"To be a Peter or do a Judas is a choice we must make many times in our lives."
In the first Sunday of Lent, the Gospel brought us into the desert where Jesus after fasting for 40 days is tempted by Satan. The scripture narrative tells us how Jesus rebuffed Satan such that the latter had no power over the Messiah. After the event in the desert, for tomorrow’s Gospel, the scripture brings us to the Transfiguration which occurs after Peter's confession that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus' prediction about his Passion.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus, together with Peter and James, and John his brother, climbed up a high mountain where Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
It was a special grace for Peter, James, and John to see Jesus transfigured. They experienced a preview of the glory of Jesus risen from the dead and his glory in heaven. It was also a sneak peak of the glory all hope to partake in heaven. Yet despite this intimate experience Peter did not remain faithful to him especially during his most trying time. They had seen Jesus transfigured, heard the Father’s command to listen to Jesus, saw personally the miracles performed by Jesus yet they were scandalized by the Passion of Jesus. Much like the disciples, we too experienced and met Jesus in special ways and yet we too often let him down.
All of us because of our fallen and imperfect nature are vulnerable to sin and most often reject and turn our backs from Jesus. Even the closest apostles like Peter denied Christ three times. Yet in the end Peter was entrusted the keys to the Church only because he knew how to ask for forgiveness; to atone sincerely for his sins. His response after realizing the gravity of his sin was to ask for God’s forgiveness. In contrast, Judas after he betrayed his Master was overcome by shame and despair to hang himself into perdition.
To be a Peter or do a Judas is a choice we must make many times in our lives.
It is a choice that the Catholic Church has to face also as it addresses the problem of child sex abuse.
Pope Francis took the right direction when he convened the bishops all over the world to tackle the issue of clerical sex abuse. Acknowledging one’s sin is the first step toward healing and reconciliation. In his speech during the four-day summit, Francis condemned the clerics who allowed themselves to become instruments of Satan by abusing the children. He said:
“The brutality of this worldwide phenomenon becomes all the more grave and scandalous in the Church, for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility. Consecrated persons, chosen by God to guide souls to salvation, let themselves be dominated by their human frailty or sickness and thus become tools of Satan. In abuse, we see the hand of the evil that does not spare even the innocence of children. No explanations suffice for these abuses involving children. We need to recognize with humility and courage that we stand face to face with the mystery of evil, which strikes most violently against the most vulnerable, for they are an image of Jesus. For this reason, the Church has now become increasingly aware of the need not only to curb the gravest cases of abuse by disciplinary measures and civil and canonical processes, but also to decisively confront the phenomenon both inside and outside the Church.”
Pope Francis then added: “In people's justified anger, the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons. The echo of the silent cry of the little ones who, instead of finding in them fathers and spiritual guides encountered tormentors, will shake hearts dulled by hypocrisy and by power. It is our duty to pay close heed to this silent, choked cry.
The Church is in a crisis. How the church leadership will respond and correct its own failings will spell the difference between the response of Peter and that of Judas. Will God’s calling for reconciliation be approached with meekness, humility or will it be treated with obstinacy, pride and lack of faith in God’s compassion and mercy? All of us—all sinners—are confronted with the same challenge, that is the challenge to either reach out to God’s grace of forgiveness or remain mired in complacency and stubbornness. In the next column for these Lenten series, I will write about specific measures that have been suggested so that the Church, like each of us, can be transfigured.
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