St. John resting on the breast of Christ, (John 13:23)
AS you read this, I am on a flight to the Holy Land to embark on a pilgrimage. I am going to take the next twelve days to lean upon the breast of Christ at His Last Supper… to enter Gethsemane to “watch and pray”… and to stand in the silence of Calvary to draw strength from the Cross and Our Lady. This will be my last writing until I return.
The Garden of Gethsemane is the place that represents the “tipping point” when Jesus was at last to enter His Passion. It would seem that the Church, too, has come to this place.
…polls around the world are now showing that the Catholic faith itself is increasingly seen, not as a force for good in the world, but as, rather, a force for evil. This is where we are now. —Dr. Robert Moynihan, “Letters”, February 26th, 2019
As I prayed about what my focus should be this coming week, I sensed that I should follow in the footsteps of St. John. And here’s why: he will teach us how to remain faithful when everything else, including “Peter,” seems to be in chaos.
Just before entering the Garden, Jesus said:
“Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)
According to Scripture, all the Apostles fled the Garden when Judas and the soldiers came. And yet, John alone returned to the foot of the Cross, standing alongside the Mother of Jesus. Why, or rather, how did he remain faithful to the end knowing, he too, could have been crucified…?
THE CONTEMPLATIVE JOHN
In his Gospel, John recounts:
Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant. One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side. (John 13:21-23)
Sacred art throughout the centuries has depicted John as leaning on Christ’s chest, contemplating His Lord, listening to the beats of His Sacred Heart. cf. John 13:25 Here, brothers and sisters, lies the key to how St. John would find his way to Golgotha to participate in the Passion of the Lord: Through a deep and abiding personal relationship with Jesus, nurtured by contemplative prayer, St. John was strengthened by the heartbeats of Perfect Love.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)
When Jesus announced that one of the disciples would betray Him, notice that St. John did not think to ask who. It was only in obedience to Peter’s prodding that John asked.
Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant. He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.” (John 13:24-26)
Yes, one who was sharing in the Eucharistic meal. We can learn much from this, so let’s dwell here for a moment.
Just as St. John did not get carried away and lose his peace at the presence of Judas—a “wolf” within the hierarchy—so too, we ought to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus and never lose our peace. John was not turning a blind eye or hiding his head in the sands of cowardice. His response was wise, filled with the courage of faith…
…a trust that is not based on human ideas or predictions but on God, the “living God.” POPE BENEDICT XVI, Homily, April 2nd, 2009; L’Osservatore Romano, April 8, 2009
Sadly some today, like the other Apostles, have taken their gaze off of Christ and focused on the “crises.” It’s hard not to when the Barque of Peter is listing, huge waves of controversy crashing over her decks.
A violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves… They came and woke Jesus, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” (Matt 8:25-26)
We must keep our eyes on Jesus, trusting in His plan and providence. Defend the truth? Absolutely—especially when our shepherds aren’t.
Confess the Faith! All of it, not part of it! Safeguard this Faith, as it came to us, by way of Tradition: the whole Faith! —POPE FRANCIS, Zenit.org, January 10th, 2014
But act as their judge and jury? There is a very strange thing happening right now where, unless one attacks the clergy and denounces the “Pope of confusion”… then one is somehow less than Catholic.
[Our Lady] always talks about what we should do for [priests]. They do not need you to judge and criticize them; they need your prayers and your love, because God will judge them as they were as priests, but God will judge you the way you treated your priests. —Mirjana Soldo, seer from Medjugorje, where the Vatican has recently permitted official pilgrimages and appointed its own Archbishop
The danger is to fall into the same trap that so many have in the past: to subjectively declare who “Judas” is. For Martin Luther, it was the pope—and history tells the rest. Prayer and discernment can never be in a bubble; we must always discern with the “mind of Christ,” that is, with the Church—otherwise one might inadvertently follow in Luther’s footsteps, not John’s. Not a few have “discerned” that the so-called “St. Gallen Mafia”—a group of progressive cardinals who wanted Jorge Bergoglio elected to the papacy during Cardinal Ratzinger’s conclave—have interfered in the election of Pope Francis too. Some Catholics have unilaterally decided, without any authority whatsoever, to declare his election invalid. The fact that not a single one of the 115 Cardinals who elected him has so much as suggested any such thing, has not deterred their inquisition. However, no matter how much one researches, prays, and reflects, one cannot make such a declaration apart from the Magisterium. Otherwise, we may inadvertently begin to do the work of Satan, which is to divide. Moreover, such a one must also ask whether Pope Benedict’s election was invalid too. In fact, modernist tendencies were at their peak when John Paul II was elected, which took several votes before a pontiff was chosen. Perhaps we need to go back and question whether election interference split votes in both of those elections, and thus, the last three popes are anti-popes. As you can see, this is a rabbit hole. One must always discern with the “mind of the Church”—and let Jesus—not subjective conspiracy theories—reveal who is Judas among us, lest we ourselves be condemned for judging wrongly.
St. Catherine of Siena is frequently cited these days as one who was not afraid to confront the pope. But critics are missing a key point: she never broke communion with him, much less served as a source of division by sowing doubts in his authority and thus weakening the respect owed his office.
Even if a pope did not act like “sweet Christ on earth,” Catherine believed that the faithful should treat him with the respect and obedience they would show to Jesus Himself. “Even if he were an incarnate devil, we ought not to raise up our heads against him – but calmly lie down to rest on his bosom.” She wrote to the Florentines, who were rebelling against Pope Gregory XI: “He who rebels against our Father, Christ on earth, is condemned to death, for that which we do to him, we do to Christ in heaven – we honor Christ if we honor the pope, we dishonor Christ if we dishonor the pope… —From Anne Baldwin’s Catherine of Siena: A Biography. Huntington, IN: OSV Publishing, 1987, pp.95-6
…so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. (Matthew 23:3)
If you think I’m being hard on some of you for toxic negativity, losing trust in Christ’s Petrine promises, and constantly approaching this papacy through a “hermeneutic of suspicion”, read on:
Even if the Pope were Satan incarnate, we ought not to raise up our heads against him… I know very well that many defend themselves by boasting: “They are so corrupt, and work all manner of evil!” But God has commanded that, even if the priests, the pastors, and Christ-on-earth were incarnate devils, we be obedient and subject to them, not for their sakes, but for the sake of God, and out of obedience to Him. —St. Catherine of Siena, SCS, p. 201-202, p. 222, (quoted in Apostolic Digest, by Michael Malone, Book 5: “The Book of Obedience”, Chapter 1: “There is No Salvation Without Personal Submission to the Pope”)
Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me. (Luke 10:16)
THE SLEEPY JOHN
Nonetheless, John fell asleep in the Garden along with Peter and James, as so many are today.
It’s our very sleepiness to the presence of God that renders us insensitive to evil: we don’t hear God because we don’t want to be disturbed, and so we remain indifferent to evil… the disciples’ sleepiness is not a problem of that one moment, rather of the whole of history; ‘the sleepiness’ is ours, of those of us who do not want to see the full force of evil and do not want to enter into his Passion. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Catholic News Agency, Vatican City, Apr 20, 2011, General Audience
When the guards came, the disciples fled in chaos, fear, and confusion. Why? Wasn’t John the one who had his eyes fixed on Jesus? What happened?
When he saw Peter begin to run, and then James, and then the others… he followed the crowd. They all forgot that Jesus was still there.
The Barque of Peter is not like other ships. The Barque of Peter, despite the waves, remains firm because Jesus is inside, and he will never leave it. —Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of Chaldeans in Baghdad, Iraq; November 11th, 2018, “Defend the Church From Those Who Seek to Destroy It”, mississippicatholic.com
John and the Apostles fled because they did not “watch and pray” as the Lord had warned them to. cf. Mark 14:38 Through watching comes knowledge; through prayer comes wisdom and understanding. So, without prayer, knowledge can not only remain infertile, but it can become ground for the enemy to sow weeds of confusion, doubt, and fear.
I can only imagine John looking on from a distance, peaking from behind a tree and asking himself: “Why did I just run from Jesus? Why am I terrified and of so little faith? Why did I follow the others? Why did I let myself be manipulated into thinking like the rest? Why did I cave into this peer pressure? Why am I behaving like them? Why am I so embarrassed to remain with Jesus? Why does he seem so impotent and powerless now? Yet, I know He’s not. This scandal, too, is permitted in His Divine Will. Trust, John, just trust….”
At some point, he took a deep breath and turned his gaze again towards His Savior.
THE SUBMISSIVE JOHN
What did John think when news carried through the cool night air that Peter had not only run away, but had denied Jesus three times? Could John ever trust Peter again as the “rock” when the man was so fickle? After all, at one point, Peter tried to prevent the Passion (Matt 16:23); he said silly things “off-the-cuff” (Matt 17:4); his faith wavered (Matt 14:30); he was an admitted sinner (Luke 5:8); his good intentions were nonetheless worldly (John 18:10); he flat-out denied the Lord (Mark 14:72); he would create doctrinal confusion (Gal 2:14); and then appear hypocritical, preaching against the very thing he had done! (2 Pet 2:1)
Perhaps out of the darkness, a raspy voice whispered in John’s ear: “If Peter seems more like sand than a rock, and your Jesus is being scourged, mocked, and spat upon… maybe this whole thing is a big lie?” And John’s faith was shaken.
But it was not broken.
He closed his eyes and turned his inward gaze again toward Jesus… His teachings, His example, His promises… the way He had just washed their feet, saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled… have faith also in me”… John 14:1 and with that, John stood up, brushed himself off, and replied: “Get behind me Satan!”
Turning his eyes toward Mount Calvary, John might have said: “Peter may be “the rock” but Jesus is my Lord.” And with that, he set out toward Golgotha knowing that’s where his Master would soon be.
THE FAITHFUL JOHN
The next day, the sky was dark. The earth had been shaking. The mockery, hatred, and violence had risen to a feverish pitch. But there John stood beneath the Cross, the Mother at his side.
Some have told me that they are barely keeping their family members in the Church while others have already left. The scandals, the abuse, the confusion, the hypocrisy, the betrayals, the sodomy, the laxity, the silence… they could take no more. But today, John’s example shows us a different path: to remain with the Mother, who is an image of the Church Immaculate; and to remain with Jesus, the Church crucified. The Church is at once holy, yet full of sinners.
Yes, John stood there barely able to think, to feel, to understand… the “Sign of Contradiction” hanging before him was too much to comprehend, too much for human strength. And suddenly, a Voice cut through the suffocating air:
“Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” (John 19:26-27)
And John felt as though her arms were around him, as though he were enclosed in an ark.
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (John 19:27)
John teaches us that taking Mary as Our Mother is a sure means to remaining faithful to Jesus. John, united to Mary (who is an image of the Church), represents the true remnant of Christ’s flock. That is, we ought to remain united to the Church, always. To flee her, is to flee Christ. Standing with Mary, John reveals that remaining faithful to Jesus means remaining obedient to the Church, to remain in communion with the “mind of Christ”—even when all appears lost and a scandal. To remain with the Church, is to remain in God’s refuge.
For the Almighty does not absolutely seclude the saints from his temptation, but shelters only their inner man, where faith resides, that by outward temptation they may grow in grace. —St. Augustine, City of God, Book XX, Ch. 8
If we are to follow in John’s footsteps, then we ought to take Our Lady into our “home” just as John did. While the Church safeguards and nourishes us in the truth and the sacraments, the Blessed Mother personally “shelters” the inner man through intercession and grace. As she promised at Fatima:
My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.—Second apparition, June 13, 1917, The Revelation of the Two Hearts in Modern Times, www.ewtn.com
As I continue to walk with St. John through the Holy Land this week, perhaps he can teach us more. For now, I leave you with the words of another “John,” and Our Lady…
The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of our goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it… I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence. —St. John Chrysostom
Dear children, the enemies will act and the light of truth will fade in many places. I suffer for what comes to you. The Church of My Jesus will experience Calvary. This is the time of sorrows for men and women of faith. Do not retreat. Stay with Jesus and defend His Church. Do not depart from the truth taught by the true Magisterium of the Church of My Jesus. Testify without fear that you are of My Jesus. Love and defend the truth. You are living in a worse time than in the time of the Flood. Great spiritual blindness has penetrated the House of God and My poor children walk like the blind leading the blind. Always remember: In God there is no half-truth. Bend your knees in prayer. Trust fully in the Power of God, for only in this way can you attain victory. Onward without fear.—Message of Our Lady Queen of Peace allegedly to Pedro Regis, Brazlândia, Brasília, February 26, 2019. Pedro enjoys the support of his bishop.
St. John, pray for us. And please, pray for me as I will for you, carrying every one of you in each and every footstep…
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|cf. John 13:25
|Not a few have “discerned” that the so-called “St. Gallen Mafia”—a group of progressive cardinals who wanted Jorge Bergoglio elected to the papacy during Cardinal Ratzinger’s conclave—have interfered in the election of Pope Francis too. Some Catholics have unilaterally decided, without any authority whatsoever, to declare his election invalid. The fact that not a single one of the 115 Cardinals who elected him has so much as suggested any such thing, has not deterred their inquisition. However, no matter how much one researches, prays, and reflects, one cannot make such a declaration apart from the Magisterium. Otherwise, we may inadvertently begin to do the work of Satan, which is to divide. Moreover, such a one must also ask whether Pope Benedict’s election was invalid too. In fact, modernist tendencies were at their peak when John Paul II was elected, which took several votes before a pontiff was chosen. Perhaps we need to go back and question whether election interference split votes in both of those elections, and thus, the last three popes are anti-popes. As you can see, this is a rabbit hole. One must always discern with the “mind of the Church”—and let Jesus—not subjective conspiracy theories—reveal who is Judas among us, lest we ourselves be condemned for judging wrongly.
|cf. Mark 14:38