For Pete's Sake by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.
As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.
"Lord it is good that we are here!" Well, there he goes again. St. Peter always seems to interrupt and blurt out whatever comes to mind and apparently with no sense of propriety. As the ancient writer Origen observed, St. Peter "often appears in Scripture as hasty in putting forth his own ideas of what is right and expedient." And so we find him at one moment asking to walk on water, then sinking for lack of faith. Then he is confessing our Lord as Son of the living God, then blocking Him from His mission. At the Last Supper he pledges his life for the Lord, only to deny Him before sunrise.
Yet if St. Peter seems too hasty in his reactions, we should also beware lest we dismiss him entirely for we can learn a great deal from the Prince of the Apostles. Take for example the Transfiguration. Over come at the sight of our Lord glorified, St. Peter exclaims, "Lord it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" (Mk 9:5). Sure, it seems like another gaffe by St. Peter, especially since He receives what amounts to a divine scolding: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him" (Mk 9:7). But in fact he has the right instinct. He just jumps the gun a bit.
When St. Peter beholds our Lord's glory, he sees it for what it is; the goal. Our Lord came into the world to win such glory - for Himself and for all men. By His Incarnation He took on our human nature. By His passion and Death He purified it. By His resurrection and Ascension He glorified it. Heaven, the goal of human life, is to contemplate our Lord in glory and to be glorified with Him. St. Peter immediately and instinctively senses (but perhaps does not yet understand) that the contemplation of Christ in glory is the greatest good. Naturally, he wants to stay: "Lord it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
So before we roll our eyes at his mistake, let us first appreciate St. Peter's example. After all, most of us set the goal much lower than he. Indeed few of us would even rise to the level of his mistake. How many of us truly see heaven - the vision of Christ face-to-face - as our life's goal? In truth, we would be content with far less: with material wealth, or comfort, a bit of fame perhaps, or power. At best people might possess the vague ambition to "make the world a better place." Eternal contemplation of Christ as glory somehow does not figure into most people's life goals. But St. Peter knew it immediately.
So Peter goofed, then, not in his words but in his timing. He wanted to contemplate Christ glorified - but before our Lord won that glory by His passion and Death. He wanted the prize without the contest. And again, this is a mistake we should be slow to criticize - we who would have the Gospel without sacrifice, holiness without prayer, virtue without effort, Communion without confession, and Easter without Lent. In a sense, St. Peter reveals us to ourselves. In him we can see ourselves trying to find a shortcut, an easier route, a detour, some way of avoiding the cross.
Mother Church places the Transfiguration before us while Lent is still young so that we will learn to imitate St. Peter's faith and avoid his hastiness. In Lent we accompany our Lord in the contest. We take upon ourselves some share of His suffering and death so that we will again some share also of His eternal glory. May the clumsy example of St. Peter focus our thoughts on the ultimate goal and inspire us to accompany our Lord in the contest.
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