Friday Reflection: The Hard Lesson of Peter’s Denial

Crucifixus

“Peter said to Jesus, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.”  Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”  But he said vehemently, ” Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”  All of them said the same.”  (Mark 14:29-31 NRSV).

I recently found myself in a place of deep grief.  A dear friend whom I had placed a great deal of trust in, turned out to be dishonest and deserted me.  I struggled deeply with the feelings I had of betrayal, hurt and sadness.  It was so difficult for me to believe what had happened.  I felt alone and in very deep personal pain.

One morning during the Greater Silence before Matins, I was sitting in prayer before the Altar with a Crucifix behind it.  As I brought my grief and loss to Jesus on the Cross in contemplative prayer, I said in my heart, “Jesus, I feel so betrayed.”  Jesus’ response to my thoughts were, “Tell me about it!”  “I know about betrayal and loneliness.  I had twelve disciples with me for close to three years.  One of them said he would die before he would deny me, but he denied me three times.  The other disciples scattered in fear.  Yet, I still loved them, and wished them peace at my Resurrection.”  In that moment, I felt a contemplative experience that transcended my grief, while being imminently close to what I was feeling.

In The Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 7: On Humility, he writes:

The sixth step of humility is that a monk is content with the lowest and most menial treatment, and regards  himself as a poor and worthless workman in whatever task he is given, saying with the Prophet: I am insignificant and ignorant, no better than a beast before you, yet I am always with you (Ps. 73:22-23).  (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.36).

Now to be perfectly clear, St. Benedict is not saying that we submit ourselves to low self esteem or accepting horrific abuse, etc.  Quite the contrary.  Saint Benedict is telling us, that it is okay to be last in line.  It is a good thing when someone else is preferred over us.  The notion that we are not fully human unless we are first in everything, have to be liked, preferred, accepted by everyone, agreed with etc; is based on a false-sense of self.  If we are last in line, etc, and have to talk about it with everyone by calling people’s attention to it without moderation, that is not humility either.  It is a form of self-indulgence that leads us to our false-sense of self.   Saint Benedict is telling us that our true selves is found in “preferring nothing whatsoever to Christ, that he may lead us all to everlasting life.” (RB Chapter 72: 11-12).  Preferring nothing to Christ includes our unrealistic need to be comfortable with everything no matter what.  God did not make us and redeem us to be miserable.  God created us to seek union with God through purity of heart with abandonment of everything else including ourselves with faith and trust in God’s Providence.  It is a process that takes a lifetime of living and turning ourselves over.

As we meditate on Peter’s denial and the meaning of The Cross, we can also find the greatest solace in knowing that whatever grief or trouble we are experiencing; our God in Jesus Christ is walking through it with us.  As Jesus gave up everything to depend only on God the Father through faith, so must we in the long run.  The Cross is about letting go of everything that holds us back from total dependence on God, and find our greatest meaning and fulfillment in God for the sake of God’s Self.

May all of us pray for and be with each other in Christ, as Christ remains with each of us in the difficulties and challenges we live through.

Amen.

Peace be to all who enter here.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Reflection on the Fall Season

FoliageConceptionAbbey(The image above is a photograph I took of the foliage at Conception Abbey in the fall of 2014.)

Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.  (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p. 28).

I imagine the above quote will rattle some of my readers.  What a way to begin the work week.  Yet, it is just as important.

The Season of Fall is about death and dying.  The grass that was so green during the Summer months has been turning brown.  The animals are gathering their food to begin hibernating for the Winter.  The leaves are turning into their beautiful colors as they prepare to fall on the ground and die.  All of these are reminders that life in this world begins and ends.  While we are so fortunate to be here at whatever stage of life we are in, we have work to do.  The work includes showing how beautiful the world really is and can be; even though it is all temporary.

All of the things that we hang on to and have to let go of; are passing away and leading us towards a new life beyond the grave.  Have you ever noticed that the leaves on the trees turn into their various colors without hardly ever trying to hang onto their leaves?  Can you imagine what the world would be like if the trees complained as much as we do about having to let go of what we think is beautiful and worth keeping.

Saint Benedict tells us to keep the fact that we are going to die in the front most part of our minds.  He tells us this because the prayer and work we have to do is preparing us for the ultimate act of letting go.  It is about letting go so that we can enter more fully into a relationship with God alone.  The goal for Saint Benedict is to “prefer Christ above all else.” (Chapter 72).

In centering prayer, we are practicing the acts of accepting things as they are and letting them go.  We let go as the Holy Spirit takes us through silence into letting go because “only you, Lord, make (us) dwell in safety”. (Psalm 4:8. The Book of Common Prayer, p.129).  As we let things go, we are led into contemplative prayer so that we may view things from God’s perspective.  Centering prayer and contemplative prayer open us up to enter into the realm of God with faith and trust so that we can receive God’s gracious presence and loving mercy.  We cannot do that, however, unless and until we let everything go (including our own lives) into God’s hands seeking only union with God for God’s sake and not our own.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NRSV).

May we all have the grace to accept things as they are, and let them go so that we may experience the fullness of God’s love in this world and in the next.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB