Right wondrously set free, see, Peter freedom gains
And at the Lord’s command casts off his iron chains;
As shepherd and as guide he shews to life the way,
And from his Master’s sheep drives guileful wolves away.
(Hymn for Lauds, August 1st)
This website is long overdue. It is also launching right on time. I suspect that Steve Skojec didn’t consciously plan on things working out exactly this way when he took a leap of faith to launch OnePeterFive. His intention was to provide a venue offering practical help for faithful Catholics living in these dark days. A site that would not merely register grumblings about the seemingly intractable problems we face in this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12), but one that would offer positive and robustly Catholic solutions. Selecting 1 Peter 5:8, as its title, his choice to launch the site on August 1st involves some curious “coincidences.”
Today is the feast of St. Peter in Chains, celebrated in the Roman Calendar until 1962. The feast commemorates the occasion on which, under the orders of Herod Agrippa, St. Peter was literally bound in chains and held in prison until he was miraculously set free by the intercession of an angel sent from Heaven (Acts 12:6-11). How fitting that this endeavor be inaugurated on this feast, for there is a strong connection between it and the eponymous mission of this website.
In 1 Peter 5:1-11, St. Peter explicitly addresses himself as a fellow-elder to other elders in the Church. In this passage the word “elder” translates the Greek word used by Peter, “presbyteros” and in this context, it signifies anyone holding an ecclesial hierarchical office established by Christ (that means bishops, priests, and even future popes). First, he “exhorts” Church rulers to “tend God’s flock” willingly and eagerly, not for personal gain and not tyrannically (vv. 1-4). Then he exhorts the other members of the Church to be subject to the elders (v. 5). Finally, he commands everyone to be humble, to cast all their anxieties on God, to be sober and watchful for “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (vv. 6-8). He warns that resisting the devil with a firm faith unavoidably entails suffering for a while, after which God “will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you” (v. 10).
In short, Peter insists that Church prelates protect God’s flock from the devil whose two principal means to “devour” souls consist in: (1) leading men into error – especially heresy – and (2) into sin – especially the blasphemy of anthropocentrism: placing man at the center of life and unseating God from the throne of man’s heart. This warfare demands holy prelates, strong and courageous men of faith. Peter demands that all the faithful, prelates and laity alike, be humble, watchful, and prepared to suffer, knowing that the suffering will be temporary and that God himself will restore us.
God will restore us. And yet we stand in desperate need of sound direction from the Church’s leaders through whom God chooses to work. In this, the historical “fourth great crisis” of the Church (according to Archbishop Athanasius Schneider), we especially need strong prelates and a strong pope to guide us to eternal life and to drive the wolves away. And yet, we find so many of our prelates today “in chains” both literally (as in China), and (much worse) spiritually. Many prelates today berate the so-called evils of the free market, of the unemployed, of “undocumented migrants,” and of ecological and environmental foes.
Very few prelates are condemning the regnant heresy of secular humanism, Eucharistic abuses, and the pernicious errors of “Neo-Modernism” with its strategic footholds throughout the Church – from top to bottom and everywhere in between.
Are such silent prelates “in chains”? Consider this: Is it better to have a prelate in physical chains who suffers for being a staunch defender of the faith and who serves as an inspiration to the flock (e.g. St. John Fisher and Bishop Han Dingxiang), or one who, while free to walk the earth, maintains a politically-correct silence on what is most important spiritually?
Which of these prelates is bound by more substantive chains? In times like these (and there have been several periods like this in Church history), we would do well to call to mind the lament of Isaiah (56:8-12) who likens the religious leaders of Israel both to “dumb watchdogs,” unable to bark and warn the flock of the presence of their adversary and to “shepherds” having “no understanding” seeking only personal gain, drunk with “strong drink.”
There’s no true conundrum here. The true spiritual benefit of faithful prelates in physical chains is vividly described by the Apostle St. Paul (also memorialized in the pre-1962 calendar on August 1st in an optional feast). While on “death row” in a Roman prison, he wrote, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel, the gospel for which I am suffering and enchained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained” (2 Tim 2:8-9).
Returning to today’s principal feast, and its reflection in compline — the night prayer of the Church according to the Divine Office — we look again at the brief lesson drawn from verse eight of our website’s eponymous mission (1 Pet 5:8): “Brethren, be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist ye, steadfast in the Faith. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us. Thanks be to God.”
Thanks be to God, indeed. If we are to seek clarity on this passage, we may glean that it is profoundly relevant for us. This feast memorializes the events that occurred when St. Peter was imprisoned by Herod, physically preventing him from fulfilling his charge to strengthen the brethren in the faith (Luke 22:32). In Acts 12:1-11 we hear that Herod threw St. Peter into prison, a futile attempt to stifle his ministry as visible head of Christ’s Church. What did the faithful do when Peter was imprisoned by Herod? In the Divine Office, in the “little chapter” of Sext for this feast, we pray, “Peter therefore was kept in prison; but prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him.” That’s what the faithful do in times like these: we pray without ceasing, confident that God will restore Peter, will restore the Church, through angelic intervention if necessary. Hoping against hope. We’ve been down this road before.
Is Peter in prison now? Not physically, of course. But in the last century Peter, along with many bishops and priests, at times have exhibited symptoms of being stunned if not hamstrung by the regnant politically correct atheism, secular humanism, and neo-paganism. They may appear like the “dumb dogs” and “silent shepherds” against whom Isaiah prophesied. Frankly, Peter has indeed been in “chains” to some degree and for some time now. The divinely-revealed prescription for this is unceasing prayers for him and for all prelates with the confidence that the Lord will liberate them so that they can courageously lead the Church.
Along with prayers and the offering of sacrificial suffering, we must follow St. Peter’s injunction to sober watchfulness. We need a fearless diagnosis of the exact nature of our current crisis. Lacking this, no discernment of a solution is possible. Informed laity are indispensable for this task. But we cannot succeed without the leadership of holy prelates. Too many of our spiritual fathers are also enchained spiritually. Let us begin our enterprise with the prayer of the Church, the Collect for the feast of St. Peter in Chains, and offer our supplication for the whole Church – but especially for our pope and bishops:
“O God, who didst deliver thy holy Apostle Saint Peter from his bonds and suffer him to depart unhurt: vouchsafe, we pray thee; to deliver us from the bonds of our sins, and of thy mercy preserve us from all evil. Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.”
Originally published on August 1, 2014.
Married with seven children. Professor of dogmatic and systematic theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. A Thomist in the Dominican interpretive tradition. Special research focus: fundamental theology, ecclesiology, and theology of the episcopacy.