Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Is St Peter the patron saint of apostasy?

As Catholics we believe in St Peter just as Christ must have believed in him when he saw through his human frailty and appointed him as Head of the Church.
We see him as a man who, whilst headstrong, nevertheless had the ability to see Our Lord for what He was:
"You are the Christ, Son of the living God"
Yet, in almost the same breath he denied Him. What a contradiction of a man. Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in one of his Good Friday sermons, speaks of Peter and gives us an insight into his character that is somewhat in contrast to the "Rock" image.
Archbishop Sheen believed that Christ was being ironic when he called Peter a rock. He was far from deserving of such an epithet and had shown signs of just not comprehending Christ's mission on earth,  lacking humility at the washing of the feet and challenging Our Lord. His weakness was recognised by Christ who, addressing Peter, told him: "You are clean now; only, not all of you". The "not all of you" meaning that He recognised the fickle strength of Peter's faith.
The rock title, according to the Archbishop, was bestowed in the same way that today, a large man might be dubbed "Tiny" or a fat man "Slim".
Balance that with Peter's statement regarding Christ's divinity and you end up with a man of fluctuating faith. One who, one instant is fearful for the future and the next is drawing a sword from its sheath ready to do battle at Gethsemane. Who one minute follows Christ onto the waters of the lake and then, as his faith wanes, so he sinks.
What  wonderful images those accounts paint and the same peaks and troughs of belief could be applied to many if not all of us. One second sincere and strong and the next fleeing for dear life!
St Peter - became a "rock"
I find it easy to comprehend Peter's denials. So many times in the public arena I have held my tongue when a religious issue is raised, tried to keep a low profile and hope that controversy will not erupt. In later life I have been less concerned as my faith has matured and the fruits of Confirmation have given me the courage to put my head above the parapet; but, as a young person it can be hard.
Apostasy is an ugly word but there is no shrinking from it and the fact that many, many young people are lost to the faith within a few months of leaving home (if not before). I once challenged our PP with regard to catechising older children.
Did he, I asked, ever venture into the secondary schools in town (as the Baptists did) to give lessons to the Catholic children?
"What's the point?" he responded "They are only going to lose the faith anyway"
Even more tragic are those adults who, after 30 or 40 years as a practising Catholic suddenly drop away. What a waste of a life! How could they turn their backs on eternal life? Reject the Mystical Body of Christ, His Church?
In the run up to Christmas last year, Bishop Tobin issued his now famous letter to *lapsed Catholics. It carries a wonderful message of love and forgiveness and reconciliation:
* Bishop Tobin calls them "inactive Catholics"

                      'Letter to Inactive Catholics'
My dear Brother or Sister: In the spirit of the Advent and Christmas Season, and as the Diocese of Providence nears the end of its "Year of Evangelization," I'm writing this letter to inactive Catholics of our Diocese - perhaps you're in that category - to let you know that we miss you, we love you and we want you to come home to the Church.
The first dilemma I faced in writing this letter was how to describe you - an "inactive Catholic," a "fallen-away Catholic" or a "former-Catholic." I chose the first option.
I decided against "fallen-away Catholic" for it suggests someone falling off a fence or out of a tree. The image isn't helpful.
And there's really no such thing as a "former Catholic." If you were baptized a Catholic, you're a Catholic for life - even if you haven't been to Mass for years, even if you've renounced the title and joined another Church. Your baptism infused your soul with Catholic DNA - it defines who and what you are.
Thus, I've chosen the title, "inactive Catholic," because even though you haven't been "active" in the Catholic community for awhile, especially by attending Sunday Mass, receiving the sacraments and otherwise participating in the life of the Church, you're still a Catholic. Sorry . . . you're stuck with us!
Perhaps the exact name isn't very important though. What's more important is why you drifted away from the Church, why you stopped coming to Mass, and what we can do about it.
Did you leave the Church because you disagree with some of the Church's teachings and practices; or because you found it boring and "didn't get anything out of it"; or because someone in the Church offended you or disappointed you; or because you just got a little complacent, spiritually lazy, in the fulfillment of your obligations? Let's look at each of these reasons.
If you left the Church because you disagree with the fundamental teachings of the Church I'm afraid there's not much I can do to help you. The essential teachings of the Church on matters of faith and morals aren't negotiable - they weren't made up arbitrarily by human beings but, in fact, were given to us by Christ. They can't be changed, even if they're unpopular or difficult to live with. I hope that you'll take some time to really understand what the Church teaches and why. Sometimes, we find, good folks get bad information and that leads to confusion and then alienation.
If you left the Church because you found it to be boring and "didn't get anything out of it," well, I understand. Sometimes, it's true, leaders of the Church haven't fed the flock very well - sometimes we haven't provided sound and challenging teaching and preaching, and sometimes our worship has been banal and bland. Perhaps we haven't been very kind or welcoming. I apologize for that; we can and should do better.
On the other hand, when you attend Mass it shouldn't be all about you - the focus is God! You should attend Mass to give, as well as receive - to worship the Lord, to ask forgiveness of your sins, to thank Him for His gifts and to pray for others. And for Catholics the most important reason to attend Mass is to receive the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, the Bread of Life. You can't do that anywhere else!
If you left the Church because another member of the Church offended or disappointed you, I'm truly sorry for that offense and in the name of the Church I sincerely apologize. I hope you'll forgive us and give us another chance. Members of the Church - including priests and bishops - are completely human. Sometimes we say things and do things that are totally unacceptable, even immoral. But let's face it - we belong to a community of sinners - that's why we begin every Mass by calling to mind our sins and asking for God's forgiveness. The virtue of forgiveness is an essential part of the Christian life - we all need to seek and grant forgiveness now and then.
Finally, if you left the Church because of your own spiritual laziness - complacency - I guess the ball's in your court. I can only encourage you to start over - to think about your relationship with God and try to understand how important the Church is in helping you fulfill your God-given potential and, more importantly, helping you achieve eternal life.
You see, the Church isn't just another human organization, some sort of social club. We believe that the Church has divine elements - that it was founded by Christ and is guided by the Holy Spirit. You need the Church - you need the teachings of the Church, the life-giving sacraments of the Church, and the support of a community that shares your faith and values. But the Church also needs you - we need the gifts of your time and talent, your faith and commitment. The Church has an awful lot to offer you, but if in fact we've been imperfect fulfilling our mission, in serving the Lord and caring for one another, perhaps you can help us to do better.
The irony of this letter, of course, is that if you've been an inactive Catholic, you might not see it. But I'm counting on a Catholic member of your family, or a friend, neighbor or co-worker, to see it and share it.
The Christmas Season is a wonderful, grace-filled time, a time when we remember that the Word of God became flesh and that Jesus is "Emmanuel" - God with us. God came to earth to search for us, to embrace us, to lift us up, and to take us with Him to eternal life. He came to invite you to be His friend and companion along the way.
Dear brother or sister, if you've been away from the Church for awhile, it's time to come home. If there's an issue or a problem we can help you with, please contact your local parish, or contact me here at the Diocese of Providence. I might not be able to solve every problem and meet every need, but I'll try. Please know, however, that we miss you, we love you and we hope to see you soon.
Your brother in Christ,

Bishop Tobin

There are echoes of St Peter in that letter. Having turned his back on Our Lord, in the full knowledge that He was the Son of God, how could he possibly creep back, say "sorry" and resume as if nothing had happened?
He did and was able to do so because of the unlimited forgiveness of the Lord.
Peter's key element is his sorrow, an acknowledgment that he had done wrong; Our Lord's is not just His forgiveness but also His love and welcome and that applies to all of us.

                                         PRAYER TO ST PETER

O Glorious Saint Peter, because of your vibrant and generous faith, sincere humility and flaming love our Lord honored you with singular privileges and especially leadership of the whole Church. Obtain for us the grace of a living faith, a sincere loyalty to the Church, acceptance of all her teaching, and obedience to all her precepts. Let us thus enjoy an undisturbed peace on earth and everlasting happiness in heaven.


  1. Thank you! That was very thought provoking!

  2. Richard, the reason many of us "walk away" from the Catholic Church is because the Catholic Church is effectively apostate. What the clerical sex-abuse crisis has done (and, as you know, it's a problem that dates as far back as St. Peter Damian) is reveal Church leadership to be infatuated with power, privilege, prestige and itself. It cares not one whit about God, let alone the laity. It has effectively abandoned Christ and its Petrine calling...and did so centuries ago.

    Too many Catholics, Richard, have been brainwashed into believing that loyalty to the ecclesiastical institution equals salvation. That is nothing but rubbish! Just look at the people who were loyal to the first-century ecclesiastical institution of Judaism and where they stood regarding Christ.

    Salvation doesn't come from brand loyalty. It comes from embracing Christ's atoning work on the cross for oneself. It comes from placing confidence in the shedding of his blood for the forgiveness of our sin. How many "devout" Catholics really know what that means?

  3. Joseph, I think you are on the wrong blog. Prayers for you.

  4. American Priest spokesperson Fr Athanasios Paul urges British Catholics to read their bibles.

    My mother was a devout Irish Roman Catholic and father an English/Scott Methodist ... grandfather use to say that Dad was "a fallen high church Anglican." As might be imagined there were many a family discussion over the subject of religion. But there was one thing that became a bridge whereby the Catholic and loyal opposition Protestants could unite - the importance of prayer and bible reading. And so the scriptures were read and the bible on display in the Callahan/Thompson household.

    In this day when differences in religion seem to be a reason for a decline in church attendance in Great Britain and throughout Europe, America remains largely a church going nation. Although simply agreeing to read the sacred text within the family will not by itself solve family problems, especially in religiously divided homes. Still, the message of the Gospel of Christ is by its very nature a unifying force. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, "Thy Word is truth" and "I am the Way, the Life and the Truth" (read the gospel of St John for context and inspiration). One might think that religion has lost its usefulness now that we live in an everchanging, multi religious and sectarian society. Not so! Science has not solved the world's problems nor does it answer mthe great question of WHY? Christian faith in its most spiritual and challenging reality provides answers that satisfy. There is a divine Creator and we may know this God. It is through the incarnation of Himself in/through the little baby born of a holy virgin more than 2,000 years past that the English, Irish, Scot and all other peoples may discover truth. The day for fighting over interpretations of minor points must end. The Word of God has the power to bring truth, wisdom and stability to any race or society of people.

    It is time for us to pick up our Bibles agin and to read, study and pray. Peace and Joy!