Jesus, the First Psychologist.
The Sixth Thursday of Ordinary Time; or, the Memorial of Saint Peter Damian, Bishop & Doctor of the Church.*
Lessons from the primary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Genesis 9: 1-13.
• Psalm 102: 16-21, 29, 22-23.
• Mark 8: 27-33.
When a Mass for the memorial is taken, lessons from the feria as above, or from the proper:
• II Timothy 4: 1-5.
• Psalm 16: 1-2, 5, 7-8, 11.
• John 15: 1-8.
…or, any lessons from the common of Doctors of the Church, or the common of Pastors for a Bishop.
Lessons from the dominica,*** according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Corinthians 9: 24-27; 10: 1-5.
• [Gradual] Psalm 9: 10-11, 19-20.
• [Tract] Psalm 129: 1-4.
• Matthew 20: 1-16.
10:48 PM 2/21/2019 — I can’t help but think that today’s Gospel lesson is a sort of remote reminder that Lent is approaching. It begins with our Lord showing Himself to be the Master Teacher. To introduce the subject of His upcoming Passion, our Lord first must make His disciples understand exactly Who He is; but, like any good teacher, He doesn't just come out and say it; he plays Socrates, and teaches by asking questions, in this case the quintessential question with which every Christian is confronted at some point in his or her life: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16: 15). But it's interesting to note how He does this: He begins the process of teaching not by asking His disciples who they think He is, but who other people think He is. Two thousand years before psychology was invented, our Lord is a psychologist: He knows that, when you confront someone directly and ask them bluntly what they think, they're going to be defensive and throw up a wall and evade the question; so, He asks them not who they think He is, but “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (v. 13 NABRE). By taking them out of the equation, they don't become defensive because He's not asking them about themselves. Not having anything to be defensive about, they feel free to say whatever is on their minds, so they give him a whole catalog of answers: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (v. 14 NABRE). But He's not done: now that He's got their defenses down and in a talkative mood, then He confronts them with the personal question: “Jesus said to them, And what of you? Who do you say that I am?” (v. 15 Knox).
Now, Saint Matthew also includes this conversation in his Gospel, but the conclusion is almost exactly the opposite than what we read today from Mark. In Matthew’s account, Simon answers the question by identifying our Lord as God, for which he is rewarded by having his name changed to Peter, the Rock upon which our Lord will build His Church. In this account from Mark, Peter already seems to have his new name, and answers the question correctly, but there’s no mention of a reward; in fact, it’s followed by this mysterious passage in which our Lord predicts His passion, Peter becomes upset about it, and our Lord publicly dresses down Peter in front of the other disciples, even to the point of calling him Satan. To our ears it sounds rather over-the-top for our Lord to react so strongly to Peter’s objection that our Lord must suffer and die, but that’s because of the inherent handicap of having to read the passage in a translation. In reality, the reference to the Devil is not as harsh as it sounds in English, and is both precise and with purpose: the Devil’s rebellion against God was a rejection of servitude and docility before God, of seeking glory without suffering, fulfillment without sacrifice. Our Lord references Satan in his correction of Peter because He wants His disciples—and us—to keep focused on the reason He’s come here: to suffer as a Man the penalty of Death that the sins of mankind deserve, but from which God, in the person of Christ, will spare us by becoming One of us and suffering it Himself. That is, in fact, what we commemorate in every single Mass we offer together.
Lent will be here soon enough, but contemplating the passion of our Blessed Lord is never out of season. Let’s ask Him to help us shoulder the crosses that come our way each and every day.
* Peter Damian (1001-1072) was a Benedictine Monk who wrote many important works on the liturgy as well as on theology and morals. Appointed Bishop of Ostia on account of his learning and high virtues, he become immensely helpful to Pope St. Gregory VII in his struggle for the rights of the Church. He retired to his abbey of Fonte Avellano where he died. In the extraordinary form, his feast is on Feb. 23rd.
** In the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, yesterday was the first day of the pre-Lenten season known as Septuagesima, named after the first of the three Sundays that comprise it. The purple of Lent is already worn, and the Gradual psalm is supplimented by an additional psalm called the Tract, with the Alleluia already suppressed. In English speaking countries, this season is sometimes called “Shrovetide,” because it ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is often called “Shove Tuesday.” A pre-Lenten season is preserved in every Christian Church that has a serious liturgical tradition, even the more traditional brands of the Anglican and Lutheran communions; in the Churches of the Byzantine Tradition, it's called the Triodion. It was eliminated in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite during the reforms following the Second Vatican Council, making the ordinary from the only major liturgical tradition not to observe it in some way.
*** In the extraordinary form, on ferias outside privileged seasons, the lessons come from the previous Sunday.