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July 2024

Dear Friends,


Jesus was no geologist.  To be sure, Our Lord and Savior did many wonderful things, among them, changing water into wine and commanding paralytics to pick up their mats and walk.  But let’s be real: anyone who named Simon “the Rock” just didn’t understand basic geology.  “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)


I had occasion over the Memorial Day weekend to visit St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Rosendale, New York – not too far from our upstate retreat house, Founder’s Hollow.  Inside, this lovely parish church is decorated with frescoes of St. Peter’s life.  One depicts the call of Peter – Simon afraid and amazed by the enormous haul of fish after an exhausting night of fishing with no results whatsoever.  At this miraculous sight, Peter exclaims, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8).  Peter’s reluctance does not deter Jesus: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” (Luke 5:10)


Apparently, Jesus saw something in Peter that Peter had not discovered himself.


Peter’s journey of self-discovery – and ultimately, of self-giving and self-sacrifice – takes some circuitous and comic turns.  Prominent above the altar at St. Peter’s Church is a fresco of poor Peter trying to walk on water, just as Jesus had commanded him, but then getting cold feet and sinking.  


Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.  But when he saw how [strong] the wind was, he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:29 - 31)


Of course, Peter’s faith journey takes an almost tragic turn as well when he denies Jesus not once, not twice, but three times.  Not long after Jesus washes the Apostles’ feet and feeds them with His very Body and Blood, a petrified Peter cries out, “I do not know the man!”


A little later, the bystanders came over and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away.”  At that he began to curse and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately a cock crowed.  Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly. (Matthew 26:73 - 75)


Yet, only hours before, the blustery Peter had boasted, “Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be.” (Matthew 26:33)


Not quite the rock-solid performance that one would have hoped for from the first Pope of the Catholic Church!  When I behold the enormous Basilica of St. Peter in Rome (I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the Eternal City four times.) and catch sight of the imposing marble statue of the first-century Pontiff, well, it’s hard to imagine that this is the same pusillanimous turncoat who betrayed Jesus three times.


But if Jesus was no geologist, He certainly was a redeemer – a divine physician and a savior of souls.  After He rose from the dead, Jesus charged Peter three times (reflecting Peter’s triple denial of Christ), “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15 -17)  And in the end, tradition has it, the once craven but ultimately courageous Peter asked to be crucified upside down, because he did not think himself worthy to be crucified in the same manner of his Savior.

Back when I took earth science in my freshman year of high school (1970 - 1971), we learned that, under intense pressure and high temperatures, carbon atoms bonded deep within once active volcanoes to form bright shining diamonds.  Under intense pressure and high temperatures, held deep with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, sinners, like Peter, become saints – the bright shining diamonds of the Catholic faith.  I guess Jesus is a geologist after all, and a master one at that.  That lesson should not be lost on all of us who stumble and fall two, three, four, five – Lord knows how many! – times.


On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,

Bro. Stephen Balletta, S.M.

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