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Get Behind Me, Satan!


I’ve already laid out my personal experiences with the death penalty. Then I presented the Church’s long-standing traditional teaching on it. (The comments on that latter piece are almost as informative, in some respects, as my info-dump presentation itself.)

But today I caught wind of something that really made me deeply uncomfortable. The Vatican plans some reflections on Good Friday that juxtapose the crucifixion with the desire to abolish the death penalty. I kid you not:

[Pope] Francis will mark the occasion by presiding over a “Way of the Cross” service Friday night that begins in the Colosseum and continues onto Rome’s Palatine Hill. At each station of Jesus’ suffering, the pontiff and those attending the outdoor celebration will reflect using a text prepared for the event by retired Italian Bishop Renato Corti*.

At the station that marks Jesus being nailed to the cross, Francis and the pilgrims will use a reflection that questions modern-day uses of both the death penalty and torture.

“We gaze at you, Jesus, as you are nailed to the cross,” states the reflection. “And our conscience is troubled.”

“We anxiously ask: When will the death penalty, still practiced in many states, be abolished?” it continues. “When will every form of torture and the violent killing of innocent persons come to an end? Your Gospel is the surest defense of the human person, of every human being.”

While Catholic teaching holds that the death penalty can be used in a situation where the public authority can find no other way to contain a dangerous person, the last several popes have said that such situations likely no longer exist.

Francis has been even more publically opposed to the practice, saying March 20 that “today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.”

This juxtaposition of the crucifixion and the death penalty under a desire to eliminate capital punishment presents us with a real danger: it suggests an implied desire to eliminate the crucifixion as well. This attempt to sanitize our redemption runs directly counter to Christ’s own embrace of His cross as necessary for our salvation. In fact, those of you who remember your scriptures should be able to identify the context in which Our Lord issued his famous rebuke to St. Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” If you can’t quite place it, here’s a refresher:

Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am?

Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.

And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.

And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

Then he commanded his disciples, that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ.

From that time Jesus began to shew to his disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and the third day rise again.

And Peter taking him, began to rebuke him, saying: Lord, be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee.

Who turning, said to Peter: Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men. – (Mt. 16:15-23)

That’s right. Directly on the heels of Peter’s proclamation of faith and Christ’s institution of the papacy, Our Lord revealed to His disciples that he would suffer and die and rise again.

And Peter’s conscience, to borrow a phrase, was “troubled.” And he “anxiously” rebuked the Lord, saying that these things should not come to pass.

Yet our Lord, for His part, turned on His newly-minted vicar, and chastised him, going so far as to call him “Satan.” Why? Because he couldn’t accept that Jesus would face execution on the cross.

Bodily death is an evil, as is suffering. But only the distorted thinking of those who would immanentize the Eschaton — particularly in the shape of a materialism that seeks to create a heavenly analog here on earth over and above any desire for eternal salvation — would think that using the triumphant salvific act of Our Lord Jesus Christ as a political gambit in an ideological battle against capital punishment is a good idea.

All arguments that we must do everything in our power to ensure that innocent men are never executed — meritorious though they are in the pursuit of justice — run aground on the blood-soaked earth of Golgotha.  As we meditate on the voluntary embrace of unjust crucifixion by He Who Was Most Innocent of All Mankind, it is impossible not to see the danger in the proposal made by this “reflection.” It is a diabolical twist, one which tempts us to envision a crossless Christ; a deathless salvation. It is reminiscent of the serpent in the Garden of Eden:

Now the serpent was more subtle than any of the beasts of the earth which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman: Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?

And the woman answered him, saying: Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat:

But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat; and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die.

And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death.

For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.

None of us want Christ to have suffered and died so horribly at Calvary. All of us scourged Him and mocked Him and crowned Him with thorns and drove the nails through His precious body.

We are all executioners. We dare not forget. We all deserve death for our crimes – the death which He suffered on our behalf.

Neither may we forget that it was God’s own justice which was satisfied by Christ’s death on the cross. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) isn’t just a fancy saying. St. Thomas explains:

That man should be delivered by Christ’s Passion was in keeping with both His mercy and His justice. With His justice, because by His Passion Christ made satisfaction for the sin of the human race; and so man was set free by Christ’s justice: and with His mercy, for since man of himself could not satisfy for the sin of all human nature, as was said above (Question 1, Article 2), God gave him His Son to satisfy for him, according to Romans 3:24-25: “Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood.” And this came of more copious mercy than if He had forgiven sins without satisfaction. Hence it is said (Ephesians 2:4): “God, who is rich in mercy, for His exceeding charity wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together in Christ.”

At my first reading of this strange innovation, I couldn’t put my finger on what was so disconcerting about it. I’ve been trying to figure out if it ties in with any previous heresy — it would seem that denying the necessity of Christ’s passion and death would have been numbered among them — but the closest match I can find, ironically enough, is Pelagianism, insofar as it denies the effects of original sin and the need for divine assistance in overcoming our fallen natures. Maybe it’s something all new. Seems like all the cool kids are doing heresy these days.

Whatever it is, it needs to go. This “reflection” should be thrown in the burn pile and replaced with something authentically Catholic.



*Bishop Corti, who wrote the reflections, has previously butted heads with Church tradition. In 2007, he suspended three priests who wanted to exclusively celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass after the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum.

14 thoughts on “Get Behind Me, Satan!”

  1. “We gaze at you, Jesus, as you are nailed to the cross,” states the reflection. “And our [?] conscience is troubled.”

    “We anxiously [?] ask: When will the death penalty, still practiced in many states, be abolished?” it continues. “When will every form of torture and the violent killing of innocent persons come to an end? Your Gospel is the surest defense of the human person, of every human being.”

    Yet another red herring. Yet more Ngosticism. The killing of innocent persons? What? Presumably, by perennially endorsing the State’s God-given right to impose the sword, the Church’s conscience prior to this grandstanding pontiff was dead?

    Interestingly, it was at Calvary that Christ redeemed Dismas’s acceptance of his merited penalty, remaining curiously silent about denouncing the death penalty.

    I’m curious to hear how or if abortion shows up in these reflections.

    • Abortion is the killing of the innocent, capital punishment is the killing of the guilty. It is truly a disoriented perspective that vehemently defends the right of a guilty murderer to remain alive while at the same time demanding the rights to kill unborn children and elderly.

      • It’s called ‘Diabolical Disorientation’ Raguel. This is the state of the Church and the World at this moment……..’Diabolical Disorientation’. I realize that this sounds melodramatic, but I see it as a sad reality.

  2. …a materialism that seeks to create a heavenly analog here on earth over and above any desire for eternal salvation

    Well said, Steve. I have noticed that even Catholic death-penalty opponents seem to place an inordinate weight on this here-and-now earthly existence, and sometimes argue as if they can’t imagine any fate worse than death. The pope himself seems to hold this sentiment, as we can observe from his condemnation of life imprisonment–depriving, as it does, the prisoner of the ability to “plan a future in freedom”. Because that’s what’s really important.

  3. Whenever I read the latest whine against the death penalty by the bleeding heart among our clergy, I’m reminded of this saying by the late Jimmy Durante: “I’m surrounded by incompetents!”

  4. We are all under the death penalty, God’s penalty for original sin. There is no escape. To oppose the death penalty is to some extent to oppose the will of God. Our very salvation depended on the death penalty being executed on Christ who was innocent in order to save us, the guilty. To me Pope Francis’ use of the execution of the innocent (Christ) to justify elimination or execution for the guilty (criminals) is clearly off key. Better that he would compare Christ’s death with the killing of the unborn. But even better yet that he would have made a it an occasion for a meditation of how Christ’s being killed is an example for us to ask God to help execute the selfishness and lack of love within us.

    • Being against the death penalty does seem to be one of our ways of saying, “If we had been in the days of our Fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.”

      • They murdered the innocent prophets, not the same thing as killing the guilty. For those who are against the death penalty, where would they have stood when our fathers, like Moses, carried out the death penalty? When Moses, by God’s orders, stoned the man who worked on the Sabbath? Or when Moses stoned others for their crimes?

  5. Don’t agree w the death penalty. Do agree that we require stringent punishmentioned conditions for category one killers.

    Wonder if the USA is the only western country to still carry out state killings in the name of justice?

    Interesting to ponder cultural comfort level with violence….in various areas..passive forms of entertainment, in active forms such as gun ranges, in sport….in the civic environment such as weapons in the family home or on the ordinary citizen…and the societal comfort level with the use of the death penalty.

    If anyone does comment on my post please let’s not personalise things and do please keep the discussion polite.


  6. I am glad the author said we all deserve death for our sins, so even if we be innocent of something horrible the authorities might pin on any one of us after being in the wrong place at the wrong time, we, after having reached our age of reason, would eventually be guilty of something we committed against our Lord that would be deserving of death. Sorry for any bad grammar.

  7. Francis, a tool of Satan without question.

    When are the intelligent people on this website going to face up to the truth that the Vatican II Council destroyed the true Catholic faith, created a new religion based on Masonic/Modernism/Marxist/Protestant/Progressive/Humanism and its popes are heretics, if not apostates?

    Those with eyes and ears see and hear the Truth!

    Please, your souls are in jeopardy by defending the enemies of Christ.


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