St. Peter in The Refugee from Heaven: Some Lessons for Holy Week
Servant of God Cora Evans was blessed with remarkable visions of the life of Jesus. Some are compiled and novelized as the book The Refugee from Heaven. Through Cora’s mystical visions, we get insight to the thoughts, characters, and events of the gospels. The work is astounding considering Cora’s lack of education.
Public and Private Revelation
Before going further, it is important to highlight the difference between public and private revelation. Much of the content from The Refugee from Heaven does not appear in the scriptures; its genre is similar to Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich’s The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ or Ven. Mary of Agreda’s Mystical City of God. These mystical revelations belong to the realm of private revelation. It is a tenet of our faith that public revelation/the deposit of faith was given, whole and entire by Jesus (see Catechism of the Catholic Church #66-67). Private revelation never supersedes or contradicts public revelation. Further, all we need for our salvation was revealed through public revelation. Private revelation is given to the Church to build up and inspire the faithful, but the faithful are not bound by it. St. Paul said to test everything and hold onto what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). St. John urged his readers to do the same (1 John 4:1-3).
Cora Evans dutifully submitted all of her writings to her spiritual director for that testing. And here they are, meant to draw us closer to Christ. During Holy Week let us consider St. Peter and the lessons he can teach us.
Details of St. Peter's Life
Simon Peter appears from the very beginning of The Refugee from Heaven. Cora describes him as a devout Jew and a grandfather. Professionally, Simon was a highly respected captain with a fleet of fishing boats. Given the number of boats in his possession, Simon was thought to be wealthy: “however, he was not, because of his excessive charity to the poor” (pg. 18).
Reading this struck me of the near caricature of how Simon Peter gets summed as a simple, uneducated fisherman. In Acts 4:13, St. Luke describes the perception of Peter and John: the rulers, leaders, and scribes “perceived that they were uneducated, common men.” Many biblical scholars think that Peter’s lack of education (among other factors) made it impossible for him to be the author of 1 Peter and 2 Peter.
Biographic details of the apostles are few and far between in the gospels. That makes sense, as the evangelists wrote the gospels to spread the message of Jesus Christ—Simon’s ability to read is of far less concern. Yet Cora’s visions give us insight on the gifts Simon Peter had to lead the apostles and the Church. He was a man accustomed to managing a crew; Cora describes him as having the personal and professional esteem of his men. Today we would call him a small business owner. Those that own and operate a small business often serve as manager, front line worker, accountant, and more.
The lesson he gives us here is to never underestimate a “simple” person. God blesses everyone with gifts and an equal dignity. And all the education of the rulers, leaders, and scribes, availed them little when it came to recognizing the Messiah. Simon Peter, not wise according to the world’s standards, proves that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
Peter as Leader of the Apostles
One of the great insights in Refugee was the conversation at the Last Supper. The apostles discussed among themselves: will Jesus give us the Bread of Life now? Taking a step back, picture the scene from John 6. Jesus teaches about the Bread of Life, which brought about confusion in the minds of many disciples. Those that found the teaching too hard left. For those that stayed, would they not have desired this heavenly bread? Even if they did not understand fully, the promise of divine life had to have made this a topic of conversation.
At the Last Supper, upon this conversation among the apostles on the Bread of Life, Peter speaks for the group: “This is the hour. God, make us worthy.” Although he had yet to experience it, he led the apostles in adoration and prayer. The reverence that Peter showed the Eucharist had two effects: first, it was an offering of love to God. Second, it united and strengthened his brother apostles. We should strive to have the same love of Jesus in the Eucharist—the same Eucharist that Peter received at the Last Supper.
Just after the Last Supper, Jesus instructs Peter on his upcoming role in the Church. The one virtue necessary? “It is necessary for you to be clothed in the cloak of humility, for in humility, on humility, and through humility there is safety in the world for you and your successors” (pg. 256). What a beautiful way to express it! We can stay safe from the world through humility. By the grace of God, Peter willingly accepted all mortifications for the sake of Jesus and the Church.
Peter's Role in the Garden of Gethsemane
Peter, James, and John go further into the garden with Jesus, who asks them to watch and pray with Him (Matthew 26:36-38). In Cora’s vision, Jesus said to Peter, “remove My sandals” (pg. 253). After describing his role to Peter, and the events of the coming days, Jesus continued, “Most of your successors will be enthroned in the ceremonial splendors of their day. They will wear elaborate robes and gowns and colors for all occasions, but these poor, worn, sandals, Peter, are all I have to offer you on this, your day, to assume your kingship on earth” (pg. 256). Jesus then bends down and ties His own sandals on Peter’s feet. Tears overcome Peter as Jesus does so.
As we know, the story of Gethsemane does not end there for Peter. In Cora’s visions, James and John were overcome by deep prayer and they appeared as though dead. Peter started to feel strangely drowsy himself; seeing James and John caused fear to overcome Peter. He was so burdened that he could only crawl to Jesus (pg. 269-271).
Let us appreciate that even the strongest in faith are not immune to fear in difficult times. Peter prayed with Jesus, saw the dead raised, bread multiplied, and saw Jesus transfigured. Here was the burly fisherman, the leader of the Twelve—the best he could do was crawl to Jesus in his fear. It is a good lesson for us: even if we have to crawl, do not let fear keep us from Jesus.
In the vision, Jesus grants Peter the gift of bilocation. They find themselves in Caiaphas’ courts, where Judas and his friends were negotiating the betrayal of Jesus. Once back in Gethsemane, Peter’s anger ignites. “Jesus, let me go into the city...with these two swords I could easily slay him and then he would not be able to lead the enemy here.” Our Lord’s response to him started with a calm gaze, “My impetuous Peter, have you not forgotten this is My hour in which to suffer for such sins as you would now commit—even in spirit to slay Judas?” (pg. 277) He urged peace in Peter.
When the mob to arrest Jesus, this lesson of peace escaped Peter. How easy it is to fall into old patterns of thinking, even after moving encounters with Jesus! As soon as one of the mob ridiculed Jesus and spit in His face, Peter’s sword was out in a flash, slicing off the offender’s ear. (see John 18:10)
Here we run right into the mystery of suffering. We cannot see the inner workings of the divine plan. If we could, we would have far less of an aversion to suffering. The thought/sight of Jesus suffering in Gethsemane filled Peter with anger, fear, uncertainty, and a desire to keep Our Lord safe at all costs. Peter stands with us in this moment, as if to say, Lord, can’t you just make it all go away? Jesus is there to remind us of the cross we are to carry—and devotion to Him is not a magic pill to make suffering go away.
Peter Defending Christ
Peter was not done fighting for Jesus, as told in Cora’s visions. One of the men scourging Jesus not only whipped but taunted Our Lord. Peter heard the taunts, threw on a disguise, and ran to where the scourging was. He ripped the whip out of the scourger’s hands, knocked him over, and proceeded to pound the scourger’s face into the ground. Jesus returns his efforts with a smile, but tells him to escape while he can (pg. 354).
Peter himself likely would not encourage us to get into fights. Yet time and time again, he fought for Jesus. Hearing his Lord defamed made his anger boil over. Do we defend Jesus so vigorously?
St. Peter would have us run to Jesus, just as he preached on the day of Pentecost. Jesus is the Messiah, He is God made flesh! Jesus told Cora Evans something similar, nearly two thousand years later: “I am giving this gift through you, better to establish My Kingdom of love within souls. I desire all souls to know I am real, alive, and the same today as after My Resurrection.” (excerpt from Golden Detachment in the Soul)