Get Behind Me Satan!
Surviving the present crisis in the Church

Fr. Urban Snyder (RIP)
Reprinted from The Remnant, Lent 1978




Far be it from thee, Lord, this will never happen to thee!” (Mt. 16.22)

Is it possible to have peace of mind and heart in the present crisis of the Church?  Yes, provided we are fortified with the deep realization that, (1) Nothing happens which God does not will, or (if an evil) permits, for the sake of a greater good; (2) that those who trust in God are “guarded by His power unto salvation” (Cf., Pet.1.5) and (3) that during the present life it is necessary  for us, both individually and collectively, to pass in some sense through the divine mysteries of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Redeemer, in order to be saved and sanctified. He, the Light of the world, says, “He who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.” (Jn. 12.35) Jesus is the Head of the Mystical Body of which we are the members.  Our Head (who alone has the “eyes” by which we “see” supernaturally) enjoys eternally the Beatific Vision in Heaven, and in His light we “see the light.” (Cf.Ps. 35.10)

It is by the Holy Spirit, in whom the “whole Body is closely joined and knit together through every joint of the system” (Ephes. 4.6), that the divine light from our Head is communicated to His individual members according to their function, and their capacity to receive; that is, according to the degree of supernatural health which they enjoy, their degree of union with God through faith and love.  In proportion as we receive light from our Head, we see and understand all things with “the mind of Christ”.  “The sensual man does not perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God, for it is foolishness to him and he cannot understand, because it is examined spiritually.  But the spiritual man judges all things…who have the mind of Christ” (1Cor. 2.14-16)

“The lamp of thy body is thy eye,” says Jesus.  “If thy eye be sound thy whole body will be full of light:” – i.e., if you see all things with the eye of Christ, your Head, your entire behaviour will be according to God. “But if (thy eye) be evil, thy body also will be full of darkness.  Take care, therefore, that the light that is in thee is not darkness.” (Lk. 11,34-36)

In other words, take care that your head is not the devil, and that you are not seeing things through his eyes.

It is the light of grace, coming down from our Head, when we begin to see ourselves as full of sins, faults and imperfections, and feel as if we were hateful in the eyes of God.  “God is light.” (1Jn.1.5)  If the Light shines on our souls, we are bound to see the truth about ourselves.  That is why the great Dominican theologian, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, could write: “There is no surer sign of progress in a soul than when it grows in a sense of its unworthiness.”  What God reveals to us about ourselves, however, is never meant to discourage us, still less to lead us to despair; on the contrary, it is an invitation to throw ourselves into the arms of God’s infinite mercy, begging Him to heal the leprosy that we perceive.

It is only with the Light of God that we can hope to love and understand, as we ought, the doctrine of the Cross, which Jesus never ceased to preach and practice.  Certainly it is not agreeable to human nature; the gospels show that the apostles themselves throughout the years of Our Lord’s public ministry were slow to grasp it, and their human nature resisted.

The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) group all of the following events together, and treat them in the same order:  (1) Peter confesses that Jesus is the son of God, and hears the promise that he will be the rock on which Christ will build His Church; (2) Our Lord begins immediately afterward to speak openly, for the first time, of His Passion, Death and Resurrection; (3) Peter chides Him for speaking this way; (4) Peter, James and John witness the Saviour’s transfiguration on the mount, and hear Moses and Elias speaking to Him about His approaching  death. (Cf.Lk. 9-31)

Matthew, after describing Peter’s confession and the promise of the keys, continues: “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death and on the third day rise again.  And Peter, taking him aside, began to chide him, saying, ‘Far be it from thee, O Lord; this will never happen to thee.’” (16.21-22)

Poor Peter, you see, had the best of intentions but was still a long way from the wisdom that would come to him after he had passed (however ingloriously) through the mysteries of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Saviour.  As yet his views were entirely too human, too natural, too much those of earth.  He was still too far from understanding the mystery of the Cross, which is the key to all things.

In the long history of the Church, many popes and bishops have had the same shortcomings as Peter, and with great damage to souls; but if it happens that we know of some like them in the Church today, we ought to be filled with the most profound compassion for them personally, while regretting, and perhaps protesting against their blindness. Their responsibility before God is incalculable, their souls are in great danger, and we have a corresponding duty to come to their aid by our prayers and penances. 

What I have said about popes and bishops applies also, of course, though in lesser degree, to priests.  The tragedy is, as history shows that many unfortunate men consent to be made priests, bishops, or even popes, without taking seriously the doctrine of the Cross, or striving for the high sanctity which their state of life requires of them.  But the more a lay person perceives any of us fall short of what we ought to be, the more we need his prayers and compassion. 

If the clergy have a duty to serve the faithful and set a Christ-like example, the faithful on their part have a corresponding duty to help sanctify the clergy by prayer and penance; and so, if they perceive defects in us but neglect to pray and to cover our  defects with charity, they stand in danger of being cursed by God in the way that Chaanan, the grandson of Noah was.  (Cf. 9.20-25)

Our Lord’s reaction to Peter’s attempt to give Him guidance was as sharp as it was instantaneous:  He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan, you are a scandal to me; for you do not mind the things of God,  but those of men.”  What a humiliation for the man to whom it has just been said that he would be the rock on which the Church would be built, and that he would be given charge of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven!  But is there not a lesson here for all of us? 

How many of us really have the sense of God? How many of us have a truly divine and supernatural view of the problems  in our own life, of the problems of the world and of the Church?  When we die and come to judgment, it is our own soul, our own thoughts, words, deeds and omissions that we shall have to answer for, not those of anyone else, except perhaps insofar as we have led them into sin or failed in our duty towards them.  How many of us have attained the degree of holiness to which God called us by our Baptism and Confirmation, and by all the graces which we have received?  Finally, how many of us, as we contemplate the mystical renewal of the Passion and Death of Christ in His Church today, have the faith, confidence, and spiritual serenity proper to a Christian soul?

But to return to St. Matthew:  After rebuking Peter, our Saviour called together all the disciples, and made it clear that not only was it necessary for Him personally to pass through the mysteries of His Passion, Death and Resurrection, but that anyone who followed Him would have to do the same, if he wanted to be saved.

“If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For he who would save his life will lose it; but he who loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his own soul?  For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes to his glory and that of the Father and of the holy angels…” (Mt.16.23-26)

There was a special sting in these words for poor Peter; but he did love Our Lord, and after he passed willy-nilly with Him through the life-giving mysteries of the Passion, Death and Resurrection, he attained great spiritual stature and purity, i.e., selflessness of soul, and began to preach eloquently the doctrine of the Cross.  Read, for example, his two-epistles.  In the first one he writes:

Beloved, do not be startled at he trial by fire which is taking place among you to prove you, as if something strange were happening to you; but rejoice, in so far as you are partakers of the sufferings of Christ, that you may also rejoice with exultation in the revelation of his glory.  If you are upbraided for the name of Christ, blessed will you be, because the honor, the glory and the power of God and his Spirit rest upon you.  Let  none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a slanderer, or as one coveting what belongs to others.  But if he suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed…(4.12-16)

For the remainder of his life, Peter remembered in particular how he had fallen on the night of Holy Thursday, and in the light of God he also saw the reasons for his fall; too much confidence in himself, ignorance of his human weakness, neglect of the Lord’s pointed warnings about the devil wanting to sift him as wheat, the necessity to watch and pray.  What he learned that night is clearly behind the following passage in his first epistle:

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourself yes, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in the time of visitation; cast all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you. Be sober, be watchful. For your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same suffering befalls your brethren all over the world. (5.5-9)

Poor, weak, ignorant human beings like ourselves are no match for the powers of darkness; but God in His mercy and goodness has provided abundant and adequate defenses, if only we make use of them.  Supreme among these is the love and protection of His most Holy Mother, more powerful than all the devils of hell taken together.  The beginning of wisdom is to go to Mary, to cling to her, to “chain” oneself to her by means of the Holy Rosary.  This devotion puts us into direct contact with the eternal and ever-living mysteries by which we are redeemed.  We activate them, as it were, and the graces proper to them are poured into our souls. It is because the mysteries of redemption are infinite in power that the Rosary is so efficacious.

If anyone is not saying his Rosary daily, he will be wise to begin now, during Lent; now is the acceptable time. His reward will be, among other things, a gradually deepening understanding and love of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Saviour, which open the gates of eternal life.