Synod Document of October 13 2014

My fear about the Synod was that it would “get it wrong,” that is, issue a statement that would have some statements that would be open to all sorts of speculation and misinterpretation. That fear was realized with paragraph 50 of its interim report issued on Monday, October 13.

  1. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing [...] them [...] a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

As was apparent to many of the bishops and viewers around the world, that was a very questionable statement, and it was readily questioned. Providentially, the first reading at Mass on October 15 was a passage from Chapter 5 of St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians including verses 19-21. “Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” The first three words are different ways of saying “sexual immorality.”

Now, it is obvious that all of those who are guilty of any of these sins also “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.”   So the net effect of paragraph 50 is that it raises the question as to why the document called special attention to homosexuals as contrasted with other sinners

The vast majority of the bishops at the Synod did not take kindly to this sort of verbiage. For one thing, it appears that the wording was not approved by the entire Synod; most of it was written by one cardinal. So, as one account put it, they revolted, and they issued a number of modifying statements from the various language groups.

The bottom line is that the vast majority of the bishops do in truth believe what the Catholic Church has been teaching about love, marriage, and sexuality for some 2000 years.

To get it right, the bishops needed to come up with some practical ways to evangelize their fellow Catholics as well as make a case to other Christians, theists and even non-believers that the best thing the Catholic Church can do for humanity is to remain true to itself as the Body of Christ. They didn’t get it right this time, but they still have another year to get their act together.

Their revolt against the document of October 13 gives me hope. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us and for our bishops.

John F. Kippley, October 17, 2014

See also the blogs at www.nfpandmore.org

 

 

What the Synod and the U. S. Supreme Court Have in Common

A Catholic Synod of bishops and others convened on Sunday, October 5, to discuss matters of great importance to the family. On October 7, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to decide anything about lower court decisions that favored the acceptance of same-sex “marriage” as an arrangement that can be called marriage and entitled to the economic and legal benefits of legal marriage.

What these two events have in common is the subject of sodomy, both heterosexual and homosexual. In his commentary on the Sin of Onan in Genesis 38:6-10, Martin Luther called Onan’s contraceptive behavior (withdrawal and ejaculation outside the woman) a form of sodomy, and on this matter he was uncharacteristically correct. The whole purpose of any and every form of contraceptive behavior is to render the act as sterile as an act of homosexual sodomy.

This is the real issue at stake in the Synod of the Family. It was the real issue at stake in the birth-control debate leading up to Humanae Vitae and thereafter. About two years prior to the encyclical, Pope Paul VI received conflicting reports from his birth control commission. The report from the majority was in favor of the Church accepting marital contraception; the minority argued in favor of upholding the teaching of some 1900 years, a doctrine that had been strongly reaffirmed by Pope Pius XI on the last day of 1930 in his encyclical, Casti Connubii (concerning chaste marriage).

They also argued that there is a logic in the acceptance of unnatural forms of birth control, and that the effects of that logic will be spelled out both in theory and in practice. Specifically, they pointed out that the acceptance of marital contraception would logically entail the acceptance of sodomy. The majority spokesmen replied that they did not accept sodomy and called it beneath the dignity of human persons. That, however, was their personal conviction. They did not and could not provide a logical way of accepting sodomy for married heterosexuals and not accepting it for homosexuals. The truth of the minority  argument was illustrated immediately by a self-styled “revisionist” who argued that his fellow revisionists, in rejecting Humanae Vitae, had also rejected the entire theory of natural law and thus had no way of saying “no” to any imaginable sexual activity that was acceptable to consenting adults, including bestiality.

If we understand that most marriages in the West today are marriages of marital contraception and therefore of heterosexual sodomy, then it is not unreasonable to expect that when the Supreme Court finally has to render a decision about the constitutionality of homosexual “marriage,” it will find some excuse to decide that state laws against such arrangements are unconstitutional. After all, if the Supreme Court can find all state laws against the killing of unborn babies on the basis of a shadow of a shadow (the penumbra of one of the Amendments), it can surely find some way to legalize sodomy as marriage even though it applies to, perhaps, only one percent of the American population. Justices read the papers and see the widespread acceptance.

The effect of this will be to sharpen the need for all Christians who accept the Bible as a source of religious morality to do a better job of teaching about sexuality, marriage and birth control. The State has already decreed via no-fault divorce laws that there is no such thing as permanent marriage—whoever wants out wins. The State is increasingly promoting pre-marital sex via its promotion of contraceptives and anti-STD vaccines. The Catholic Church has its work cut out for it in this immoral environment, and the other Christian communities will need to ally themselves with Catholic teaching or lose all relevance except as propagandists for the liberal agenda.

According to popular media, the big issue at the Synod is whether to ignore biblically-based Catholic teaching against divorce and remarriage and to admit to Holy Communion such civilly remarried couples. The underlying question, I submit, is why there are so many divorced couples in the first place. One reason is that most of them have practiced some form of marital contraception. When couples do not cooperate with the graces of the sacrament of marriage, bad things happen.

Every theist has to admit that God himself put together in one act what we commonly call “making love” and “making babies.” Every form of marital contraception says in bodily language, “We can take apart what God himself put together in the marriage act.” If people really think they can do that, it is only a small jump to thinking that they can also take apart what God himself has put together in the marriage itself.

Thus, what that Synod really has to deal with is the widespread current acceptance of marital heterosexual sodomy, whether it is in the physical form of anatomical sodomy or in less obvious forms such as mutual masturbation, barrier methods, withdrawal, and other birth control agents whether physical or hormonal.

The de facto acceptance of marital sodomy under the title of marital heterosexual contraception has left its practitioners and their supporting clergy logically open to calling homosexual sodomy “marriage.” That’s why I think it is fair to say that the Synod and the Supreme Court are both dealing with the same issue.  If I am correct, and if it is true that sodomy is one of the sins that cry to heaven for vengeance, the Synod better get it right.

Next week: How the Synod could help

John Kippley, October 8, 2014,

See also Sheila’s blog at http://nfpandmore.org/wordpress/ — another factor in the acceptance of marital contraception.

Pray the rosary. Please

Tuesday, October 7, marks the 443rd anniversary of a key event that kept Europe from being dominated by Islam in the 16th century—-the Battle of Lepanto.  This was the last major naval battle fought with ships powered by oars; it was also the largest such battle since the battle of Actium in 31 BC.

March 7th is also the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary. This is not a coincidence. Your life may well depend on understanding the connection and getting practical about it.

In 1571 the Ottoman Empire forces were on the warpath, determined to bring all of Europe under Islamic domination. Europe was divided because of the Protestant reformation as well as traditional national divisions and was not responding well to the challenge. Only Pope Pius V seemed to understand its gravity, and thus he mustered the support of enough of Catholic Europe to raise a navy.  On October 7 under the leadership of 26-year-old Don Juan of Austria, it met the larger Ottoman force in the Bay of Patras in Southern Greece, west of the port of Lepanto.  The Pope realized that the real battle was spiritual and did everything in his power to get everyone in Catholic Europe to pray the rosary for victory so that they could live in peace and not be under rule of Sharia law.

To roughly paraphrase Caesar, Islam came, the Pope saw, the people prayed, and the rosary conquered.

To learn more about this highly important historic event, do an internet search for Battle of Lepanto.   The Wikipedia account http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lepanto with all its references is somewhat tedious and difficult to read. A military history account is fairly short and a quick read at http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/navalbattles14011600/p/lepanto.htm. The account at http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=7391 is very well written. The two I liked the best were http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/the-battle-that-saved-the-christian-west and http://www.ewtn.com/library/mary/olislam.htm. I liked Christopher Check’s article at catholic.com because it gives an excellent explanation of the events leading up to Lepanto. I appreciated Fr. Ladis J. Cizik’s article at EWTN.com because it connects the links between Lepanto, Fatima—both the name and the events in Portugal in 1917, and our Lady’s plea for us to pray the rosary for “world peace, the conversion of Russia, and the conversion of sinners” throughout the world.

The stakes are high once again. A militant Islam is once again on the rise. The headlines feature Iraq and Syria with widespread murder of non-combatants and deliberately provocative beheadings, but the Islamist warfare has been going on for years in the Sudan and currently threatens the existence of the people of South Sudan. The kidnapping of over 200 adolescent girls by the Boko Haram has let us know of something that has been going on for years in Nigeria. If you think the things we read today are bad, wait till you read about the Islamic conquest of Cyprus leading up to Lepanto.

I suppose there are those who think that military force alone will quell the Islamic forces of terror today, but that is simply whistling in the dark. As it was in 1571, the battle is primarily spiritual as well as being physical. I am not belittling the use of military force; I agree with the saintly Pope Pius V that sometimes we need to resort to force.

But I also agree with Pope Pius V and many Popes since then that we have to pray the rosary. Our Lady of Fatima is reverenced by many Muslims. She has a place to play in the search for peace. It is just not at all smart to ignore her request at Fatima for us to pray the rosary every day for peace.

Somehow I get the impression that not a lot of younger people, say those born since 1980 and maybe even since 1960, pray the rosary consistently. If so, what does it take for them to take seriously Mary’s request that we pray the rosary daily for peace? If they think about it, they are the ones who will suffer the most if Islamic jihad continues to grow. So, if there are any of you younger folks who read this, please, please pray the rosary every day.

I know that some folks claim to be bored while praying the rosary. I admit the problem and have tried to make it less of a problem. In my little Seven Day Bible Rosary, you will find a different set of mysteries for each day of the week. You will find a scripture verse before each Hail Mary. There is also a short meditation before each mystery. I find it very helpful; sometimes when I am especially distracted or tired, it is my best bet for praying the rosary that day. For those interested in how the rosary developed historically, there is a short history at www.sevendaybiblerosary.com.

Please.  For the benefit of your family and for the benefit of our fellow Christians in other lands, and out of gratitude for our Lady’s visits to Fatima, please pray the rosary every day. It’s our Lady’s request.

John F. Kippley, October 3, 2014

Cardinal Walter Kasper and Artificiality re NFP

In the online edition of the Telegraph (UK) on September 19th, Religious Affairs editor John Bingham reported that Cardinal Walter Kasper “hinted at the possibility of a reinterpretation of the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on artificial contraception.”

He said it was “the responsibility of the parents” to decide how many children they should have. Almost no informed orthodox Catholic will disagree with that if it is rightly understood as decisions made in the light of the divine call to generosity in the service of life and family. A church of only one-child and two-child families is doomed to self-extinction.

According to Bingham, the Cardinal said that “so-called natural family planning, which is promoted by the Church as an alternative to contraception, also has an ‘artificial’ element.” Bingham notes that some representatives of natural family planning will be at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family and then adds, “But the Cardinal argued that natural methods have an ‘artificial aspect’.”

The Cardinal simply has to know that “artificial” has nothing to do with the birth control issue. Almost everything we do today has an artificial aspect. The alarm clock that wakes us in the morning. The central heat that goes on automatically at a preset time. A thermometer used to check body temperatures. None of this has anything to do with being contrary to nature.

Cardinal Walter Kasper is 81 years of age. That means that he was 35 when he witnessed the promulgation of Humanae Vitae and the explosive dissent from it including the German bishops’ lack of support for it. As a theologically interested priest, he would have also read the two conflicting reports from the Papal Birth Control Commission. He would have seen that the “conservative” report pointed out that the “liberal” paper could not say “no” to sodomy, and he would have seen that the “liberals” replied that such activity was against human dignity, an assertion of their personal opinions but not based in logic. Over the years, he would have seen that homosexual activists say or assume that sodomy is in accord with human dignity and sometimes even call their organizations “Dignity.” In the ensuring debate he would have seen that researchers found that Martin Luther called the Sin of Onan a form of sodomy.

I grant that there are some today who erroneously refer to unnatural forms of birth control as “artificial contraception,” but no one today is arguing that the evil of marital contraception is its use of an artifact. After all, when married heterosexuals practice fertility awareness and then engage in the contraceptive practices of sodomy or mutual masturbation to avoid abstinence during the fertile time, they are using their own organs, not anything artificial. The Cardinal has to know that the traditional argument has been that marital contraception is contrary to nature, and he has to know that the argument from natural law is criticized in certain quarters. But as a theologian, he also has to be aware that some or many now argue that the essence of the sin of marital contraception is its contradiction of the marriage covenant. The act of marital contraception pretends to be a marriage act, but it says, “I take you for better but definitely NOT for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy,” thus contradicting the “for better and for worse” of the marriage covenant. That’s why St. John Paul II affirmed that in the marriage act couples are called to confirm their marriage covenant, and why he taught repeatedly that marital contraception is dishonest.

It may be that Cardinal Kasper and many others have not kept up on the theology that supports Catholic teaching affirmed by Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae. But he simply has to know that “artificiality” is not in the discourse.

John F. Kippley

NFP International, www.nfpandmore.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marriage Problem—What Can Be Done?

When Pope Francis was returning from South Korea, he was interviewed en route. The subject was the Islamic attack on Christians in Iraq and Syria, and he was asked point blank, “What can be done?” Pope Francis replied that it would be legitimate to use force to stop the unjust aggression of those who are committing the rampant murders of Christians and other minorities in Iraq.

More recently, on September 10th, Cardinal Francis George blasted the Obama administration and allies of the pro-sodomy movement for forcing a “public creed” on Americans, compelling all to accept “gay marriage” and other “sexual anomalies.” Again, what can be done? I have previously blogged (e.g., 8/17/2014) on the direct relationship between accepting marital contraception including marital heterosexual sodomy and the consequent acceptance of homosexual sodomy parading as “marriage.” Unfortunately, the record of the last 46 years does not reveal great leadership by our bishops and Cardinals in support of Humanae Vitae and providing understandable theology and practical help. In fact, I can testify to the exclusion I experienced for many years by priests who did not accept Humanae Vitae and/or my efforts to teach natural family planning in the context of Catholic doctrine.

The Pope and the entire Church are faced with a similar problem with the number of Catholics who have married validly, then divorced, then remarried in a civil ceremony, and now would like to receive Holy Communion without the repentance of living as brother and sister. The question is overwhelmingly obvious: “What can be done?” Among the answers that have been offered is the concept of better preparation for marriage.

Well, yes. But what does that mean? For more than 40 years we have had an army of services to help couples have better marriages, but the Catholic divorce rate remains very close to the secular rate of one in every two marriages. So it seems that something more than communication skills and money management is needed, important as those are.

The one group that does better than the average marriage-wise is that small group of couples who practice natural family planning. This has long been known, and that’s undoubtedly why the US Bishops’ Committee on Pastoral Research and Practices urged, back in 1989, that every engaged couple be required to participate in a full course on natural family planning, not just an hour or two NFP presentation in a weekend pre-Cana conference.

That raises a further question: is it sufficient to learn just about fertility awareness? Or should NFP instruction prior to marriage be seen as an unrepeatable opportunity to evangelize engaged couples? I stress unrepeatable because preparation for marriage may be the only time a parish priest will ever be in a one-and-one-couple situation in which he can talk frankly about the Lord Jesus and discipleship and salvation. Too many of his engaged couples are not active in parish life or even in Church every Sunday. To repeat, this may be his only opportunity to evangelize them on a personal basis.

In our organization, Natural Family Planning International, we see marriage preparation as that unique opportunity. We put this conviction into practice right in the first pages of our user’s manual, Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach. The three-page Introduction is titled “Where Faith and Science Meet.” It’s next-to-last paragraph sums it this way: “The time has come to return to the biblically based faith that sexual intercourse is intended by God to be exclusively a marriage act, and that within marriage it ought to be a renewal of the self-giving love and commitment of the couple’s original marriage covenant. For many, this realization of the meaning of the marriage act has been a life-changing experience.”

Chapter 1 is an example of the New Evangelization, and by that I mean the effort to help Catholics understand that the teachings of the Church, including its challenging moral teachings, are ultimately the teachings of the Lord Jesus. A short section titled “Why should I believe what the Catholic Church teaches?” reminds the reader that Christ at the Last Supper promised that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide the Church in its teaching. We use the example of the Nicene Creed that Mass-attending Catholics recite every Sunday, implicitly believing that the bishops at Nicea got it right because they were led by the Holy Spirit. Our treatment is brief, but it opens the door for the parish priest or deacon to elaborate on this and to teach what it means to believe that Jesus keeps his promises.

A section titled “The Bible and Church teaching on contraception” briefly treats of the Sin of Onan, other sexual sins, the Theology of the Body, and the covenant theology of sexuality. We also include the brief but important teaching of Pope Benedict XVI about the importance of the heart, not just the intellect, in following Jesus. This section also conveys Catholic teaching about specific immoralities such as masturbation and marital sodomy. These things are nobody’s favorite subjects, but they need to be taught because we know that some or many engaged and married couples engage in these behaviors, sometimes without ever knowing they are wrong because they were never taught these specifics.

Chapter 7 is written by user couples ranging from a woman who was a truth-seeking atheist when she first stumbled upon NFP and the covenant theology, a man who used “NFP” wrongly, a woman who learned and practiced ecological breastfeeding, another man who found us through my theology book that he found “painful” to read because it led him to the truth which he had not been practicing, and a wife who, with her husband, was gradually led into the Catholic Church through ecological breastfeeding and the NFPI form of NFP and theology.

The last chapter of the manual opens with two short paragraphs encouraging chastity and noting that the ultimate purpose of human relationships is to help the other person on the path to heaven.

The point is obvious. In this manual, parish priests and deacons have texts that provide an easy way to evangelize their engaged couples on these sensitive matters. They have a theology that works with couples with open hearts.

Every priest and deacon doing marriage preparation ought to have a copy of Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach on his desk, and I recommend the spiral-bound edition because it lies flat and is thus easier for sharing with couples. I think they would do well to insist that their couples obtain a copy themselves, whether in print or as a freewill-offering download.

The Lord Jesus teaches us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28-30). God NEVER teaches that love is easy. The Lord tells us clearly that being a disciple involves being yoked to Jesus, but compared to the other difficulties of life and the self-inflicted burdens of sin, the yoke of discipleship is easy and the burden is light. We do ourselves and others no favor by teaching them that following Catholic moral teaching is easy. For very good reason the Lord Jesus gave us the sacraments and his mother urges us to pray the rosary. For all of these reasons, chaste NFP needs to be taught in the context of Christian discipleship.

To return to the opening paragraph, in the current war against basic Christian morality, it is surely Christian prudence to require engaged couples to participate in the right kind of NFP course as a normal part of preparation for lifelong marriage. In most localities, the easiest way to do this is to have the couples take the NFPI Home Study Course via email. They will be amazed at how much they learn. On the other hand, fertility-awareness-only courses are not helpful for the evangelization task at hand. For more on the right kind of NFP course, see http://nfpandmore.org/the_right_kind_of_NFP_CW.pdf

John F Kippley, September 20, 2014

At the NFPI website, www.nfpandmore.org , you can find registration for the Home Study Course, Sheila’s weekly blog, and Your Right To Know what’s involved in NFP education.

 

 

Engaging Islam and the Islamists

Pope Francis was in the online news recently because of what he said about Islam in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (n. 253). In this document of 288 numbered sections, there are 217 references, but there are no references for this statement regarding Islam. In response, the onepeterfive.com blog listed quotations from seven saints and a recent scholar who would have a hard time agreeing with the papal statement.   Some of the statements by Catholic saints were made just prior to their being killed by Muslims for their refusal to convert to Islam. The papal wishful statement was in the context of hoping for mutual understanding and for better treatment of Christians in areas of Muslim dominance: “I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!” To which we can all say “Amen.”

Henry Kissinger made the headlines this week (9/9/14) with his new book, World Order (Penguin Press) in which he discusses the role of the West and especially America in responding to the rising challenge of militant Islam. According to the USA Today article (9/9/14), Kissinger thinks the United States “needs to strike the terror group in retaliation for the decapitation of two American journalists, then eliminate it ‘as an operating force in the region’ .”

That seems to be the conventional wisdom this week. But it was just a month ago that the papers were filled with reminiscences and second thoughts about the wisdom of European countries going into all-out war over the murder of Archduke Ferdinand of the Austria-Hungary empire by a crazy Serb 100 years ago this past August. In my opinion, there is ample justification for a military response to ISIS, but the double murder of two Americans is a small part of it. Their murders have served to get the attention of President Obama, but any action based primarily on revenge or showing how tough we can be is bound to be ultimately tragic and fruitless in the long run. And, after all, America is not exactly innocent. Our liberal society murders some 4,000 unborn children every day, and the exclusion of God from public life and education is yielding such a high murder rate that these killings barely make the news.

A huge problem in America is the near deification of democracy. In terms of centuries of world history, Western democratic republics are still an experiment. They are based on Christian principles of the dignity of the human person, respect for minorities, and long-term self-interest that does not always seek what is best immediately for one’s own pocketbook. As St. John Paul II pointed out, the West is forgetting its own history and the faith on which Europe was based. It is all too easy to slip from democracy into demagoguery.

That’s sort of a long winded way of saying that as the secular but once-Christian West engages ISIS in what the latter sees as primarily a religious war, the West had better be clear about its limited objectives. May we be spared any talk about converting the Islamic world to democracy.   As Kissinger noted, the United States has “been in five wars since World War II, and in only one can we say we’ve reached the objective stated. So we should state the objective that does not get us into an endless conflict.”

For a model, Kissinger suggests the 1839 Treaty of London which guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium, a small country that had been the battleground between other forces because of its strategic location. Others have suggested the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia as a model—it concluded the Thirty Years war in which northern Germany had kept trying to impose its Protestantism on southern Germany. Will it take 30 years of warfare with militant Islam to arrive at an agreement not to try to impose your religion by force? But if conquest and conversion by force is built into the nature of Islam, can there ever be a peace that is more than a truce?

It seems to me that the bottom line has to be constant prayer for the conversion of Islam. We have been praying for the conversion of Russia for almost 100 years, and today we can see great progress.   Russia has converted from its embrace of Communism. To be sure, its nationalism is up and running, and there is still much to pray for, but we have no grounds for discouragement.

So, it seems to me that there needs to be a very widespread and continued effort to spread the idea of praying simultaneously for the conversion of Islam and for the conversion of America and Europe as well as for the continued conversion of Russia. Perhaps my Seven Day Bible Rosary can help some folks in praying the daily rosary.

John F. Kippley, September 13, 2014 Click on the Seven Day Bible Rosary near the top of this website.

 

 

Peter’s Professions of Faith and Reason

The Gospel reading for Sunday, August 24, (Matthew 16:13-20) was about Peter’s profession of faith. After Jesus had asked the Apostles what people were saying about him and had received various responses, he put the question directly to them: “ ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.’ “

What did Jesus mean when he said, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you…”? I assume that the Apostles had discussed the identity of Jesus, as so many were doing. They may have all speculated and even agreed that he is the Messiah foretold by the prophets, that is, understood as an extraordinary man and prophet. They had seen the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and numerous other healings. They had heard him say about himself, “…the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” They had witnessed the healing of the paralytic and heard Jesus say that this healing was a sign of his divine power: ”But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” This was unheard of, something the prophets had never said, but later Jesus would confer the power of absolution on his priests, so it could be argued that Jesus was merely saying that he had a delegated power. They had witnessed the feeding of the 5,000. But now something new happens. The Father takes Peter beyond what he had already seen and heard and thought about with his flesh and blood powers and reveals to Peter that Jesus is “The Son of the living God.” To answer the question at the start of this paragraph, I think Jesus told Peter that his profession was not just the result of his observations and thinking but was a special gift—the gift of faith—to believe that Jesus is more than a prophet and fully shares the divine nature of God the Father.

The Gospel for Sunday, August 31st is about Peter’s profession of reason. It continues with the text of Matthew 16: 21-27, and provides a stark comparison. Jesus taught the Apostles about his coming suffering and death, and here Peter truly used his flesh and blood reasoning powers. We can imagine him thinking, “How can Jesus suffer and be put to death? Certainly that seems incompatible with his being ‘the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ Certainly the Son of the Living God has the power to stop his enemies.” So Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

I suggest there is a practical lesson in the suffering episode. The problem of suffering is something that all of us encounter. It may be our own personal sufferings, or it may be the sufferings of others. The problem of suffering is perplexing. We may even criticize our own perplexity. That is, I know that God brings good out of evil, so why am I so concerned about a particular suffering? For example, God knows the needs of the displaced persons and refugees in the Middle East and elsewhere, so why are we concerned and praying for their relief? To give a partial answer, there may be more people of contrary faiths praying for the refugees in Iraq than ever before. Such prayer unites us, and that’s a good thing. Ultimately, the only answer is the Cross. However, when we encounter perplexity about suffering, we can take at least some comfort in the fact that the Prince of the Apostles was also perplexed. St. Peter, pray for us when we are perplexed by suffering.

John F. Kippley, September 6, 2014. See also Sheila’s weekly blog at www.nfpandmore.org .