“St. Jerome Writing” (detail) by Caravaggio

I know it is customary during the Lenten Season for us to start reflecting on the great victories we will experience on Easter Sunday: the victory over sin and death; the victory over the enemy of this world; the victory over pain and sickness, heartache and fear, everything that would rob us of the joy of life. After all, Christ Himself promised us this victory:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

But we must remember, there is no victory without the resurrection, there is no resurrection without Christ’s death, and there is no death without the Cross.

We do have a great victory waiting for us, and the outcome is not in doubt, but that does not mean we have been given a pass on participating in the battle.

It is important for us to remember, especially during this season of preparation, that we too are called to undergo our own daily experiences of dying to self. Paul himself showed this to us when he said.

“I protest, brethren, by my pride in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:31)

And again Paul says:

“[We,] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:10)

Paul reminds us that the path to victory is in overcoming our tendency to seek ourselves in all the circumstances of our life. For those who are genuinely seeking the Lord, this self-seeking is seldom revealed in the obvious practice of outward sin. Instead, we can fall victim to the same trap that Peter did just before he began to deny the Lord outright.  

Peter was not a coward—remember he was the first one to wield a sword in the Lord’s defense in the garden of Gethsemane. And Peter was certainly not a bad man or someone who was just going along for the ride. Peter’s shortcoming was much more subtle. What happened to Peter is what happens to many of us who go looking for the Lord in our life, even those of us, like Peter, who may have spent a great deal of time in the Lord’s company (in our case through prayer). At some point the Lord is going to disappoint our expectations and demonstrate He is not who we may have mistakenly thought He was. Or, at the very least, He may no longer fulfill our plans in the way we hoped He would. This can be a difficult transition in the spiritual journey. It can cause us to both believe and even speak as though we truly no longer even know Christ.

“After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the cock crowed.” (Matthew 26:73-74)

That was Peter’s moment of truth, and the words he spoke were also truth. At that moment Peter did not really know who Christ was. Christ no longer acted in the ways Peter had expected or desired to have Him act. 

Recall how Peter, only hours before this exchange, had wielded a sword in the garden of Gethsemane, believing that Christ would then show His power and overcome worldly circumstances by force. Peter expected Jesus to act as he, Peter, would in these circumstances, by eliminating the burden, by removing the obstacle, by defeating the enemy. 

Christ, of course, would do all that, but his weapon would be the Cross, not the sword. Christ knew what Peter did not, that the real enemy was sin, and the only way to remove it was through sacrifice. Christ knew the only way to overcome our sinful nature, which too often demands its own way and chooses its own path, is to mount those sins on a Cross and allow them to die, even daily.

“And he said to all, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23)

It is popular these days to believe that we have all the time in the world to seek the Lord and to begin to work on our relationship with Him, that He is just waiting for us to get around to it. We might believe that we will get to it when we have more time, when things are better settled, when we have things the way we want them to be in our life. St. Augustine has a different opinion on this matter.

“God has promised forgiveness to our repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to our procrastination.” (St. Augustine)

Again, St. Paul reminds us of the importance of our commitment to follow Christ and love our neighbor, and to do it now.

“Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed…” (Romans 13:11)

Those of us who are little older can perhaps more fully appreciate these words.  

Let us each make the most of the remaining days of this Holy Season of Lent.  Let us also renew our commitment to prayer, and in a special way for all those who may be struggling with their own created image of Christ. We cannot make Him what we want Him to be, for He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  He is our victory. 

God Bless

Copyright © 2020 by Mark Danis

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