Catholics don’t just appeal to Matthew 16:18-19 to make this point.
They also make an argument from Luke 22:31-32. There, Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”
Here we find are two clues that, when taken together, reveal Peter’s unique role as leader of the Church. The first is Jesus’ prayer of protection. Jesus informs the apostles that Satan desires to sift all of them, which we know from the use of the Greek second person plural pronoun, humas. When Jesus speaks of his protection prayer in the next verse, however, the Greek text switches to second person singular, sou. Jesus thus singles out Peter when he makes the promise, “I have prayed for you [Greek, sou] that your faith may not fail.” Jesus then commands Peter, and only Peter to strengthen the brethren.
If Jesus intended all the apostles to be equal in their mission of leading his Church, it’s hard to see why Jesus would have promised only Peter a special protection that’s connected to his unique command for Peter to strengthen the brethren. Peter receives a special prayer of protection from Jesus because he’s the preeminent apostle who must strengthen the others.
Some Protestant comebacks to this argument attack the inference from the unique promise to protect Peter in faith; others attack the inferred significance of the unique command to strengthen the brethren. Let’s look at one example
“Jesus prays for others as well.”
This comeback aims to undercut the significance of the prayer for Peter by appealing to Jesus’ general role as intercessor. Some Protestant apologists argue, “Jesus’ prayer for Peter is in keeping with his general intercessory ministry for all believers.” They then goes on to cite Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25 and John 17:15, which affirm that Christ intercedes for us. So Jesus was not signaling a special role for Peter but merely doing what he does for all his flock—interceding before the Father.
Answering the Comeback
It’s true that Jesus has a general ministry of intercession for all believers. But this argument ignores the context of Jesus’ prayer for Peter, which intentionally follows his telling the apostles that Satan desired to sift all of them. Jesus is not exercising his general intercessory ministry for all believers in this passage because Luke explicitly tells us the prayer is for Peter alone, even though Satan was going to test them all. That Jesus has a general intercessory role as our high priest in heaven doesn’t take away from the fact that, here, Jesus prays for Peter in a unique way. And that unique prayer reveals Peter’s unique role as chief leader in the Church.”
“There are countless things we do not know—and probably cannot know, in this life, anyway. Fortunately, there are many things we do know, or at least can know, with certainty or high probability. And so the Flashlight Principle says to use what is clear to shine light on what is unclear . . . and always to separate the clear from the unclear.
Here are some things I believe we can know either with certainty or high probability.
-That we can know things. If we couldn’t, then how do you know the meaning of these terms?
-That God exists. Reason forces us toward some ultimate explanation that escapes all categories of things requiring a cause outside themselves—and this, as so many philosophers have claimed, we call God: the pure actuality, utterly simple, transcendent absolute. Otherwise, there would be no sufficient condition for being.
-That murder is wrong.
We can also know that something is the case without knowing why or how. For example, I can know that my wife Christine loves me without knowing how or why. The “why” especially seems especially mysterious sometimes! However, my lack of knowing the “how” or “why” does not cause a single doubt of “the fact that” my wife Christine loves me, given all the evidence I have. She sacrifices for me, has married me, has given birth to our children, and constantly expresses her affection in myriad other ways, like slow-roasting cashews in the oven for me.
Of course, questions of any curious and intelligent person might be raised in the form that indicates not just a question but an objection. What I am going to suggest is the Flashlight Principle can help us avoid questions turning into objections or reasons for doubt.
If it is true that we can know that God exists, and that God is perfectly good and wise, then we can know that God has good (in fact, the best) reasons for doing anything, even if we have no idea what those reasons are. This is the Flashlight Principle at work. In this case, it prevents a question from turning into an objection because it uses what is clear to reason to illumine (or at least defuse) what is unclear to reason; it allows what might otherwise be perceived as a difficulty to be, at worst, a mystery. (Ed. “mystery”, in the Catholic definition, is not something that is unknowable, rather infinitely knowable.) In other words, by what we already know (that God exists and is perfectly wise), we can see (by reason) that God has good reasons for creating humans how and when he did, and what ever else He does, even if we have no idea what those reasons are.
Philosophers have long claimed that the concept of beings who have to be caused by something logically implies the existence of a necessary thing causing those beings. You can get the divine attributes from there. This is using reason to gain clarity: although many things in life are mysterious, at least some things, including God’s existence, can be known with great logical force.
That’s a mere summary, but it does share in a venerable tradition among the greatest minds ever to live, including Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, Aquinas, Maimonides, Avicenna, Leibniz, Clarke, and other philosophers today. You can see how many intellectual titans in the history of humanity thought not only that it is reasonable to believe in God, but also that God’s existence is logically entailed by the existence of anything. God’s existence, then, is not purely a matter of faith, but something many philosophers, then and now, consider a truth reachable by a consistent application of reason to common experience.
So it’s not necessary to doubt the existence of God just because you don’t know why he did something a certain way. To ask, “Why did God wait so long to create humanity?” is, in one sense, a perfectly good question, but in another sense, it reveals a misunderstanding of how to think about God.
For one thing, God is eternal. So there was no “waiting” on God’s part. All moments of creation are simultaneous to God in His eternity, (Ed. We say God lives in his eternal now. God transcends, exists outside of the time-space He created. So many prominent atheists, i.e. the late Stephen Hawking, Ricky Gervais, etc., display their ignorance when they stake their atheism that God is not in the universe. Of course, He’s not. A creating being, by necessity, must be, not even “exist”, for to use the word exist is to imply non-existence, or non-being, must be outside His creation, not within it! God is sine qua non.) so it is not as if God required an enormous amount of patience to get around to something more interesting. Also, it is not as if any of us had to wait, since (presumably) none of us existed until we were conceived—so who cares how much time predates us?
Whatever God’s reasons are for guiding our universe along its evolutionary timeline are probably not only something we cannot know (unless God tells us), but also something we should not expect to know. We are only one small (though extremely important) part of creation. So we should not expect to see such things, as seeing them would require a God’s-eye view. But keep this in mind: just because we do not see God’s reasons for why He created exactly as He did, that does not mean we see that God does not have reasons—let alone good reasons—for doing so. In fact, if we can see that God exists and has certain attributes (perfect wisdom, justice, and so on), then it is entailed that God does have reasons for creating the way He did—and good ones!
This is the Flashlight Principle at play: using what is clear to shine light on what is unclear, and not allowing questions to turn into (irrational) doubt.
By keeping the Flashlight in hand, we can pursue questions from a position of confidence rather than anxiety, fretting that an undesirable answer may turn up—or even no answer at all. Further, the Flashlight Principle encourages humility and intellectual exploration. It hinges upon us being able to know at least some things, including some important things, like God’s existence, through reason alone (Ed. as did the ancient philosophers) . . . but also, we cannot know everything, nor should we expect to.
In other words, life will always have its mysteries, and that’s okay. With the Flashlight Principle, these mysteries can be sources for intellectual and spiritual growth rather than confusion or despair.
So keep that Flashlight handy and well charged. Darkness is less intimidating with a source of light.”
“Pride is the queen of sin. St. Gregory the Great warns us: “For when pride, the queen of sins, has fully possessed a conquered heart, she surrenders it immediately to seven principal sins, as if to some of her generals, to lay it waste” (Moralia 87). Yet what are these seven principal sins that pride invites into the conquered heart? They are, according to Gregory, “vainglory, envy, anger, melancholy, avarice, gluttony, [and] lust.” They are the “first progeny” of pride, the offshoots of its “poisonous root.” As both Gregory and St. Thomas Aquinas note, Scripture teaches: “For pride is the beginning of all sin” (Sir. 10:15, DRA).
Pride hands the conquered heart over to her capital vices, and, as Gregory explains, each capital vice is like a general that leads an army of sins into the soul. For example, if anger is allowed to enter the soul, then it brings with it “strifes, swelling of mind, insults, clamor, indignation, blasphemies” (Moralia 88). Similarly, if avarice or greed overcomes the soul, it brings with it “treachery, fraud, deceit, perjury, restlessness, violence, and hardness of heart against compassion.” Aquinas, commenting on Gregory, explains that this is why they are called the capital sins, because capital comes from the Latin caput, meaning “head,” and the capital sins are the “head” or leaders of a host of sins (ST. I-II.84.3). The Catechism, citing Gregory, explains: “They are called ‘capital’ because they engender other sins, other vices” (1866). They are the leaders of sin in that “when they reach the heart, they bring, as it were, the bands of an army after them” (Moralia 88).
What is it about pride, the queen of sin, that opens the heart to so many other sins? Aquinas, citing St. Isidore, teaches: “A man is said to be proud, because he wishes to appear above what he really is” (II-II.162.1). Aquinas comments that a man who uses his reason rightly acts “proportionate to him,” but pride causes a man to have a disproportionate understanding of who he truly is. Therefore, the self-understanding of the prideful man is contrary to his reason and sinful (CCC 1849). It is here we may start to see how pride opens the soul to a host of sins. The humble man will seek honors in this life that are proportionate to who he truly is, yet the prideful man, having an irrational self-understanding, will be inclined to fall farther into error by seeking honors that correspond with his misperception (II-II.162.2)—like a wrestler who, believing his skill to be greater than it is, challenges a champion and is soundly defeated.
A misperception of one’s own excellence often leads one into further error. Aquinas notes that another way pride leads us into sin, even if indirectly, is that pride makes us less likely to adhere to God and his rule (II-II.162.2, 6). The prideful man says to God, “I will not serve,” and disregards the moral laws that help lead the soul into virtue (II-II.162.2). Therefore, through a disproportionate self-understanding and a disregard for God and his rule, pride opens the human heart to a host of sin.
Is pride the beginning of all sin? Aquinas, following St. Augustine, makes several key distinctions. He notes that someone could sin not through pride, but through ignorance or simply through weakness (II-II.162.2) Yet, like Gregory, Aquinas quotes Holy Scripture: “for pride is the beginning of all sin” (Sir. 10:15, DRA). How does Aquinas reconcile these two points? He observes that all sin shares in an “aversion from God” (II-II.162.7). All sin makes us turn away from God. Yet although this trait is common to all sin, it is essential to the sin of pride. Here, we may see why Gregory sees pride as the queen of sin, handing a conquered heart over to the capital vices. Pride habituates the heart to an aversion to God, inclining it to sin further. As Aquinas summarizes: “Pride is said to be ‘the beginning of all sin,’ not as though every sin originated from pride, but because any kind of sin is naturally liable to arise from pride” (II-II.162.7, Reply obj. 1).
Is pride, the queen of sin, considered one of the seven capital sins? Aquinas, following Gregory, says no. Aquinas holds that pride is a mortal sin (II-II.162.5). He explains, “The root of pride is found to consist in man not being, in some way, subject to God and His rule,” and “it is evident that not to be subject to God is of its very nature a mortal sin.” It is in fact this unwillingness in man to submit to God and his rule that makes pride “the most grievous of sins” (II-II.162.6). Pride is not, however, a capital sin—no more than a mother could be counted among her own children. Aquinas, following Gregory, states that pride is typically not listed as a capital vice, as she is the “queen and mother of all the vices” (II-II.162.8). Aquinas and Gregory make a distinction between pride and vainglory, with pride being the cause of vainglory. Aquinas writes, “Pride covets excellence inordinately,” but “vainglory covets the outward show of excellence” (II-II.162.8. Reply Obj. 1). Vainglory is a sign that the heart has already been conquered by pride.
How do we guard our hearts against the queen of sin? Aquinas recalls: “Never suffer pride to reign in thy mind, or in thy words: for from it all perdition took its beginning” (Tob. 4:14, DRA). Our Catechism reminds us that formation in virtue, especially as children, “prevents or cures . . . selfishness and pride” (1784). Above all, let us cultivate the virtue of humility, the virtue contrary to pride. If pride tempts us to have an inordinate understanding of our own excellence, then may humility lead us to an understanding of who we are under the cross of Christ (Rom. 5:8). If pride, the most grievous of sins, leads us to rebel against God and his rule, may humility teach us that the rule of Christ is gentle and brings rest (Matt. 11:28-30).
Let us combat the queen of sin and, by doing so, save our souls from her armies of sin.”
“The queen is the piece that can carry on the best battle in this game, and all the other pieces help. There’s no queen like humility for making the King surrender. Humility drew the King from heaven to the womb of the Virgin, and with it, by one hair, we will draw Him to our souls. And realize that the one who has more humility will be the one who possesses Him more; and the one who has less will possess Him less.” —St. Teresa of Avila from the book The Way of Prayer
““Pride Month”—the entire month of June—is now barely in the rearview mirror, with “LGBT History Month” not so far away. This means that for two entire months every year, we are compelled to glorify what Pope St. Gregory the Great called “the queen of sin”—specifically, in this case, pride in a sexual orientation that is “objectively disordered” and inclines people to “acts of grave depravity” (CCC 2357). Pride, too, is intrinsically disordered; it is a capital sin that “seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God,” disordering and damaging our relationship with our Creator and Sustainer.
Pride’s antidote, humility, leads the Christian to acknowledging God as the author of all good. It is, in a sense, the acceptance of reality—that God is good, and truth is good. And the truth is that God created the universe according to certain rules and laws. He created humans to obey certain rules and laws—not just arbitrarily, but for our own flourishing and ultimately for heaven.
In being given this gift of flourishing, we do best when we recognize where we have failed and our fallen state, which is where our failures ultimately come from. This recognition is foundational to a life of poverty of spirit. It is not the imposition of a “vengeful, bearded Sky Daddy bent on eternal damnation for anyone struggling with [insert sin of choice here].” Rather, it is grounded in objective morality, based on our nature as humans.
To attempt to circumvent, disobey, or override the moral laws of God betrays a refusal, an anti-fiat toward Him Who created us, exemplifying pride in our ability to say “no thanks” to God and pursue a course that suits our own subjective sense of morality. We set ourselves above God this way.
That certainly does not sound like something to celebrate or take lightly.
But now we are to take the sin of sexual immorality lightly—with parades, drag shows, story hours, store discounts, fundraisers, colorful merchandise, and more . . . all pointing to a refusal of God’s laws, and a proud refusal at that.
The revelers may say, “That’s not the type of ‘pride’ we’re advocating for. It’s about being unapologetic about who we are and how we love ourselves and others!” Yet it is one thing to love ourselves for who we are, accepting how God created us, and bearing daily the crosses that come from our individual proclivities to sin. This is the path to holiness. It is something else entirely that “Pride” advocates promote. These advocates want us to celebrate not the heroic efforts of the people who experience non-heterosexual attractions and are doing their level best to live in accordance with God’s law, but the sin itself, which is as disordered as celebrating any other sin.
The “I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re all okay” mentality is patently false. God made each of us in His image and likeness, but we are not He. We are all broken and sinful, able only to reflect the good that God authored and is. God gave us sexual love—the parameters of which, far from being arbitrary, are set up for our flourishing. This love is a beautiful and fruitful thing. But sexual activity removed from that life-giving context becomes disordered. We can’t expect true happiness from these disordered activities—regardless of the fleeting biological or emotional satisfaction they may provide, regardless of how the culture pushes them—any more than we can expect happiness from eating thumbtacks. Some things are just really good for us, given our nature, and some things are really bad. Not even God can change that.
Rather than justify and celebrate behaviors and desires that go against God’s plans for us, we ought to be apologetic. Each of us has turned away from God. As the Confiteor goes: “I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.” That is what makes the sacrament of reconciliation such a stunning act of love: God fully restores us to Himself. He is the only one who can. None of our own attempts comes close.
This can be seen in one of the central emblems of the “Pride” movement: the rainbow. Biblically, the rainbow denotes God’s covenant with us—His promise that He will never again destroy creation with a great flood. He hung up His bow in the sky to show us that his “weapon” has been put to rest; He is at peace with us. God’s rainbow, too, signifies perfection: six days of creation and a seventh of rest. On the other hand, the colors in the “Pride” rainbow, as it stood for years, prior to its redesign in 2021, numbered only six—the “number of man,” a symbol of humanity’s attempts to create and work as God, but ultimately and always falling short of His perfection.
In the book of Joshua, we see man doing his own work, marching around the walls of Jericho for six days. Ultimately, it is the glory of God that makes those walls fall . . . on the seventh day (Joshua 6:1-20). In Genesis, we read that God worked for six days and rested on the seventh, blessing this seventh day and making it holy. As for us, we may labor and do all our work during the first six days of the week, but the day afterward is to be kept separate and holy—not through any effort on our own, but because of the Lord’s command (Exod. 8:8-10). On the sixth day, too, Jesus was crucified and buried. What terrible work of man in nailing the Creator of the universe to a cross! But even in man’s worst work, God was not defeated. Rather, He brought something infinitely more beautiful from it.
This is a word of caution to those who work to change God’s designs for human sexuality. As with all other attempts to effect change that isn’t in His plans, these, too, will ultimately fail.”
-“El sueño de San José”, Vicente López Portaña (1772-1850), Museo del Prado
“Joseph’s virtue was sublime and exceptional; therefore it was subjected to a great and singular trial. But, as he heroically surmounted this trial, so God was pleased, not only to console him, but to exalt him to a dignity of extraordinary glory. … Jesus, the Son of God … willed to recognize this virgin spouse as His father in affection, adoption, government, and education, and to be constantly obedient and subject to him. The Holy Ghost, who had operated the incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of Mary, willed that to Joseph this His spouse should be entirely confided. He was to be the zealous guardian of her virginity, her guide, her aid, her support, and her inseparable companion through all the vicissitudes of life. And where, apart from the Divine Maternity, can so great a dignity be found upon earth as that which was conferred on Joseph by the Three Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity?” —Edward Healy Thompson, The Life & Glories of St Joseph
“Natural love is sufficient for earthly parents, but the love which [Joseph] bore to Jesus, as His appointed father, was not a mere human love, it was also a super eminently divine love; for, in loving his Son he was exercising the most perfect love of God; since He whom he called his Son was at the same time his God. As in creatures all is finite, so all is capable of increase. What, then, may we imagine, must have been the growth of this ardent love in the heart of our saint during the long period which he spent with Jesus! Those things which tend naturally to add to human love, in him ministered fresh fuel to the divine flame within him. The constant association with the Son of God made Man and given to him as his own Son, the serving Him and being served by Him for thirty years, and, we must add, their marvelous resemblance created a bond between them which was unequaled of its kind.” —Edward Healy Thompson, p. 363, The Life & Glories of St Joseph
“This day has been made holy by the passion of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. We are, therefore, not talking about some obscure martyrs. For their voice has gone forth to all the world, and to the ends of the earth their message. These martyrs realized what they taught: they pursued justice, they confessed the truth, they died for it.
Saint Peter, the first of the apostles and a fervent lover of Christ, merited to hear these words: I say to you that you are Peter, for he had said: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Then Christ said: And I say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church. On this rock I will build the faith that you now confess, and on your words: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, I will build my Church. For you are Peter, and the name Peter comes from petra, the word for “rock,” and not vice versa. “Peter” comes, therefore, from petra, just as “Christian” comes from Christ.
As you are aware, Jesus chose His disciples before His passion and called them apostles; and among these almost everywhere Peter alone deserved to represent the entire Church. And because of that role which he alone had, he merited to hear the words: To you I shall give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. For it was not one man who received the keys, but the entire Church considered as one. Now insofar as he represented the unity and universality of the Church, Peter’s preeminence is clear from the words: To you I give, for what was given was given to all. For the fact that it was the Church that received the keys of the kingdom of God is clear from what the Lord says elsewhere to all the apostles: Receive the Holy Spirit, adding immediately, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you retain, they are retained.
Rightly then did the Lord after His resurrection entrust Peter with the feeding of His sheep. Yet he was not the only disciple to merit the feeding of the Lord’s sheep; but Christ in speaking only to one suggests the unity of all; and so he speaks to Peter, because Peter is first among the apostles. Therefore do not be disheartened, Peter; reply once, reply twice, reply a third time. The triple confession of your love is to regain what was lost three times by your fear. You must loose three times what you bound three times; untie by love that which your fear bound. Once, and again, and a third time did the Lord entrust His sheep to Peter.
Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching and their confession of faith.” -St Augustine, from the Office of Readings
“On the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XII’s consecration of the human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, John Paul II not only renewed his predecessor’s call for all to consecrate themselves to Christ, but also connected that devotion in a special way to the New Evangelization. From their contemplation of the pierced heart of the Redeemer, he said, Christians come away with a renewed sense of mission.
What, then, can evangelists learn from the Sacred Heart of Jesus? As Pius XII noted in his encyclical letter on the topic, devotion to the Sacred Heart constitutes, “so far as practice is concerned, a perfect profession of the Christian religion” (Haurietis Aquas 106). So, in a way, the evangelist can say, “Everything I really need to know, I learned from devotion to the Sacred Heart.”
In a more specific sense, perhaps the most important thing the evangelist can learn from the Sacred Heart is the virtue of meekness. Christ himself said, in his only direct reference to his heart, “Learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly of heart.” St. Peter later added, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). So it is in gentleness that the evangelist’s heart is most like the heart of Jesus.
What is gentleness? The Greek word translated as “gentleness” is also sometimes translated as “meekness” or “mildness.” For most English-speakers, though, “gentleness” is probably the most frequently used of those terms, and we hear it in a variety of contexts.
Suppose you bring a new baby home from the hospital to meet his siblings. You carefully situate him with his four-year-old sister, and you tell her, “Now, be gentle with him.”
Or suppose your six-year-old son wants to carry your grandfather’s pocket watch over to the window for a better look. You hand it to him with a warning: “Be gentle with it!”
Or perhaps you’ve just worked hard on an elaborate meal for your husband. As you begin, you say, “Tell me what you really think—but be gentle with me.”
We could imagine more scenarios, but perhaps these are enough to notice a certain commonality. Each of these cases features a difference in power or strength. The four-year-old is more powerful, stronger, even bigger than the baby, just as the six-year-old is with respect to the watch. The husband, in the third case, is more powerful than the wife, in the sense that his evaluation of her meal, and especially the way in which he communicates it, has the potential to build her up or to tear her down.
In each of these cases, the stronger must take special pains to ensure that his strength does not endanger the other. He must recognize the vulnerabilities of the other and the ways in which his strength can threaten those weaknesses, even when he bears no malice to the other. The gentle person, then, is one who protects the littleness and weakness of the other from the danger implied by his own bigness and power.
This definition of gentleness, however, fails to mention the one feature that is central to most traditional accounts. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, teaches that meekness “moderates anger according to right reason” (Summa Theologica II:II:157). This emphasis on anger is common in the tradition, beginning as early as Aristotle.
I think a deep insight into anger ties these two definitions together. Aristotle, for example, points out that anger is a kind of pleasant emotion, because it leaves us feeling somehow superior to the object of our passion. If anger is, as Aristotle and St. Thomas believed, an apprehension of another as committing an unjust and undeserved offense against oneself, then to experience it is to see oneself in the right and the object of one’s anger as in the wrong.
And that confers a kind of advantage or relative strength over the offended party: standing on the moral high ground, he enjoys at least a moral superiority to the offender. That superiority can be used in such a way that the vulnerabilities of the offender are protected—or in such a way that they are threatened.
The traditional emphasis on restraint of anger as the defining characteristic of gentleness has a great deal of appeal. Anger, alienation, forgiveness, and reconciliation are at the heart of the moral life; learning to put these emotions and choices in the proper order is essential to any decent life with others. So the value of the virtue of gentleness first shines most brightly precisely in this arena.
But despite the fact that anger and its restraint play such important roles in the relationships among humans and between God and humanity, the moderation of anger does not exhaust the possibilities of gentleness, as our first examples above showed. We must not overlook the fact that gentleness is also called for in many contexts where anger is not the primary factor.
This larger reach of gentleness is not hard to see in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What greater power differential could there be than that between the Word of God Incarnate, through whom all that exists came into being, and poor creatures like us? Yet the gospel tells us that he would not “break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick” (Matt. 12:20). Because his heart is meek, he tells us, his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (11:30)—a burden suited to our weakness and not modeled after his strength.
Peter, as we noted before, urges Christians to imitate the gentleness of Jesus’ Sacred Heart precisely in their role as evangelists. “Always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within you,” he teaches, “with gentleness and reverence.” Why does the evangelist need gentleness?
Evangelism in Peter’s day required gentleness first because Christians suffered great persecution. The very real possibility of abuse and mistreatment provided the context for this evangelistic admonition. And since innocent Christians could only experience such persecution as the infliction of undeserved harms, their anger would inevitably require shaping and restraining so that it would serve the good of their enemies. In the same way, Christ had allowed his heart to be pierced so that the fountain of his mercy could flow to the worst of his persecutors.
Most of us will not suffer such tribulation. But we can, nonetheless, be treated in unjust ways that arouse our anger. When that mistreatment comes to us because of our commitment to the truth that is Jesus, it is especially important that gentleness restrains our anger and leads us to the forgiveness and kindness we ourselves have already found in the Sacred Heart. Failing to respond gently will not only mean falling short of Jesus’ call to learn of his meek and lowly heart; it will also undercut our evangelistic efforts. How convincing can our proclamation of the truth be if we refuse to embody it in our actions?
Evangelists need gentleness for another reason. Knowledge of the truth is itself a kind of advantage that makes its possessor stronger. Consider, for example, the computer expert. If he intends to help the inexperienced user see the truths about computing, then he has to pursue gentleness, since the demoralization he could otherwise cause is an obstacle to learning.
How much more does the theological, moral, or apologetic “expert” pose a kind of threat to the relatively unlearned! These truths strike much more closely to the heart of a person’s self-understanding. A rough, ungentle approach to learners’ instruction can leave those already committed in some way to these truths feeling not just embarrassed, but positively foolish, as though they do not even understand their own deepest commitments. Such learners are likely to abandon the pursuit of deeper understanding, seeing it at best as an irrelevancy and at worst as a calculated attempt at the evangelist’s self-aggrandizement.
A lack of gentleness threatens to undermine the evangelist’s efforts in another way, too. Since evangelists ultimately strive to bring others to an encounter with Christ that results in conversion of life, the truths they teach touch the center of their hearers’ ways of life. Those who are not already committed to these truths quite reasonably perceive them as a threat to their self-identity. That sense of danger prompts almost impenetrable defenses. And those defenses usually cannot be forced in a frontal assault. Not pyrotechnics, but gentleness wins the day. As the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand noted, “If spoken by the meek, the word of truth which like a sword, severs soul and body, subtly insinuates itself like a breath of love into the innermost recesses of the soul.”
Devotion to the Sacred Heart contains the key to cultivating this necessary gentleness. Gentleness comes from growing in union with the heart of Jesus, as we love, trust, and imitate Him more. Von Hildebrand sees this point well, and his insight captures the true power of gentleness: “For the meek is reserved true victory over the world, because it is not they themselves who conquer, but Christ in them and through them.”
Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like unto Thine.”
Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge. Counsel and Piety. Fortitude and Fear of the Lord.
The virtues of faith, hope, and charity stably equip our intellects and wills to make supernatural movements of knowing and loving. In the gifts, however, we receive stable supernatural perfections that equip us to be moved in a divine mode, in a way that human reason can neither grasp nor initiate. Our acts remain our own, but they exceed our understanding: God Himself moves us according to His wisdom (ST I-II q. 68). The gifts serve as spiritual instincts for the soul, once it is healed and elevated by grace.
To be sure, anyone who has charity (love) has all seven gifts of the Spirit (ST I-II q. 68, a. 5). And yet God, in His wisdom, activates these gifts differently in the life of each individual saint: “The wind blows where it wills . . . so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The Spirit gave to the martyrs the courage to confess Christ, to St. Dominic an outstanding sensitivity to our fallen condition, to St. Catherine a piercing insight into the truths of faith, and to St. Thomas a sweeping vision of the things of God. Only God, in his provident knowledge, could understand and foreknow the surprising ways that He drew each saint to Himself.
Only someone who grasps the apparently dry truth that the gifts “as to their essence” remain in heaven (ST I-II q. 68, a. 6) could write this book’s finale, which so forcefully conveys the splendor of heavenly glory. All of us are called to this glory.
The gifts of the Spirit, unlike the virtues, are not ours to direct as we will. We wait upon God, Who Himself is the wind who fills our spiritual sails. At the same time, however, we pray for God to activate in us His seven gifts, and the more we know about these gifts individually, the more we can ask for them specifically, according to our daily needs. Thus may the Spirit, as He does for every saint, govern us firmly and sweetly the whole of our lives.
CCC 234: “The Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the MYSTERY OF GOD in Himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith.”
Just let that sink in – the Holy Trinity is the MYSTERY OF GOD Himself.
In Matthew’s Gospel, he beautifully opens up with the Emmanuel Prophecy when the Angel told Mary that her son would be called Emmanuel (God is with us). At the end of the Gospel, Jesus fulfills this by literally telling us that He (God) WILL be with us, forever till the end of time! Many people miss this, but Matthew’s Gospel concludes on Jesus’s Divinity.
It is in this context that Jesus reveals His Triune Divinic nature when He commands all His followers to Baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. For Catholics, we do this every day when we make the sign of the cross. We must not forget this Great Commission whenever we call upon the Holy Trinity.
I’d like to close with a fun fact: the word ‘Trinity’ is NOT found in the Bible. Instead, the Doctrine of the Trinity was written and declared infallibly by Pope Dionysius:
“The most sacred proclamation of the Church of God, making of it the Trinity, as it were, three powers and three distinct substances subsisting in one being… [Some heretics] proclaim that there are in some way three gods, when they divide the sacred unity into three substances foreign to each other and completely separate.” (A.D. 262)
Today, (thank God for this) all Christians accept this Sacred Tradition, which was hard fought for. The Doctrine of the Trinity is a prime example of why we need to recognize the Church as an infallible interpreter and why we can’t just rely on the Bible alone. After all, Jesus did leave us a Church, not a book!”
“Do you want to be left behind? For those of you familiar with Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series, you’re probably thinking, “Heck no! I don’t won’t to be left behind.”
Well, I’m here to tell you, “You do want to be left behind.”
The question is prompted by Jesus’ teaching about his coming at the end of time, which he compares to the days of Noah:
As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man . . . they did not know until the Flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man . . . Two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left” (Matt. 24:37-41).
Some Christians think Jesus is saying that at the end of time, before the final tribulation, he’s going to secretly snatch believers up to himself (“one is taken”)—hence the term “rapture”—and leave behind (“one is left”) the wicked to experience the final push of evil wrought by the Antichrist, after which he will come and establish the new heaven and new earth.
This “pre-tribulation” rapture doctrine originated and was developed in the early to mid-1800s by John Nelson Darby, an early leader of a Fundamentalist movement that became known as Dispensationalism. This view has influenced the thinking of not only many Fundamentalist Christians, but also Catholics. Even Catholics don’t want to be left behind.
But, like I said above, this isn’t the right answer. You do want to be “left behind.” You don’t want to “taken.” (This isn’t a Liam Neeson movie!)
Note first that Jesus compares his coming to “the days of Noah.” Well, who was swept away, or taken away, in the Flood? It was the wicked. Noah and his family, the righteous ones, were left behind on earth to experience a new creation. As smelly as it probably was, I assume you would have wanted to be left behind on that ark.
Now, someone might counter, “But couldn’t we interpret Jesus the other way just as easily: the wicked were left behind to be destroyed by the Flood, and Noah and his family were swept away?”
One problem with this reading is that Matthew explicitly identifies the wicked as the ones being “swept away” in the Flood: “For as in those days before the Flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage . . . and they did not know until the Flood came and swept them all away” (Matt. 24:38-39). If it’s the wicked that were taken away in the Flood, then it’s the wicked that will be taken away at Jesus’ coming.
Another problem with the idea that it’s the wicked that are left behind is that it doesn’t jibe with the parable of the wicked servant that follows in verses 45-51. Again, the motif of “being taken away” is present, and it’s the wicked servant who is taken:
If that wicked servant says to himself, “My master is delayed,” and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth (vv. 48-50).
Here we have a parable about Jesus’ coming. And it’s the wicked who are taken away.
Jesus’s comparison of his coming to the days of Noah immediately precedes this parable, and Jesus says some will be taken away. It doesn’t make sense that Matthew would put these two parables together if Jesus meant to mix the referents of those being taken away: the righteous in one (the coming compared to the days of Noah) and the wicked in the other (his coming compared to the master finding his servant being unfaithful). Given this context, it’s more reasonable to interpret the ones being taken from the field at his coming as a reference to the wicked.
So far, our evidence has been restricted to Matthew’s Gospel. But when we look at Luke’s version of this teaching (Luke 17:26-37), we find that there’s more.
Like Matthew, Luke records the bit about one being taken and another being left behind. The only difference is that where Matthew talks about two in the “field,” Luke speaks of two in “bed” (Luke 17:34).
After Jesus tells the apostles that some will be taken away, Luke records the apostles asking Jesus, “Where, Lord?” Clearly, the question is directed to where the people are taken, since the apostles know where they’re left behind—namely, “in the bed” (v. 34) and “grinding at the mill” (v. 35). And in response to the question, Jesus says, “Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered” (v. 37).
If the rapturist view were correct, then the place where these individuals are taken would have to be heaven. But Jesus’ response doesn’t quite match up.
The Greek word for “eagles” is aetoi (plural of aetos). It generally refers to a large carrion-eating bird, like an eagle or a vulture. Sometimes it’s used in a sense simply to refer to the bird without any focus on the decaying-flesh-eating activity, as evidenced in Revelation 4:7, where it speaks of one of the four living creatures as an “eagle”—the same Greek word, aetos, is used.
Here in Luke, though, the emphasis seems to be on the flesh-eating aspect of the bird. The New American Bible translation concurs, as it translates aetoi as “vultures.”
Notice that Jesus says, “Where the body is, there will the aetoi gather.” If Jesus were simply referring to the bird as such, then why emphasize the “body”? It appears that what Jesus is saying is that the place where these individuals are taken is a place where decaying flesh is picked by flesh-eating birds.
That doesn’t sound like heaven!
So, rather than the righteous being taken away and the wicked being left behind, it’s the opposite: the righteous are left behind, and the wicked are taken away. The wicked are taken away to experience torment, and the righteous stay behind to experience the new heaven and the new earth, like Noah and his family.
So, next time you get asked the question, “Do you want to be left behind?” get ready for a look of confusion when you answer, “Yes! How about you?”
Love & truth,
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom