Tomorrow, in the midst of Lent, we bring out the flowers and celebrate the Double Major Feast of the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch. This bookends the feast we celebrated just over a month ago - the feast of the Chair of Peter at Rome on January 18th. Few realize he ruled from two Sees. In fact, it was from Rome where Peter was fleeing yet again - possibly back to Antioch - when Our Lord appeared as a stranger and asked Simon Peter "Quo vadis?" "Which way are you going?" for Jesus knew His prized Apostle was fearful of the inevitable martyrdom that ahead.
Peter was human in every way and that should give each and every one of us the encouragement to keep on going no matter the odds;
especially when we consider that our first Pope was very human and fell often. Truth be known, Peter is remembered more for denying Christ than preaching epistles or dying on a cross himself. The cock has crowed many times for all of us, for we have all betrayed Our Lord many times over, denying Him in the face of a mocking world. Whenever we deny our true faith, we are shouting "I do not know that Man" to a society that has forgotten Him already. That reality and its consequences must be properly understood and appreciated if we are to begin to love Christ as He deserves to be loved.
Peter Has Nothing on Us
Peter has often been criticized for denying his Lord, for shrinking in the face of the moment of truth, and for turning his arrogant proclamations into empty cowardice. However, we are far worse than our first Pope, for we have denied our Lord many more times than Peter ever did, and with much more arrogance, ignorance, and sarcasm. Peter boasted that he would never deny his Lord out of love mixed with pride and over-confidence. We, on the other hand, either do not even make that promise or even see it as a worthy goal. Peter at least thought that his boasts represented a worthy, positive goal. We either are ignorant to the value of aspiring to such loyalty or actually see such claims with mocking disdain.
After following and promising loyalty to his Lord, Peter forgot everything he had learned about love, peace, and self-control in one violent action against a servant in the Garden upon the arrest of Christ. Despite this fall of Peter, how many times have we forgotten everything we have learned from Christ as well? No matter how many times Peter failed in this way, I am sure that we have failed as many or more times. Finally, Peter denied his Lord in favor of the warm fire of that cold courtyard. How many times do we ignore or deny our Lord in favor of the warmth of popularity, acceptance, or the favor of a lost society? How many times have we denied Christ because we fear the cold of rejection, isolation, and ridicule which He faced for us?
Many ask how a man who denied his Lord could ever become the first Pope. Perhaps it is because only someone who has fallen so far and trusted God to forgive him could rise so high. We cannot imagine the bitter devastation which Peter suffered upon seeing the eyes of his knowing Master having denied Him as predicted. There is no doubt that this fallen man still loved his Lord and thus began his redemption in the sea of his tears. It is at this point that we reach the forgotten sacrifice of this society.
The Scorching Fire
We all know the pain of a burn. At one point or another, we have all felt the searing sting of heat touch our skin. Instinctively, we jump back without even thinking of our actions because we detest that pain. Likewise, we will do anything we can do avoid confronting this pain again if possible, even to the point of jumping out a window to certain death as some firemen recently did in New York City. In fact, we would question the sanity of anyone who would willingly expose themselves to fire, flame, or heat, especially for trivial reasons. While we might wonder about someone who would run into a fire to save a child, we would consider someone running into that fire for a beer to be insane or at least the most desperate alcoholic known to man!
If we truly love Christ, we must see offending Him as a scorching fire that inflicts the most excruciating pain upon our soul. If we did see this, we would avoid that flame as much as possible, seek to avoid that flame in the future, and let the effects of that burn to remind us of what it feels like to lose Him, at least temporarily.
The Silent Sacrifice
Given all of the above, a number of points must be made. First, we must see our sins as flames that burn us with a most painful separation from our Lord. Second, this terrible pain must be insignificant to the greater pain, the higher burn, of the intense flame of not being able to receive Our Lord in The Blessed Sacrament! In other words, as painful as sinning against Our Lord should be, it should be even more painful to then suffer the consequence of not being able to receive Holy Communion. This is possible because sinning causes us to lose Christ to some degree, but refraining from Communion then causes us to lose Him yet again and therefore twice as a result of the same wrong. Likewise, sinning may be either through neglect or intent, but refraining from Communion due to sin is always intentional and voluntary, and therefore requires an additional effort and pain. Also, sin may be either private or public, but refraining from Communion is always publicly done and therefore more exposed. If sin is an expression of arrogance and defiance, then refraining from Communion is an expression of humility and respect. If sin causes us to put our interest over that of Our Lord, then refraining from Communion causes us to put our Lord above our interest and is thus the appropriate response. The arrogant defiance of sin must be followed by the humble submission of either confession or, if the opportunity for Communion arises before one has confessed, then the temporary humble submission of refraining from the Eucharist until confession can be made.
As I see others approach the Eucharist, I must feel intense sorrow for my sin has rendered me unqualified to receive my Lord. This sorrow should be such that I cannot stand to remain so unqualified. The stain of my sin must be so painful that the sorrow it creates is in and of itself a huge deterrent, but the consequence of losing the chance to receive my Lord must be that much more painful, creating a deep feeling of loss that hardens my disposition to avoid such a self-inflicted wound to my soul! This sorrow must be silent because just as our Lord told us to pray in silence to move toward God; we also must suffer in silence as the saints all did in order to move toward God as well. If our Lord wants us to remain silent as we do good, how much more does humility and respect demand that we remain silent as we face the consequence of bad?
Redemption is simply the answer to evil with commensurate good. Only the immeasurable sacrifice of Our Lord on the cross could answer the immeasurable evil of our sins. Likewise, the dual sorrow of refraining from the Eucharist and confessing our sins should be of such intensity as to adequately answer the evil of our sins. If we do not feel that sorrow due to ignorance, indifference, or superficiality, then we have not truly found redemption. This is the reason why one must take confession and Holy Communion very seriously and approach both with the respect and deliberation both demand.
The lost silent sacrifice of voluntarily refraining from the Eucharist when one is in serious sin, then, is a silent yet very powerful and loud proclamation of The Real Presence and of our love for the Lord we have offended. Conversely, the reception of the Eucharist by those in serious sin is a further insult of the highest order against our Lord, one which can lead us to perdition.
We're reminded again of the head of the Apostles. When push came to shove after Our Lord was arrested, Peter panicked and ran. The man Jesus appointed to head His Church high-tailed it out of there after Christ charged him to bind and loose. While our Savior hung on the wood of the cross, Peter was AWOL. Only one Apostle stood by Him to the bitter end, the beloved disciple Saint John, the only Apostle not to die of martyrdom. Peter was a sinner who also felt unworthy to be in the presence of Our Lord after his denial. It was Christ's holy Mother Mary who interceded for him, encouraged him and helped Peter regain his strength to ask forgiveness and be confident again in the presence of his Master.
So also us. We need to ask Blessed Mary to intercede for us, to remand us as a loving mother should when we stray, and to make sure we stay on the path to salvation, and to do, as she counseled at the Wedding Feast of Cana "Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye" (John 2: 5).
In a society where the most detestable, despicable, and vile practices and beliefs are justified by Catholic frauds pretending to exhibit piety, the silent sacrifice spoken of here is a most important and commendable practice. It is in this case that the phrase Silence is Golden reaches its highest expression!