In today’s Gospel, John 13: 21-33, 36-38, Jesus is “reclining with his disciples.” He is “deeply troubled and shares His pain with them, saying: “…one of you will betray me.” He confronts his betrayer, saying to Judas: “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Judas leaves “at once.” It “was night.” When Jesus then informs the disciples that he will He with them “only a little while longer,” and that where He is going, they “cannot come.” Peter protests: “Master, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus takes one look at Peter and asks him: “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.”
What a night for Jesus! He knows that He is about to be turned over to evil men who will condemn Him to death and crucify Him, nailing Him naked upon the cross and leaving Him there to die a torturous death. He also knows that most of His followers, His intimate apostles, will flee for their lives that night and will not risk going up to Calvary with Him. Peter, the one to whom He is entrusting the keys to the Kingdom, will, in fact, vehemently deny any knowledge of Him.
Before we get too angry at Judas and at Peter, let us look at ourselves. What will we do under pressure, and especially if it means risking our lives? How easy to deny our faith when we are pressured by those who, perhaps, do not believe in Jesus or in the Eucharistic Presence, or, in fact, in the apostolic succession. What is the apostolic succession, you might ask? It means that we trace our faith all the way back to the apostles who were at the Last Supper, when Jesus transformed the bread and wine into His body and blood, and said: “Take and eat; this is by body given up for you” and “Take and drink; this is my blood poured out for you. Do this in memory of Me.” That same divine power to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus—the Living, Risen Christ--is handed on to priests—and only to priests--through their ordination by a Catholic bishop. A priest is ordained as a bishop by the Pope Himself. Peter was the first Pope, given the keys to the Kingdom by Jesus Himself. That is why, at every Catholic liturgy or Mass, we believe that when the priest says over the bread and wine “Take and eat; this is my body given up for you” and “take and drink; this is my blood poured out for you,” we are receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus, as our salvation, our sanctification, our reconciliation with the Father, our purification and strength to follow Jesus in faithfulness and love, in obedience and peace.
I believe! Do you?