Friday, 15 February 2013

Courage and Frailty

Following my post about St Peter walking on the lake (Matthew Chapter 14), here are a few more thoughts on the weakness of this great soul.

In Chapter 2 of his Gospel, St John tells us that Jesus "never needed advice about any man; He could tell what a man had in him."  That is the Jerusalem Version.  In the RSV, it is written as "He knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for He Himself knew what was in man."  Two vivid renderings.  Christ knows each of us better than we know ourselves.  He knew His adversaries, who prompted the words just quoted. He also knew Peter, and knew his weaknesses.

Peter's relations and fellow-workers had known him for much of their lives, and probably had a good idea of his temperament.  But never in their dreams could they have imagined such an illustration of that combination of inspired insight, courage, rashness, and sudden quailing and collapse, as was displayed by their friend when he challenged the Lord to bid him come to Him on the water.  If they had had a fairly good idea of him before, they had a far clearer knowledge of him after that hair-raising episode. 

It was after that incident, when Peter's fellow-disciples had had the opportunity of seeing Peter's flaws displayed in the most spectacular manner, that Christ chose to bestow on him, in their presence, the greatest commission imaginable.  In that light, we hear Jesus speaking, in Matthew Chapter 16:
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon-Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
What varied personailities have held the office of Pope since St Peter!  And in our day, when we can learn so much more about each of our Popes, and their individual strengths and frailties, how conscious we are of these variations, and indeed these weaknesses.  Pope Benedict XVI, a Pope who has acted with great courage - for example, in promulgating Summorum Pontificum and Anglicanorum Coetibus -  is leaving us; that is, leaving the office of Peter.  He leaves on the grounds of his frailty.  We can guess at its nature, but we do not know for certain.  Perhaps we will learn more at some future date.  But whether we do or not, this thing is happening. 

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