Do you want to see how a rock can turn into a stumbling block? You can see that in the life of Simon Peter. Last Sunday, the Lord Jesus praised his incredible faith and heavenly intuition. Today the rock turns into a stumbling block and was reproached in the strongest terms: “Get behind me, Satan!” The same man—last week, a true witness of Christ’s divinity, today, an obstacle to divine plan. This introduces us to the dual nature of Peter, and perhaps, each one of us. When we assent to God’s plan in our lives, we’re our very best selves, but when we cling to the human in us, we can become as stinking as Satan. We have to tread carefully lest we become the very opposite of what we’re meant to be. Unwillingness to follow Christ in the path of suffering, sacrifice and mortification can upend the life of God in us resulting in a colossal fall from grace.
What is not apparent to us as we yield to our fleshly impulses is that the pain and sorrow associated with the cross often result in joy and contentment for the inner life of the soul. Take as guide the saints who bore every affliction for the sake of Christ and were rewarded with tremendous joy. St. Paul declares: “I am filled with comfort; with all affliction, I am overjoyed” (2 Cor 7:4). St. Francis of Assisi wrote: “Every pain for me is a joy.” St. Theresa of Avila puts God in a dilemma: “Either to suffer or to die.” St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi prayed: “To suffer and not to die.” And St. Rose of Lima asked the Lord to crush her with sufferings to prevent falling to the allurement of the devil.
We might judge Peter for standing on Christ’s way, but each of us would do exactly what Peter did. We hate to see our loved ones suffer; don’t we? Who would stand aloof and watch his or her daughter or spouse or friend go through enormous suffering and wouldn’t do anything within the person’s power to stop it? Peter certainly didn’t mean to obstruct God’s plan; he didn’t yet understand the mystery of the cross and how even divinity can submit to it. What it takes to understand the mystery of the cross is “Getting behind Jesus” as a disciple, a follower, and a learner.” We must be prepared to learn that there’s no crown without a cross. One can’t help but think of how human Peter was. His impulsiveness, his impetuosity define the contradictions inside the human heart. The underlying assumption paraded by modern culture that suffering is bad and we should do everything possible—even should it mean letting ourselves become addicted to narcotics—in order to be protected from it doesn’t wash with Jesus. For the Lord, suffering is redemptive; it’s essential for salvation.
Let’s take some simple everyday examples: Aren’t we afraid of the surgeon’s knife, the nurse’s needle; don’t we dread the pulling of a tooth? Yet, the good effects we desire would never be revealed until we let the surgeon cut through our chest to repair a deadly blockage in our heart, or the dentist cuts out that extra tooth that would cause us ongoing pain, if left there.
The Venerable Fulton Sheen points to the violin and says: “Because the violinist wants the best from his instrument, he tightens its strings in penitential discipline until they can give the perfect note. If endowed with consciousness, the violin would probably protest the sacrifice it had to make in preparation for the perfection it was destined.” Sheen further says that there’s a potential nobility or even divinity in all of us, as there’s a potential statue in a crude block of marble. But before the marble can ever reveal the image, it must be subjected to the disciplinary actions of a chisel in the hands of a wise and loving Artist, who knocks off huge chunks of formless egotism until the new and beautiful image of Christ Himself appears.
The agnostics and atheists who reject God and give themselves over to a life of carnality do so because they’re frightened by the cross. They do not understand that the cross is a holy deceit. Sheen says that it was only the skin of the heavenly fruit that seemed bitter; the meat ravishes the soul. When we resign to the Lord and accept the cross, then would we know truly that the cross is a tree that bathes with perfume even the axe that cuts it.