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3rd Sunday after Pentecost: Under the mighty hand of God

We continue with our task of opening up something of the riches of the Epistle reading for Sunday’s Holy Mass in the Vetus Ordo, the tried and true Traditional Roman Rite which stengthen virtually all the Roman Church’s saints whom we now venerate.

As always, we look at context.  A major shift has taken place in the Church’s liturgical year.  We have moved back into the green season of the Time after Pentecost.  As dom Prosper Guéranger puts it:

The faithful soul has now witnessed in the holy liturgy the close of the mysteries of our redemption. … This is the Third Sunday after Pentecost; it is the first that has no rubrical connexion with the great feasts we have been solemnizing; it is a Sunday with all the simplicity of the Office of the Time.

You might balk at that.  In fact, I suspect that in most places you celebrated Corpus Christi, hopefully with a Eucharistic procession.  But that was the external celebration, for in fact the Feast of Corpus Christi falls on the previous Thursday, echoing the day of the Last Supper and institution of the Eucharist.  Last Sunday was really the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost and was a green vestment Sunday.  Historically, however, back in the day when there were many more liturgical octaves, Corpus Christi also had its octave.  Hence, we celebrated the Most Sacred of Jesus for the conclusion of the Octave of Corpus Christ and Sunday was thought of as being the Sunday within the Octave.

I have described this “green” season of Ordered Time, as the period in which the Church in her wisdom helps us to integrate into our lives more stably what we have encountered in the celebration of the greatest of the mysteries of our redemption.   On this matter dom Prosper also remarks:

“The Holy Ghost has come down to support her during her second career, by forming and developing within her the fullness of the Christian life as taught by her divine Saviour when on earth.”

The Epistle is from the familiar sounding 1 Peter 5, vv. 6-11.  We have recently seen several pericopes from 1 Peter, so its context is fresh in our minds.  Peter wrote this as an encyclical letter to be read by Christians suffering persecution in Asia Minor.  He probably wrote it around the Emperor Domitian’s persecution of in AD 81.  Some would put it in the time of the monstrous Nero.  In chapter 4, just before our reading, writing from Rome Peter mentioned a “firey ordeal” or “trial by fire”, which perhaps alluded to Nero’s burning of Christians as torches to illuminate banquets. The letter themes of submission, humility, patience and suffering are strong.

Let’s have the reading in the Revised Standard Version.

Beloved: Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen[a] you. 11 To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

When a word or image catches my particular attention, I like to go to the Greek.  Firstly, 1 Peter 5 begins with an exhortation of the ”presbyterous… elders” of the Christian communities, their bishops and priests, as it were, telling them how they must serve.  He exorts the “youngers… neotéroi” to be submissive and humble.  In his exhortations, Peter used forceful aorist imperatives which give his exhortations a commanding tone.   He’s not pleading or suggesting.   These aorist imperatives continue in our pericope.  If I can be permitted slightly to paraphrase, Peter wrote something like, “Under the mighty hand of God, humble yourselves.  Do it!  He cares about you so cast your anxiety on Him.  Do it!  The lion is out there.  Resist him.  Do it!”

Another point that caught my attention is, of course, the word “resist”.  We who venerate and desire participation in our sacred liturgy in the Traditional Roman Rite, hear these days a great deal about “resistance”. Rightly so.   Here, however, Peter told the suffering Christians to resist the antidíkos “adversary, enemy”, immediately and unmistakably identified as diábolos “the devil”, thereupon likened to a powerful and swift land-going critter of the order Carnivora.  The order Carnivora, in church terms… the Carnivorans? Carnivorites?… could have had as its founder Judas Iscariot. But no, Peter wasn’t talking about Jesuit homosexualist activists or one of the Manhattan parish Paulists, they also being creepy and dangerous catsPeter’s dangerous image is Pantera leo of the family Felidae of the order Carnivora.  As an aside, in some renaissance depictions of the Last Supper you will see a little dog, symbol of fidelity (thus the nickname “Fido”, from fides, “faith”) and a cat, symbol of infidelity, near to Judas.

Lest any cat-lovers get their cat-toys in a twist, we acknowledge that the lion is also a good image.  For example, in the prayer of exorcism carved onto the base of the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square to keep diabolical attacks away from the Basilica, we read:


Behold the Cross of the Lord
You of the Enemy
He has won, the Lion
Of the Tribe of Juda

Peter says to resist this Enemy, the Devil.  The Greek is anthístemi, “to stand against, withstand”.  One might hear in this word, from the one giving aorist imperative commands like a general to troops, the order to draw themselves up into the battle line, ready to oppose the onslaught.

I note, resist and not attack.  Here is a practical note.  Make good use of the sacraments and sacramentals in your resistance to the Enemy of the soul.  You cannot be lead into sin against your will.  The Enemy is, ultimately, powerless over your soul unless you cede to him – him, them, all of the fallen angels – the right.  Remember: sin makes you stupid.  Be smart. Good and frequent use of the sacraments and sacramentals can strengthen you in your resistance to temptations.  Confirmation increases our portion, as it were, of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, including courage.  The Sacrament of Penance has as one of its effects to strengthen us against temptation.  The Sacrament of Anointing is to strengthen us in the time of the final test, when the Enemy is poised to strike us when we are vulnerable.

I’ll close with a couple of connections to consider as you hear the Epistle or review it during the first few days of the following week.

You remember the Parable of the Strong Man. Jesus says in Mark 3:27 that to plunder a strong man’s house you must first tie him up.  Satan, not Christ, is the strong man in that parable.  In Luke 11:21-22 Jesus is the “one stronger” who overcomes the strong man.  The Devil Lion is mighty strong, but he is not Almighty.

Like in the obelisk inscription, we have two Judases, two lions, two strong men.  One Cross.

Also, what was the first verse of our reading? “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you.”  The word for “hand” in Greek, cheir, can include the whole forearm.  “Mighty” is kratos.  In Luke 1:51, as the Blessed Virgin overflows with her Magnificat she says of God’s handling of the humble, lowly, submissive versus the apparently strong and exalted (Luke 1:51-52):

He has shown strength with his arm (brachíon),
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;

Lastly, I return to don Gueranger about the plight of the persecuted to whom Peter was instructing.

Combat now; peace and rest and a crown them.  Happy they who, during these days of probation, have recognized the mighty hand of God in all the trials they have had, and have humbled themselves under its pressure, lovingly and confidingly! Against such Christians, who have been strong in faith, the roaring lion has not been able to prevail.

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