“How many times do we hear: 'Come on, you Christians, be a little bit more normal, like other people, be reasonable!' This is real snake charmer's talk: 'Come on, just be like this, okay? A little bit more normal, don't be so rigid ...' But behind it is this: 'Don't come here with your stories, that God became man!' The Incarnation of the Word, that is the scandal behind all of this! We can do all the social work we want, and they will say: 'How great the Church is, it does such good social work." But if we say that we are doing it because those people are the flesh of Christ, then comes the scandal. And that is the truth, that is the revelation of Jesus: that presence of Jesus incarnate.” ― Pope Francis, Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Everyday
Gospel Text: (MT 16:13-19)
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 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.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Today we celebrate two of the great first generation saints, Peter and Paul. There are many things that could be said of them. I want to approach today’s reading a little differently by considering the view of the world these men had.
Peter, whom Jesus in today’s Gospel passage entrusts with the care of the Church, was very different than Paul. Peter’s personality was rough and impatient. He was poor and uneducated. Now if Jesus had thought as worldly people do, he never would have chosen Peter as the first pope. Instead, he would have chosen someone like Paul, refined and educated.
Regardless of their differences, these two men came to the same end: martyrdom for the Holy Name of Jesus. In the year 67, Saint Peter was crucified upside-down in the circus of Nero, and buried nearby in an out-of-the-way cemetery on a hill called the Vatican. Saint Paul, after being held a prisoner in Rome for many years, was beheaded just outside the walls of the city.
As with their Lord, these two men came to what seemed to be shameful deaths. Unfortunately, unlike their Lord, there was no report of Peter or Paul rising from the dead. They were simply failures. That’s surely how they were sized up by many around them, both in the Roman Empire and perhaps even among some members of the Church. What kind of foundation had they laid for the Church?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the Roman Catholic Church, the church that spread from that city throughout the world. Twenty centuries later, the Church certainly is universal, with more than one billion members across the globe, but are we really any holier than those first members of the Church? Are we willing to put our lives, or even our names on the line for Christ?
Our spiritual lives are never a “done deal.” They are always under construction. The Mass we share in is a continual source of strength for us, as each week we struggle to be faithful disciples of Jesus. Each day is a building block of faith, in which, by our daily sacrifices, we build up others as well as our own spiritual lives.