Denying Jesus

The Church in the village of Monte Castillo

After several weeks of being and living at the mission and parish I began to regularly see the same people. I’m starting to know their routines. Where they sit in the pews at daily mass. I see their comings and goings to various nightly prayer meetings. I see them hanging around in the narthex or even in the adoration chapel. I’m now remembering and recognizing faces. In the exchange of looks and smiles, something is happening, it’s a relationship that has no name to me.

There was one man who the Lord kept brining to my attention early on. He’s probably in his early thirties. I would always see him carrying a bible. I’d seen him praying the rosary in adoration and reading scripture. He is a good looking man, full of joy, and has a peaceful presence. That I know for sure.

I wondered why I kept seeing and noticing him. Was it his looks I thought, as he was a handsome man? Was it his faith I was drawn to? I didn’t know. One day, I say to the Lord. “Why do you keep bringing my attention to this man?” I get no answer, therefore I let it go.

Then one afternoon I’m sitting in adoration after a long morning of working in the clinic. I’m beginning to spend more and more time in prayer during my time on this mission. There is a perpetual adoration chapel right at the parish and then another one within walking distance at the cathedral. I’ve fallen in love with the little chapel at the cathedral. So I go often. Almost daily now and sit and pray.

I’m not sure why, but some days I’m in there for two hours or more. I’m just drawn to resting in front of Jesus and asking God to fill me with his presence. I ask for protection, for wisdom, humility, but mostly I just desire to be in front of the one who loves me.

On this particular day, I’m in the adoration chapel at the parish. It’s very quiet and peaceful. That’s not always the case, as daily you hear music and taxies honking outside on the street. And its silence I continue to seek. Sometimes I feel like there’s a cantina just outside the walls of church, it’s so loud here to me and still something I’m not used to. But today it’s quite and I’m in this contemplative state of soaking up the essence of the Lord’s love. I have my eyes closed and I’m in complete peace.

For whatever reason, I open my eyes and there he is…. The man I kept noticing. I hear the Lord say “pray with him.”

Now, I’m thinking? Really? I’m so enjoying this time of prayer. I don’t want to move from this state of peaceful contemplation. This is awesome… I mean really awesome. It’s like I’m floating in your love, Lord. Maybe the levitation question is not so strange, as it feels like my feet are not on the ground. So I don’t move!

And just like Peter, I deny Jesus!

I then close my eyes again. Attempting to go back to my state of contemplation. Only it doesn’t work, for I quickly realize what I’ve done. The choice I made in telling God no. Seriously, I just kicked Jesus off the throne and appointed myself king. All because I continued to desire my peaceful contemplation. It was I who refused to not move when He spoke, not Peter.

Oh, and let’s not forget it’s not just His voice I heard, but I’m sitting right in front of Him in adoration too! What we Catholic’s believe is the true presence. So there I am in front of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ and I said NO – not now Lord! Yikes!

I’m just like Peter I say to myself.

Although, I do not begin weeping I completely understand the offense I’ve committed and it weighs heavily on my heart. I go from basking in His love to swimming in a sea of remorse I created. Ick, I do not like the way this feels.

I previously wrote about how if you desire to live a life in the Spirit be ready to be inconvenienced. Ya, this was one of those moments and there I was telling God, no way! Not now.

So now I’m feeling guilty, as I know what I’ve done. And I too need to repent like Peter. And so I do, but the man is gone and the opportunity is lost. I feel awful. “Lord, I’m sorry I continue to say.”

So I go back to closing my eyes. Resting in his presence and laying my repentant heart before Him. For whatever reason, after a while I open my eyes. Now, right next to me is this man again! How can this be I wonder?

Seriously Lord! I’m thinking. Are you kidding me? Now what?? This just doesn’t end..?

This man now has a female friend with him. I’m not sure if it’s his wife, girlfriend or just a friend. I don’t know. They are reading something from scripture and discussing it. I want to put some context around adoration as its very different here than in the west. Sometimes it’s quiet and completely silent. Then sometimes people are praying together by themselves or out loud. I’ve seen people talking and discussing something from scripture or a spiritual book. And then my personal favorite is praise music in the middle of the night. Praising the Lord of Lords, and King of Kings with bongo drums and a guitar, singing out my favorite song “Alabare”. There’s nothing like rocking out with Jesus at 3:00 am.

So there I am sitting in front of my King. “Lord, what do you want me to do?” I ask. “Wait, until he leaves.” I hear back.

Oh, geez. Really, I’m thinking. I sense my irritability. Now, I feel like I’m on high alert because the selfish me wants to close my eyes and be, but I must watch. Then I remember what Jesus tells His disciples in the garden. “Can you not watch for just one hour?” So I wait. I can feel the tension of my wanting and the Lord’s desire and they do not match up! I’m annoyed.

And I wait. And I wait…… I feel my impatiencness growing inside of me. So I ask for grace.

I’m not sure how much time passed, but suddenly the man gets up and gathers his things. The woman he’s with doesn’t move. I know it’s time to go, but I feel rushed.

Now, here in Peru it is very cultural to never turn your back on the Blessed Sacrament. Everyone walks backwards until they are out the door. I have not mastered this skill to this point. In my walking backwards down the narrow isle and rush to catch this man. I bumped into several people and practically trip over my own feet. I ask for forgiveness of the disturbance I’m making on way out. Because it’s quite the show I know.

Finally, I’m to the doorway and able to turn around. “Oh no, It looks like he’s getting away”, I’m thinking. So I speed up to catch him. And with a louder than normal voice inside the walls of the church, I call out “amigo!”

He turns around quickly and sees me. For a brief moment it’s as if he knows me, just like I’ve been noticing him. I smile and move toward him. Once again with gestures and a mixture of Spanish and English I tell him the Holy Spirit wants me to pray with you.

He understands. I gesture for him to sit in the pew. I gently grab his items and set them next to him. Then gently grab his hands and open them on his lap. I then take a deep breath and point to him. He understands I too want him to take a deep breath and so he does. I then say “uno mas.” One more breath. “Uno mas” another breath. He appears relaxed and closes his eyes.

Even though it’s in the middle of the afternoon, it’s not unusual to see lots of people sitting, praying or gathered in the church. Therefore, there are many people walking and passing by on their way in out of the church, to adoration, and stopping by the relics nearby.

I gently touch my right hand to his forehead and begin to pray. I do not remember the entire prayer, but it probably went something like this “Come Lord Jesus, Come. Come Holy Spirit come, Come. Come with the fire of your love. Fill him with your love, joy and peace. Give him and experience of your love. Let him know Lord you are real and for him, Lord. Bring the fire of your love Lord.”

Then I just let the Holy Spirit move and continue to pray. I pray over him for several minutes. When I’m done, I gently pull my hand away and step back. Once again, I am waiting and watching. He looks like he’s draped in peace. I quietly praise God for what He’s doing in this moment and ask God to bring His blessings upon this man.

I will never forget the look on his face when he finally opens his eyes. It’s one of awe and wonder. I watch a tear or two roll down his check. I see a huge smile on his face and I know he can’t fully process the moment. I also know I just witnessed something very beautiful and powerful. For God used me to touch this man’s heart in a profound way. I just witnessed this man encounter the risen Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

After a few seconds. He gathers himself and says “gracious, gracious.”

He then does something that moves my heart deeply and truly humbles me. He grabs my right hand and like a knight would bow before his queen, he kneels before me and gently kisses the top of my hand. And in English, he says “thank you, thank you, thank you.” I am humbled because I’m no queen, and work hard not to be one either. But I know he’s kneeling to the risen one he see in me. His eyes speak love to my heart. And now, I am the one in tears. For I know He’s no longer the same man. The Lord, used me to help Him encounter God in a very personal way.

“Dios, Dios, Dios”, I say. All God. He knows what I mean.

We hug and go our separate ways.

In my walking away I have many thoughts running through my mind. Will I see him again? What’s his story I wonder? Lord, I’m so sorry I denied you? I understand that in order to follow you, I must give up some of my selfish ways. That’s hard Lord, I say.

About a week or so later I’m at daily mass sitting with my friend Luis in the middle of the pews. I notice this man once again, he’s sitting two rows in front of me. He is with his family. I see he has kids and a wife and that brings joy to my heart. I’m not sure how it happens, but during the sign of peace he turns around and finds me. He says “la paz, and in English says thank you, thank you.” There is something different about the people in Piura choosing to say thank you in your native language. It’s an intentional choice on their part and it moves my heart.

I didn’t have to hear his words, for I know his gratitude. I then smile back, nod my head and point to the man on the cross.

And so I learn, this is what it means to deny myself and follow God. That’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes, I say. A pill that will only go down by asking for His grace. So I count the cost and then ask for more grace. For if I want to truly live a life in the Holy Spirit. I will surely be inconvenienced, and therefore I will surely need so much more of His amazing grace.

Are you aware of the times in which you deny the Lord’s call? Will you allow yourself to be inconvenienced for the sake of building His kingdom? What are the areas in your life in which you must deny yourself to follow Him?

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