21Aug 21 Aug, Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Theme

We celebrate Christ’s choice of Peter, in spite of his shortcomings, to be the rock on which his church is founded. At the same time, we recall how Simon Peter could also be called a “stumbling-block” because he could occasionally be headstrong, weak, or plain wrong on some vital issues, like the need for the Christ to suffer before reaching his glory. We pray for our present pope, that he may be guided by the Holy Spirit, with wisdom and strength to lead us in facing the challenges of the modern world.

Readings

Is 22:19-23. Isaiah warns Shebna, the unwise royal counsellor, that he will be removed from his office. The key which symbolizes his authority will be taken from him.

Rom 11:33-36. After the worry and anguish of chapters 9-11 comes a joyful hymn to the wisdom and goodness of God.

Mt 16:13-20. By divine inspiration Peter declares his faith in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. In turn, Jesus makes Peter the leader of the community of his church.

Bidding Prayers

– for the Pope, that he may wisely guide the church in this secular age.

– for a respectful harmony between the Pope and all teachers and preachers of the gospel in the church.

– for theologians who courageously explore the frontiers of truth, applying the Gospel to our modern world.

– for those whose critical spirit makes it difficult for them to accept the church’s teaching, that they may see the value of a shared communion of faith.

Homilies

Peter, Shepherd (Patrick Rogers)

Above the massive sanctuary of Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome, written in huge lettering of gold mosaic, stands the text of the promise made by Jesus to his foremost apostle: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” These words are revered by Catholics, as giving the basis for the papacy, since we understand the bishop of Rome as successor to Peter, as a human support for the church’s living faith, and as holder of the power of the keys.

Of course, there are problems involved in applying those words not just to Peter but to his successors. Non-Catholic Christians, our separated brethren in the Protestant churches, do not accept that there was any succession, at least in the full sense, to the position held by St Peter. They disagree even more with the claims which have been, and still are, made by papal authority under the heading: “apostolic jurisdiction” or “the power of the keys.” They interpret differently from us what today’s Gospel requires for the organisation of the Church. Fair enough. We need not insist that the Catholic way is the only way of taking Christ’s words. Still, this Gospel deserves close attention for what it says about faith, enlightenment and leadership, and guidance for our own lives.

Each must make our own personal answer to Our Lord’s question: “Who do you say that I am?’ although Peter’s credo is a solid basis from which to begin. Notice the beautiful phrase: “Son of the Living God,” expressing more richly what “Christ” means. Peter’s worshipful faith comes to him as gift from above, not from any mere human logic or ingenuity. Why was the blessing given especially to him? Because his humble but warm and devoted spirit made him best prepared to receive it? Or because God chooses whom He wills, quite irrespective of previous merits? (Election remains an insoluble mystery. We are simply asked to accept its outcome, and to trust that God’s Providence is pervaded with universal mercy.)

It is to this Peter that Jesus entrusts the Keys. Upon his solid, whole-hearted faith the Church will always rely, for unity and encouragement. Keys are primarily for opening; many doors lock by themselves. We could reflect further on Peter’s task, as shown in other Gospel passages (Mat. 14:28ff; 17:24ff; Lk. 22:32; Jn. 21:15-17), and in the Acts (1:1 5ff, 2: 14ff; 3:1 2ff). The texts can easily be located in any dictionary of the Bible; or you might look under “Peter,” in the Bible Dictionary on this CD, or the article “Peter as Leader” in Bible Stories.

While he is appointed to “feed the lambs and sheep” of Christ, to “confirm his brethren,” and welcome the first pagan convert into the Church, Peter is no plaster saint. Weakness of faith (when he began to sink), rash self-confidence and eventual denial are also portrayed by him. But these serve only to underline the grandeur of his conversion, when with a new clarity of self-knowledge he turns and says to Jesus: “You know that I love you.” The task is not one of stern domination, or merely of the efficient organisation of Christ’s Church. Pastor and penitent at once, convert and the support for other converted sinners, he leads the faithful by witness and example. This pastoral understanding of authority finds a lovely echo in the first epistle of Peter. Elders or leaders are asked to “tend the flock of God, not as domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (5:13.) Just so, Peter tended the early church by sharing his deep faith in Christ the Risen Lord. So, he kept them united i the bond of mutual love, and in faithful obedience to the Gospel. Such an ideal situation of harmony in the Church is briefly sketched for us in the Acts (2:42ff; 4:32f.)

What of today’s Church, spread worldwide across five continents? How can the same work of inspiring, teaching, encouraging and uniting so many millions of baptised believers be carried on? Jesus remains the centre, He is the Christ, Son of the Living God, and he continues to guide the: Church. We today, just as much as in the time of St Peter, need the ministry of faithful apostles, ministers appointed by Christ to build up his people, give true witness to the faith, and positive leadership in Christian love. This is the meaning of hierarchy in the Church. Pope, bishops, priests and other ministries exist in order to serve. But in some sense, we get the service that we deserve. It is for us to make known to our pastors both our appreciation and our criticisms; especially to pray for them, for their courage and perseverance. In today’s Mass, we particularly remember the present successor of Peter, our Pope; that God may establish him in faith and wisdom; that being strong himself, he may confirm the brethren; nd that as keeper of the Keys, he may help us on our way to the Kingdom.

The Rock (Liam Swords)

“How many divisions has the Pope?” Stalin retorted dismissively when an aide suggested his policy might encounter opposition from the Vatican. That former seminarian should have known church history better. The Soviet empire he so brutally created was one of history’s briefest, while the papacy, though still maligned, continues to thrive as it prepares to enter its third millennium. Ironic too that a Polish pope contributed in no small measure to the Russian empire’s demise.

The Pope, it seems, has more divisions than Stalin ever dreamt. It was as Christ promised Peter on whom he built his church. The gates of the Soviet underworld, with all its terror and secret agents, could not hold out against it.

The Pope and his powers is a subject much debated, even among Catholics, while papal claims are generally dismissed outside the church. The old Latin dictum, Roma locuta est, causa finita est (“Rome has spoken, the case is closed’), is not so readily accepted. To judge by the media, it would appear that every papal statement is greeted only with controversy. But probably it was always so, since Paul first resisted Peter “to his face” over the circumcision of early Christians. It certainly was so, a little over a hundred years ago, when the First Vatican Council promulgated the doctrine of papal infallibility. Some eighty bishops, some of them Irish, left in protest before the decree was passed. John Henry Newman wrote at that time about Pope Pius DC: “It is not good for a pope to live twenty years. It is anomaly and bears no good fruit; he be-comes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it.” Those strong words of that saintly man will not, I suspect, haten his canonisation, though a later pope made him a cardinal. The fears of some in 1870 that Catholics would be deluged with dogmas as “plenty as blackberries’, never materialised. Papal infallibility has rarely been used. Even the recent encyclical of the present strong-minded Pope did not invoke his infallibility. It is not the infallibility of the Pope we need to fear, but the infallibility of those many lesser popes through whom his words are filtered down to us.

Our world is torn asunder by ideas and ideologies. Unlike other times, it has no central philosophy that compels assent. Well-meaning people are ranged up equally on opposite sides of the moral divide, making sometimes strange bedfellows. Those who are anti-abortion are pro-war, those for euthanasia are against capital punishment. Passions flare easily and dangerously. Fanaticism is no substitute for conviction, nor intimidation for persuasion. Yeats might well have had in mind our world rather than the Second Coming, when he wrote his famous lines:

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The best lack all conviction
While the worst are full of passionate intensity.

How often we see governments too busy currying favour with the electorate to provide real, long-term, socially-uniting leadership. Indeed, so tainted do they seem by corruption, that they are least suited to give lessons in morality. The world needs a conscience. If the papacy did not exist to play that role, it, or something like it, would have to be invented. The UN is subject to too many sectional pressures to fill that need. As Newman wrote: “Demos is the greatest tyrant of all.”

Our church is founded on a Rock, a light-house to pilot us through troubled waters. Let us be grateful for it. Life is too short and too precious to be spent bickering among ourselves. We should share in the wonder of it all like St Paul: How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge – and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods!

Caesarea Philippi Question (John Walsh)

The Answer is Within You (Jack McArdle)In this gospel, the intention of Jesus was to discover what understanding of himself and his mission his specially chosen disciples had learned, as well as their concept of the role they were to play when he was gone. So he put to them the direct question, “Who do you say that I am?” Even now this is a question which he continues to address also to each one of us. What does God really mean to me; what does Christ, the incarnation of God, mean? And, like the disciples in Caesarea Philippi, we will be able to respond if and only if for a brief period we put aside the daily concerns that occupy our minds.

It is interesting to read how one man in the present era conducted this soul-searching in complete isolation, which however was forced upon him. It is the account by a French journalist, Jean-Paul Kauffman, of how he survived three years captivity in Beirut, during the war in Lebanon. Despite all the horrors of his ordeal there, he seemed almost glad that he had undergone this solitary confinement, because of what he called the spiritual cleansing it brought about within him. Had he not experienced it, he believed, he would perhaps have died in utter ignorance of the meaning of life in this world.

“The closeness of death hanging over me,” he wrote, “helped me put my thoughts in order, it enabled me to cleanse my soul. God became significant for me. Never have I prayed with such intensity. In the darkness and silence I felt close to God. This one and only uncreated, holy God, so far beyond the real understanding of humans, is the most impressive reality in the world, and yet so completely beyond the compass of the human mind.” And drawn by the challenge of that question to Peter, “Who do you say that I am?,” in order to find an answer, he read and reread the Bible, one of only two books to which he had access, the other being Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

The question for us is what source do we consult in our quest for Christ. We must bear in mind that, important though it is, the New Testament is based on something else, namely the recollections of the message and teachings of Jesus which were preserved in the first Christian communities. In other words the Church was already in existence before the writing of the New Testament. So it is that to encounter Christ we must first turn to the community of the Church today, where the Jesus tradition is enshrined, not so much in writing as in the lives of those who make up the Church, for literacy was never a Christian prerequisite.

The Church is the result of the mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the visible sign of the continuation of that mission. Christians in the first century used to say, “The world was created for the sake of the Church.” Indeed God created human beings so that they might be partakers of his divine life. This communion with God can only be attained by the bonding together of people in Christ, and this union is the Church. It was St Augustine who first stated that the Church is Christ. It was inaugurated by his preaching of the gospel, and by his choice of twelve men with Peter as head. And it was finally to come into being from the pierced heart of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the cross. It is only with the eyes of faith that we can recognise the visible Church, of which we are members, as being a spiritual reality that enables us to be sharers in the divine life. This happens because, in a new and spiritual way, Christ remains at the centre of this worshipping community, as well as in each inividual member, through the sacrament of the Eucharist. Moreover the reality of redemption through Christ is brought about also by encounter, conversation and communion with other human beings who are followers of Christ.

The Church is not the creature of times and places, the result of secular politics or the whims of individuals. The Roman Empire persecuted it for three centuries, and then a flood of heresies tried to change it. Barbarian hordes invaded its territory; the so-called Reformation attacked it from within. That it survived is a sure sign of its divine origin. We should love the Church as our mother in the order of grace, and also see it brought to perfection in the Blessed Virgin Mary, who as St Augustine said is “clearly the mother of the members of Christ since she cooperated out of love so that there might be born in the Church the faithful, who are members of Christ their head.”

Pastoral Authority (Peter Briscoe)

The homilist today is presented with two readings on the place of authority in the household of God, the Church. In our tradition today’s gospel has been a basis for the understanding of the Petrine ministry in the Church. In these days of ecumenical dialogue it is important not to see this as a narrowly catholic interpretation – there is a growing recognition of a Petrine ministry by some other Christian communities.

A Sunday homily is hardly the place to attempt a survey of the complexities and controversies that surround this issue. It is, rather an opportunity to present a positive view of the role of leadership within a view of the Church. The homilist’s aim might be to present positively the view that Peter’s role given by Christ, is that of “a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and fellowship” (Lumen Gentium, 18.)

A metaphor that the homilist might develop would be that of “household,” a symbol for the Church and a basis for understanding authority within it.

(A) House building techniques vary from one culture to another. from one climate to another. There are the igloos of the far north, the granite mansions of Ireland, the reed huts of Mesopotamia. For all the variety there is a common search for protection from the elements that threaten, whether they be cold or heat, wind or water. Beyond the merely physical requirements is the need for “home” – a permanence a context to belong in a place of spiritual as well as physical security. One might develop the image of the Church as “home” in which we are given protection from the forces that would destroy our lives. This includes the promise of resurrection from the dead but also the saving protection of God from the injustice and sin which can destroy our spirit.

Here the homilist has to face the needs of hisher own community face up to whatever is seen as threatening (hunger, unemployment, injustice. ) and present the Church as the context in which such challenges can be met, with the help of the “Master of the House.”)

Just as there is a diversity of cultures and needs so the ways that the Church faces these needs will show diversity. But it remains the one Church, the one “home” big enough to have its doors open to the whole world. All peoples are invited into this “safe house.”

(B) Another way to develop the home” image could be to remember that the Church as “home” is not a building but a community of people, a community of believers. We belong here because we have been called together by God, because he has given us the gift of faith in his Son. It is this faith alone which gives the Church community its unshakeable foundation. It is living out that faith in fidelity to the teaching of the Son that keeps us all in the community protected from everything that would lead to our destruction.

This community of faith and fidelity has to preserve unity of faith and practice. Without unity it is in danger of collapse and disintegration. The more its doors are open to the world the more the household of God will be subject to the tensions that arise from the diversity of the world. There is the temptation to become the Church of one group rather than all peoples. What is needed in the “open house” of God is a kind of unity that can balance diversity with true fellowship. We believe that the Lord himself provided a ministry to provide such unity in diversity, a unity of faith based on the true exposition of the Lord’s own teaching.

That ministry was given to Simon when Jesus gave him the title of Peter. Today we are asked to believe that this Petrine ministry of teaching, guiding and preserving the Church in unity is continued in the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. We are invited to see this in the gospel perspective as a ministry of faith for faith, a ministry of service not power, a ministry to build the fellowship of the Church, a ministry to guide the Church in its understanding of God’s will. There is nothing here that is meant as “offence” to the responsibility of each individual before God. The Petrine office is a function of the unavoidable community dimension of our way to God.

The Answer is Within You (Jack McArdle)

“Who do you say that I am?” is probably one of the most important questions in the gospel. In today’s gospel we are told that the apostles were asked that question. Today, that question is being put to us.

The story is told that Jesus put this question to a learned theologian one time, and the reply he got was: “You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma, in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships.” Jesus exclaimed: “What?” I will find the answer to this question within my heart, and not in some Theological treatise.

Jesus puts some personal questions to his apostles. “Who do you say that I am? Will you also go away? Do you love me more than these?” Notice in today’s gospel that he begins with a general question: “Who do people say that! am?” They give him several answers, and before they are finished, he comes with the vital question: “But you, who do you say that I am?” It matters little what others say, but he needs to know what his disciples say.

Every place he went he taught the people, but they were different people each time. The apostles, however, were present to hear all of his teaching. Surely they should have a much clearer idea than the general public.

Peter steps into the breach with the correct answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” It is interesting that Peter could give this answer with such conviction while, later on, he would deny him and desert him. Most of us can identify with Peter, who shows more of humanity than any of the other apostles. Perhaps he knew this up in his head, but it had not yet arrived down in his heart. Knowing who Jesus is, is not faith, because even Satan knows who Jesus is. Knowing it in the head is nothing more than mental assent. It is when I begin to act on that knowledge that it becomes faith.

Jesus commends Peter, however, for his answer, and he says that it is the Father who has revealed this truth to him. He then goes on to confirm Peter as the one on which he would build his enterprise. There follows a real outpouring of trust and of promise. The church will be built on Peter, and it will remain safe from all the attacks of the evil one. It will continue to live with his promises, and he will accept whatever the church does in his name. Later on, when Jesus ascended into heaven, he brought the body he had with him. He then sent the Spirit to complete his work. Our roles, and the role of the church, is to provide the body, so that the Spirit can work through us.

Response: “Who do you say that lam?” The answer to that question will not be found in a book. Rather will I find it in my heart? There are three parts to the answer. The first has to do with the past. If Jesus is my Saviour, then I can safely, and with total confidence, entrust to him the room of my past, with all its sins, brokenness, and hurts. If Jesus is Saviour in that room of my past, there is no place for guilt, self-condemnation, or regret. “Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” St Thérèse of Lisieux had such confidence in God’s love and mercy, that she said if she committed every sin that has ever been committed, she would die, trusting totally in his mercy and forgiveness. Regarding the first part of the answer to today’s question, if there is part of me back in the past, with guilt, regret, hindsight, or self-condemnation, then I can answer “Well, Lord, you certainty are not my Saviour.”

The second part of the answer has to do with the future. If Jesus is Lord, then I have no reason to fear the future, because he is in charge. I don’t have to worry what the future holds, if he holds the future. Just as I should not be in that room of my past with guilt, neither should I be in the room of my future with worry. “If you follow me, you will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” I need not worry what the future holds, be that a wheelchair, cancer ward, or cardiac unit, if he is Lord, then every morning I will accept the gift of that day, batteries included. Each day brings its own daily bread, and I am asked to live my life, one day at a time.

The third part of the answer has to do with now. God is totally a God of now. “I am who am.” Just as he is Saviour in that room of my past, and Lord in that room of my future, so he must be God in the room of today. “For with God nothing is impossible.”

It is easy for us to slip into the trap of trying to play God. Accepting the things I cannot change means that I am powerless over persons, places, or things. Allowing God be God in my life makes all things possible, and brings me to a life beyond my wildest dreams.

The first thing I would suggest is that you take some time out, go into the room of your past, and spend some time there. You axe a product of that room, because your past, either through nature or nurture, has made you the person you are today. The room could be cluttered with the wreckage of the past. You will find hurts, scars, unforgiveness, resentments, etc., there. You will find the roots of all your guilt, and of all your fears and phobias. By using your creative imagination, you can open the door and invite Jesus to come in and to take over, as Saviour. You can watch him as he takes out the whip of cords, and begins to rid this temple of everything that is not from him. When he has exorcised this room, healed the hurts and scars, and washed away the sins in his precious blood, you can ask him to remain on there as your personal Saviour, so that his work there will be ongoing, as each of my todays become yesterdays. When this is done, you should come out of that room, and leave it to him. The only valu the past has are the lessons it taught me. I would be wise, compassionate, and understanding of others, if I learned the lessons from that room of my past.

The second thing I want you to do is to look at the room of your future. You cannot enter this room, of course, because it would be total darkness, as you cannot foresee the future. However, you can imagine Jesus coming out of that room, putting his hands on both your shoulders, and saying gently to you: “I know everything that’s in this room. You have a choice. You can struggle on alone into the darkness of the future, or you can allow me take charge of this room, and each morning I will hand you one day at a time from it. I know what’s in this room, even down to the number of days that are left. If you let me be Lord, I will never lead you where my grace and my Spirit will not be there to sustain you. I will never hand you a day, which you and I together will not be able to handle. The decision is yours…”

The third thing I ask you to reflect on is to look at today; indeed, at this moment. The only yes in your whole life that God is interested in is your yes of now. What part has God in your life today? Do you feel that you are plodding along all alone? Turn to Jesus and invite him to walk with you today. “Jesus, I invite you into my heart today. Please make your home there, feel at home there, and be at home there. May your presence within me today touch the hearts of those I meet, either through the words I say, the prayers I pray, the life I live, or the person that I am.” You’ll never walk alone.

One Sunday morning, a priest, in the middle of his homily, held up a 20 pound note. He asked if anyone wanted it. Many hands shot up. He then crumpled it in his fist, making a small ball of it, held it up again, and asked if anyone still wanted it. Again the hands shot up. He tore it in two, held up the two pieces, and asked if anyone still wanted it. And yet again the hands were raised. The priest then went on to speak of the offer Jesus extends to us. If we could appreciate the value of it, our response would be clear and definite, if we didn’t understand it too well, we would seek some spiritual direction, go on a Retreat, or buy a book. Hopefully, we would call on the Holy Spirit to lead us into the fullness of the truth being presented to us, because Jesus promised that “the Spirit will lead you into all truth, and the truth will set you free.”

As I said earlier, the answer to the question in today’s gospel is to be found within our hearts.

First Reading: Isaiah 22:19-23 

I will thrust you from your office, and you will be pulled down from your post. On that day I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah, and will clothe him with your robe and bind your sash on him. I will commit your authority to his hand, and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his ancestral house.

Second Reading: Romans 11:33-36 

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20 

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
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