Third Sunday of Easter, Year C (30/4/22 & 1/5/22)

posted 4 May 2022, 02:25 by Parish Office

In some ways the shorter option of the Gospel today doesn’t entirely make sense: it misses out the second half, where Peter’s threefold denial of Christ when He was before the Sanhedrin is cancelled out by his threefold affirmation of his love for the Lord. But perhaps a more careful look at the other themes flowing through the readings might show another theme or two that can be pursued by using the shorter Gospel. You may remember that at the Last Supper, Peter said to Jesus: “I will lay down my life for you”, and it had led to the response from Our Lord: “Lay down your life for me? … I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.” Peter was overconfident in his natural abilities, which led to his crushing defeat, when, in order to save his own skin, he denied that he even know the Lord.

Fast forward to the first reading, which is taken from after Pentecost, and Peter and the apostles are preaching fearlessly their faith in Christ, regardless of the consequences. The high priest tries to get them to back down, and he’s given the rebuke, “Obedience to God comes before obedience to men”. St Thomas More, fifteen centuries later, was to say something similar at his trial: “I am the king’s good servant, and God’s first”. This time, rather than wanting to avoid any negative consequences for being faithful to the Lord, it says they were, “glad to have had the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name”.

Going back to the scene at the Sea of Tiberius, Jesus affirms that Peter is going to die as a martyr, he is going to lay down his life for the Lord; but he doesn’t indicate when that will happen. The Church Fathers are unanimous in saying that he was executed during the persecution of Nero by crucifixion. In Rome there is a church called Domine Quo Vadis, which means, Lord, where are you going? The story is that during the persecution of Christians in Rome, Peter decided to flee again, and was blocked by a vision of Christ. He asked Him where He was going, and He told Peter that He was heading to be crucified again. The vision disappeared and Peter got the hint, and headed back into Rome to face martyrdom. When Peter was crucified, there is also the story that he considered himself unworthy to be martyred in exactly the same way as the Lord, so he asked to be crucified upside-down, and that is why the upside-down cross is the symbol of St Peter, and the papacy, today.

Being faithful to Christ requires courage, and it needs more than just natural abilities. That is encouraging if we think we are lacking - a priest once said to me that he wondered if he had lived in England during the Reformation whether he would have had the courage to stand up for his faith. The history goes that, at the time of King Henry VIII, many laity died for the Catholic faith, as did many monks, and some priests, but only one bishop – St John Fisher; all the others went along with Henry’s demands. But after the advance of the Protestant cause under Edward VI, and then the Catholic restoration under Mary I, when Elizabeth I ascended the throne and wanted to break with Rome again, this time all the bishops held fast apart from one.

Today we might find that we are not asked to shed our blood for the faith; instead we have to undergo smaller trials. Some say that living in a more godless age is in itself a trial, what is sometimes called a “white” martyrdom. It can also be said that we are sometimes subjected to a slow suffocation, where no blood is shed and no complaints are made. There have been various movements in the past where their way of getting rid of Christianity involved tolerance – the old are allowed to continue to practice their faith, but the young are brought up with different ideas. At other times, the slow suffocation may mean a succession of small compromises. It seems at other times like fighting the beast like a leopard in Revelation 13:7 “It was allowed to make war against the saints and to conquer them, and given power over every race, people, language and nation”. But as we know in the book of Revelation, in the end, Christ is victorious. The trial is permitted only for a while, and the victories of the various beasts only make their final defeat all the more humiliating.

So, if the life of St Peter is anything to go by, we can perfectly understand both his zeal and his failure in the face of threats. Like him, we can also learn, repent, reaffirm our love for the Lord, and with Him, be faithful to the end. Maybe we won’t have basilicas erected in our honour, but we will have recognition from the Lord, and that, truly, is the only recognition that counts.