Sunday, August 27, 2017

Peter the Rock

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, August 27, 2017. Matthew 16:13-20. Theme: You are Peter.  If you study the doctrines of the various Christian churches you will come to see that the one thing which makes us Catholics most unique and distinct is our fidelity to the Holy Father as the God-given shepherd of the Church on earth. And today’s Gospel reading is the classic bible passage upon which this belief is based, so let’s take a careful look at its key points if we wish to make this Scripture alive and meaningful for our daily lives.

Jesus declares, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.” This verse assures us that the office of pope would be a firm dependable rock-solid foundation for our faith in Jesus and our understanding of his gospel. It also tells us that the church was willed by Jesus to be an organized community with leadership to shepherd and guide it.

The Jesus promises that, “…the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” The phrase “gates of the netherworld” is a biblical reference to destruction and death. Jesus is saying that this ministry of Peter’s, which we have come to call pope, shall not pass away and neither shall the community of the church. There have been 266 successors to St. Peter over the past 2,000 years, each one carrying out that original mission given to him by Jesus. Indeed, the gates of the netherworld have not prevailed.

Finally, Jesus says to Simon-Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven…” To understand this verse properly we need to recall today’s first reading from the Book of Isaiah (Is. 22:19-23) and remember that Christianity is rooted in the culture and structure of Judaism. The office of steward mentioned in Israel was second in command to the king. The steward acted in the place of the king in many everyday situations.  He was given the keys to the kingdom by the king as a sign of trust and authority. And so we see here that Jesus makes Peter – and by extension all of Peter’s successors – his partners in shepherding and governing the Kingdom of God, that is, the Church, on earth.

What does it mean for us today?  Why does it matter? Here’s why. There are about 30,000 different Christian denominations in the world, each claiming to be preaching and living the Gospel of Jesus. yet most of these teach different and even opposing interpretations of the Bible. Who is correct? Where can I find the true Gospel? Today’s Gospel points us to the Holy Spirit led ministry of the pope, the successor of St. Peter, the steward of the Kingdom, where we find the teaching and the community that Jesus first started 2,000 years ago. We have Jesus’ own assurance of a solid faith built upon rock. 

Jesus did not change Simon the Fisherman into Peter the Rock for Peter’s sake, no, he did it for us. He did it for you and me, so that we could confidently know that truth that sets us free and receive the light and direction we need to make our way through this life, through the many voices claiming to teach the full Gospel, and be brought safely to the kingdom of heaven for eternity.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Expand Your Hearts

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, August 20, 2017. Matthew 15:21-28. Theme: “Expand Your Hearts”. In the readings for today’s liturgy, it seems quite apparent that the overriding theme is “expanding our hearts, expanding our mission”. All of the readings speak to us about breaking through our sinful and selfish human tendency to be exclusive and judgmental towards others, particularly if they are of a different race or people or nation other than our own.

In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, God says to the people through the prophet, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  You see over time the Jews had developed that idea that only those who were born among them could be considered worthy to worship the true God, worthy to enter into his house of prayer. As a matter of fact, they became so isolated and self-obsessed in a spirit of superiority that they could not even recognize their own God when he came among them in the flesh as Jesus Christ. That’s what exclusiveness and a sense of superiority can do: blind us to the truth and presence of God in our lives.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul continues with this theme of expanding our hearts and mission. He hopes that his ministry among the foreigners, the Gentiles, will shake up the Jewish people and make them remember that once they were no bodies among the pagan nations and only by God’s generosity did they become “somebody”.

This message of expanding heart and mission is brought out most dramatically in the Gospel by Jesus himself. What Jesus said to the woman may seem rude and offensive to us 21st century Americans, but he was simply using a saying common at the time to remind her that his mission as Messiah was to the Jews before any others.  But she basically says to him, “expand your heart, expand your mission for the sake of my daughter!” And you know what? He does.

And so, as always, Jesus gives us an example to follow among those with whom we live, work, socialize or encounter.  Through a commitment to personal daily prayer and frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist, we receive the grace to become more like Jesus, which is the vocation we have all received by Baptism. We are to be like Jesus, not like the Israelites who closed their temples and lives to foreigners.  We are to have hearts like Jesus, not like the disciples telling the Gentile woman to go away.  We are to be like Jesus and expand our hearts so that God’s love, mercy, and compassion may be experienced by all His children.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Peace in the Storm

From the Catholic Liturgy for 19th Sun. of Ordinary Time, Aug. 13, 2017. Mt 14:22-33. Topic: Peace in the Storm.

I think we are all in a situation today that is like a boat that is out of our control and being tossed about by winds blowing out of North Korea and waves crashing within our own nation. And yes, we are powerless over it and so fears arise. But we must take courage and realize that we are not helpless. God has sent us a Peace Plan from Heaven to get us through this social storm. I am talking about the authentic apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. God sent Our Lady with a message of peace and hope. She said that humanity was entering a time of great wars and suffering, but that God had sent her as mother with a way out of the storms which lay ahead. She worked an awesome scientifically unexplainable solar miracle to prove the truth of her words. It was witnessed by over 70,000 people gathered at Fatima in October of 1917. This year we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of this message of peace and hope.

And do you know what her very first words were when she appeared to the three shepherd children?  Do not be afraid! Words that we need to hear and remember in todays’ social storm. Our Lady is like us, one of us, she knows our sense or fear and powerlessness in the face of international matters over which we have absolutely no control. But she came to remind us that we are not helpless and to show us the way to peace, even if it seems as impossible as walking on water.  So, of course the question at hand is this: What is the Peace Plan from Heaven? What is the message of Our Lady at Fatima? It is so simple than even a little child can do it and it can be easily remembered by recalling just three words: Rosary, Reparation, and Consecration.

ROSARY. The rosary is something that just about all Catholics know and I bet something that just about every Catholic has in their possession. The easiest way to explain the rosary is to say that it is praying the life of Jesus. While saying the Our Fathers and Hail Marys we reflect on various events in the life of Jesus. And while doing so we are asking Mary, over and over again, to pray for us. The rosary places the life of Jesus before our minds and in our hearts day after day. And this is the secret to its spiritual power. At every one of the 6 apparitions at Fatima, Mary asked that we pray toe rosary for peace every day. The rosary gives us strength in our powerlessness and courage in our fears.

REPARATION. We all know what reparation means…it is making up for something wrong we have done. In our relationships, when we hurt someone we love, and then repent of it, we go to them and say “I’m so sorry. I will never do that again.” That’s reparation. And so the same applies in our relationship with God. We remember what St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say, “God does not demand success; he simply wants fidelity.” And so we repent. We try to become better and do our best relying on his grace to help us. We go to confession if our sin has been grave. We never lose hope. We never give up. That’s reparation and I think you can see how that contributes to peace.

CONSECRATION.  Our Lady asked for consecration to her Immaculate Heart, which is a symbol of her love for us. Consecration can also be called “entrustment” and so it means that we consciously entrust ourselves to her as mother and allow her to form us into the image of Jesus, her Son our Brother. There are no special words to do this, though many prayers have been written to help us do so. This is the most personal and relational part of the Fatima Peace Plan. It is children turning to their mother in love and for help.

Rosary. Reparation. Consecration. Do your part to contribute to the Peace Plan at this crucial time in our history. May Our Lady of Fatima, Queen of Peace and our Mother, pray for us and help us to be not afraid and to expect the unexpected from our God of the Impossible.