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Pastor's Letter 20200823 - 23 August 2020 - Support Your Bishop

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August 23rd, 2020

21st Sunday, Ordinary Time

Today’s Theme: “Support Your Bishop”


“Who do you say that I am?”

A Message from Father Michael


Scripture Note

In our Gospel Reading today, (Matthew 16: 13-20,) Jesus rejects the inadequate ways in which others understand His role, and He demands that His disciples speak for themselves.  Jesus reciprocates by conferring a new title on Peter—“Cephas”—the “rock.”  He was to become the foundation stone of the new people of God. 

The story shows that the primacy of Peter was not something that was invented by the Church later on.  It went right back to the beginning, yes, to the mind and will of Jesus.  The failures of popes throughout history do not contradict Jeuss’ promise that the gates of hell woud not prevail against the Church.    Peter did, in fact, fail the Lord.  In giving authority to the man who denied Him, Jesus wanted to show that He was establishing His Church not on human strength, but on His own love and faithfulness.  The Church’s true foundation is Christ, Himself.  Popes and bishops are servants, not His substitutes. 

Peter replies with, no doubt, a solemn confessional formula of Matthew’s Church.  The sentence, about Peter and the “Rock” of the Church, has been conclusively shown to have been added in later editions of Matthew’s Gospel. (It does not appear in the original Greek text.)  Nonetheless, it is included the Canon of the Gospel, and has held up for the Church as evidence of Peter’s primacy in it.  From that reference, we have evidence of its acceptance in no less an edifice as Peter’s Basilica in Rome, purportedly built on the site of Peter’s tomb.  (Further reference throughout history have made the word “rock” the basis of institutions and buildings.  We have learned not to build structures upon sand, but upon rock.  We consider something true as to be “rock-solid.”  The reference to a type of music as “rock,” from “rock and roll,” notwithstanding….)

The ultimate “Rock of our Salvation” is, of course, Jesus Christ, not Peter.  (This passage has always been a source of great confusion for Catholics and other Christians, and will doubtlessly continue unabated for many years, I am sure.)

 Our First Reading (Isaiah 22:19-23,) relates the story of one man being dismissed from high office, and the keys of authority passed to another.  The New Testament applies this text to Jesus.

In the Second Reading we hear a hymn from Paul’s letter to the Romans that is praise to the wisdom of God, which is far too deep for us to fathom (Romans 11:33-36.) 

 The Formation of a Leader

Peter is one of the Gospel’s most interesting characters.  It’s clear that he possessed leadership qualities, but it’s also evident he had glaring weaknesses.  The Gospels portray him as a man with “ups and downs;” sometimes very brave; other times cowardly; then, too, we see him as a rock, only to become like jelly.  He is almost “too human.”  Certainly, he is not our idea of a “saint,” or even the ideal person to be head of Christ’s Church. 

But it’s very interesting to see how Jesus dealt with him—helping him grown into the man who was ready to lay down his life for Him, and who eventually did.  His growth was gradual, and there were some regressions.  But this is how growth happens in human beings.  To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often. 

Looking closer at the relationship between Jesus and Peter will help us grow as human beings and disciples of Jesus—and, it will show us how best to help those we love to grow. We all need someone to believe in us, and it’s difficult to believe in ourselves if no one else does.   

The beginning for Peter was when Jesus called him.  Then he said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5: 8-10,) not believing he deserved the call.  Jesus didn’t deny Peter was a sinner, but He challenged him to grow.  We all need to be challenged—to have demands placed upon us.  Not to demand anything from someone is to condemn them to “sterility.”  So, Jesus involved Peter in His work, making him a partner in it, not a mere “messenger boy.”  Responsibility is also key to helping people grow.

Peter was asked to declare his loyalty.  Once, when large numbers of people were leaving Him, Jesus turned to Peter (and the other apostles) and said, “Will you also go? (John 6:67.)  This forced them all to look into their own hearts and to stand on their own two feet, thus helping their growth. 

When Peter made his great declaration of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16,) Jesus praised him and promised Him further responsibility.  We all need recognition for work well done.  We all need affirmation in order to encourage further generosity. Jesus also corrected Peter.  In the garden of Gethsemane He said: “Put away your sword” (Matthew 26:52.) It takes courage on the part of the tutor to point out mistakes.  And to learn from one’s mistakes is an essential part of growth.

Jesus once told Peter off.  When Peter wanted to prevent Him from going to Jerusalem, Jesus said, “Get behind Me, satan; you are more a hindrance than a help to me.”  (Matthew 16:23.)  At times the tutor may have to reprove the student—but there’s an “art” to doing it well.

Jesus confronted Peter with his failure to stay awake in the garden: “Can you not stay awake and watch one hour with me? (Matthew 26:40.)  It doesn’t help to let someone get away with sloppiness and shoddy work. 

Jesus even threatened to cut Peter off over the feet-washing incident (John 13:8.)  we have to be stern at times and refuse to compromise on matters of principle. Jesus understood that when Peter denied Him, he did so more out of weakness than out of malice (Luke 22:54-62.)  He forgave him and gave him the chance to begin again.  We all need someone who can understand our weakness, and who doesn’t “write us off” when we don’t “produce the goods” right away.

But Jesus never coddled Peter.  He knew that would ruin his chance for growth.  The thread that runs right through their relationship was love.  Peter knew that Jesus loved him.  Love is the climate in which people can grow.  This was the rock in Peter’s life.

 We can imagine that Peter made a very good leader.  A leader has to be aware of their own weaknesses.  The experience of denying Jesus rid Peter of pride and blind reliance on his own resources.  At the same time it enabled him to understand the weakness of others. 

 Peter’s story is our story too.  We too “blow hot and cold.”  Sometimes we are strong, and other times we are weak.  Without a warm relationship with Christ, we are only on the fringes of Christianity.  We are like someone talking about love compared with someone who is in love.   

Giving Our Own Answers

 Today’s Gospel can be likened to an early example of an “opinion poll.”  In this case, Jesus conducted it, Himself.  Even though it was a very limited one, it concerned a central issue: the identity of Jesus. He asked, “Who do people say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-20.)

 In our modern world, we are besieged by polls.  Social Media has made everyone’s opinion seem extremely relevant, even more so because they are hidden behind the mask of anonymity. One thing polls show is the immense variety and often contradictory nature of people’s views on any given subject.  The poll in our Gospel today bears that out.  We see the people come up with a variety of answers to the question of Jesus’ identity. 

 Nor was his question a “trick” one, or trivial.  It was very serious—a question that resounds through the entire Gospel, and even into our modern world.  It is the “Main” question—upon which everything we believe hinges. Jesus wanted to know how the apostles perceived Him, although He most certainly already knew.  Still, he wanted to give them the opportunity to express it.  We can only marvel at how Jesus said nothing to Simon, but waited for the Father to speak to him first.

 It is important for each of us that we come up with our own answers to that question.  We must be able to state our beliefs and values as Christians.  No longer is it sufficient to simply repeat the “official” answers.  We must make the faith our own.  A secondhand faith is a poor faith….

 When we were children in Catechism class, or CCD, or Sunday School, everything about faith was dictated to us.  We are not only given the answers but the questions, too.  No one ever asked us “What do you think?” when we dutifully memorized the answers and spewed them forth upon demand.  (Growing up in Crete, NE in the 1950s, our pastor, Monsignor Ekeler, was wont to come down into the congregation during the homily, at Mass, and ask Catechism questions to the assembled children in the first few rows.  Many a youngster trembled with fear at not being able to answer directly and audibly when their turn came.)  We weren’t given a chance to discuss, nor to question anything.  As a result, we may have been able to give the “right answer,” but if presses as to why we believed a particular truth, or what it meant for us, most of us would have been at a loss. 

 Today there is a danger in going “too far” in the other direction.  To hear some people talking, you would think there are no objective truths or values.  “It’s what I think;” “It’s what I feel;” “It’s what I want” that matters.   But an individual’s views can, indeed, be wrong.  Jesus praised Peter not because he had his own answer, but because he had the right answer.   However, we will see that Peter didn’t fully understand what he had said.  While he recognized Jesus as the Messiah, he didn’t know that Jesus would be a suffering Messiah.  This was something he had yet to learn—the hard way. 

 All of want to grow in our understand of our faith.  The important thing is to believe out of personal conviction.  The more of such people we have in the Church, the more it is founded upon “rock.” The crucial question, then, becomes: “Who is Christ for me?”  Is He the Son of the living God? And, if so, how does this belief affect the way I live my life?”

May God Richly Bless You!


“Who is going to save the Church? Don’t look to the priests or the bishops.  It’s up to you, the laity,

to remind our priests to be priests and our bishops to be bishops.”  ~~Archbishop Fulton J Sheen~~

To view a live stream of today's Liturgy of the Word, Click here:  https://youtu.be/33IQh_0pSig 

He Is life.docx

He Is Life-Hank Beebe.mp3


21st Sunday Pix.jpg

Edited by Father Michael
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