Happy Sunday to everyone! Today I shall comment on Point no. 18 of The Way, a spiritual classic written by St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei. In essence, it talks about Cowardice: a trait wherein excessive fear prevents an individual from taking a risk or facing danger.* It is the opposite of courage, which nudges a person to take a risk amidst danger. As a label, “cowardice” indicates a failure of character in the face of a challenge.
Point no. 18
You go on being worldly, frivolous and giddy because you are a coward. What is it, if not cowardice, to refuse to face yourself?St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way
Given that this pandemic continues to persist as a threat, it would do us well to be on guard against the onset of cowardice amongst our ranks, be it within the family or within the corporate scene. Afterall, it pays to take a risk amidst danger. Implicitly, St.Josemaria warns us of the grave consequences of this insidious character defect, when left unattended to.
Interestingly, today’s gospel reminds us about the apostolic primacy of St. Peter, as narrated by St. Matthew, to wit:
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, 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. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew, 16:15-19
Recall that, during the trial of Jesus in the courtyard of Caiaphas, the high priest, Peter cowered in fear and denied knowing Christ three times (Matt 26:70-74). As one of the trusted disciples of Christ, it was undoubtedly an act of betrayal due to cowardice.
However, after the resurrection, Christ saw the contrite spirit of Peter. In fact, there was a very moving scene between Jesus and Peter. As written by the evangelist in John 21:15-19, “Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?’ Hé said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ ” Then, Christ asked Peter the same question again for the second and third time, with Peter answering it with the same “I love you.” This poignant scene dramatized the redemptive act of Jesus, wherein Peter was given a chance to declare in public his love for Christ three times. This effectively restored the role of Peter as first amongst equals.
Lessons to be Learned from St. Peter
- Be humble to admit that you lack the courage to face the dangers ahead. As human beings, it’s perfectly normal to be intimidated by uncertainties, which cause fear to set in. However, given the extent of the economic damage inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, no one can afford to just relax as if everything were normal. In the case of Peter, he succumbed to fear, which caused his denial of Christ. However, realizing the gravity of the act committed, he immediately broke into deep repentance. “He went out and began to weep bitterly.” Matt 26:75
- Fear, however, should never paralyze one’s thinking. This will only happen if one gives in to human emotions, which tend to becloud rational thinking. Judas, who also betrayed Christ, succumbed to depression. That’s why he committed suicide.
- Keep to your faith. Remember that hope springs eternal. After the storm, comes the sunshine. There is always light amidst dark clouds. Unlike Judas, who lost his faith, Peter remained steadfast in his belief in the Lord. By confessing his love for Christ three times in public, Peter effectively earned back his status with Christ.
- Rise above the clutter and the noise that overshadow the day. Find solace in the quietness of your heart. Seek the help of the Almighty God. Again, Peter kept calm, clinging to his wonderful memories with Jesus. He may have disappeared from the scene in Calvary; but, then, he waited with sure hope for the resurrection as Christ had told them, together with the other disciples.
- With a calm spirit, discern the viable options available given your specific situation.
- Firmly resolve to take a firm grip on the option decided upon. Pursue the challenge with boldness, with readiness to face even failure. Never give in to fear.
Pope Francis: Faith in Jesus’ Prayer
Finally, in his homily last April 23, 2020, Pope Francis shared a secret that sustained Peter as the Apostle of Apostles, as described in the following narrative:
Upholding the figure of Peter who refused to compromise his faith, but chose to be courageous, the Pope said “he loved passionately, but he was also fearful.”
“He was a man who was open to God to the point that God reveals to him that Jesus is the Son of God, but then he falls into the temptation of denying Jesus,” the Pope recalled, but then he moved from temptation to grace.
There is a verse, he explained, that will help us understand: “Before the passion Jesus says to the apostles ‘Satan desires that you be sifted like wheat’, this is the moment of temptation, you’re going to be sifted like wheat.”
“And to Peter Jesus says: ‘but I have prayed for you, so that your faith may not fail’ ” the Pope said.
Pope Francis concluded his homily saying that just as Jesus prays for Peter, he prays for all of us. Then he encouraged the faithful not only to pray to Jesus so that He may “give us one grace or another” but also to contemplate Jesus who shows the Father his wounds.
“Let us think about how Peter was able to progress on this path from being a coward to becoming a courageous person with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Thanks to Jesus’s prayer, . . . and let us be grateful that He prays for each of us.”Pope Francis, Homily at Casa Santa Marta, April 23, 2020