaulting the People of God, even to the death, in the belief that he was doing right. Both of these holy saints fell into the traps of the Evil One; both were patiently guided by the Spirit into the paths of peace. It is all too easy to believe that we are living a powerful Christian life when, in reality, we are closing ourselves off to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
The witness of the Apostles of Rome are a spur to all of us to learn discernment, to hear the quiet voice of the Lord in the midst of the white noise of Satan and our sins: “Like Peter, we as a Church will always be tempted to hear those ‘whisperings’ of the evil One, which will become a stumbling stone for the mission.” That mission, of course, is nothing else than the everlasting joy of ourselves and the whole world. It is an esteemed privilege, right, and duty, which we cannot afford to shirk.
The message of the Holy Father is not that we will never fall into the snares of the Devil or even that we should be ashamed when we do so. Indeed, the greatest of all prayers, spoken by Our Lord Himself, implores that we be delivered from such a fate. But we beg to be delivered from the Evil One because, without grace, we are helpless. Our Enemy is cunning and restless, and he can even appear in the guise of goodness. In a truly despicable inversion of the old saying, the Devil makes us miss the trees for the forest; he works to keep us out of contact with the hearts and minds of those around us– and our own interior selves– knowing that the only way we can build up the Church and heal the world is precisely by remaining in touch with them. The Christian’s call is not an abstract relation to “humanity,” but is a real and concrete vocation to share the mercy of Jesus with the person in front of him. This is what the Pope means when he speaks of “the revolutionary power of God’s tender love,” the love which fills all gaps and heals all wounds and rights all wrongs. The Devil fears this revolutionary power and works to stifle it. But by the grace of God, even when we fall for a trick, we can ask Christ for His love and mercy to make all things well. We can immerse ourselves in the Precious Blood of Christ and take His wounds as our own. It is the sublime calling of the Christian to do no less. This Solemnity, let us humbly look to Sts. Peter and Paul as our example of the Christian triumphant over the Devil through wholehearted love of the will of God, of neighbor, and of self. Let us hear the wisdom of Pope Francis and be attentive:
“By not separating his glory from the cross, Jesus wants to liberate his disciples, his Church, from empty forms of triumphalism: forms empty of love, service, compassion, empty of people. He wants to set his Church free from grand illusions that fail to sink their roots in the life of God’s faithful people or, still worse, believe that service to the Lord means turning aside from the dusty roads of history. To contemplate and follow Christ requires that we open our hearts to the Father and to all those with whom he has wished to identify, in the sure knowledge that he will never abandon his people.”