Thursday, February 22, 2007

Peter and George: Two Founding "Fathers" Who Found Our Mother's Help

You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church.
Matt 16:18
Americans cherished Washington; not as a military scientist but as a moral leader, whose example would inspire soldiers to victory.
Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Gerald E. Nora

Interestingly, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter coincides with the birthday of George Washington, and although our celebrant at daily Mass today did not draw a parallel, we can "FIT" one in without much trouble.

"Why did Christ pick Peter to be the first pope?" Father asked us during today's homily, noting Peter's many dumb moves, doubts and of course his classical denial. "The reason is that the main message of the Church is not sin, but salvation," . . . Father noted, and when Peter did sin, he also had the good sense (and faith) to quickly seek forgiveness and get his soul back on track. And history records that George Washington handled sin and defeat in much the same way.

Like Peter, General Washington had lost more battles than he won—and his greatest victory with the troops was probably not on the battlefield at all. Although the British had surrendered at Yorktown, the Continental Army, many who were starving and had not been paid for years, were seriously debating whether to follow the words of one outspoken comrade to march on Congress and seize control of the government. Getting wind of this plan, Washington called a meeting of his troops and denounced this man as dishonorable, unpatriotic and (worse!) a British sympathizer. But Washington's condemnatory speech only made his war-weary soldiers more hostile and they were about to turn on George and storm the Capitol when our first president dramatically changed his tune.

Seizing the moment, Washington pulled out a letter from a congressman, which pledged government funds for the soldiers as soon as the peace treaty was signed. The problem was, between the wrinkles in the paper and the imprecise and cramped handwriting, Washington could not read the note—at least not without help.

"Gentlemen," Washington began in the humblest of tones, "permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have grown not only gray, but nearly blind in the service of my country." Back then it was unthinkable for an officer, let alone a general, to show any sign of weakness or disability in front of their men, but Washington's humility moved his troops from mutiny to tears and the rebellion was squelched before the letter was finished.

Of course, Peter too showed true humility—"Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man" Luke 5:8.—in his many moments of real repentance. But what most people don't realize is that both the first pope and first president repented with the help of Our Mother. Legend has it that Peter, after his tragic thrice denial of Christ, went first to Mary to seek Our Lady's intercession before confronting the Risen Lord for his forgiveness. Similarly on the eve of his presidency, Washington saw a vision of a Lady which not only told him the laws of the United States must be based on God's eternal laws—but also warned him what would happen to if they weren't. Now Washington wasn't Catholic, so he never confirmed that this lady was Our Lady, but the nature of the vision, combined with the fact that Washington often asked the Catholic women in our young republic to "pray the beads" for him, serves to confirm her presence with the president. By choosing Mary's humility, God confirmed their authority—and forgave Peter and George's many sins.

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