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Saturday, 23 August 2014

Twenty-first Sunday Year A 2014

Twenty-first Sunday, Year (A)

(Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20)


Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How inscrutable are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways!  For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever. Amen

That hymn of St Paul expresses beautifully the spirit which animates those who have a true appreciation of God.  And since the Incarnation and the Work of our Redemption are the greatest works of God’s inscrutable wisdom, how could it be that any mortal, of himself, should understand and recognize the dispositions of God in regard to the Christ, His Messiah?

When James and John asked Jesus -- through their mother (!) -- for positions one at His right hand and the other at His left in His Kingdom, Jesus answered that it was not for Him to give such places; rather, they belonged to whomsoever the Father had chosen for them.  Thus there was mystery even for Jesus as man.  And so, when in today’s Gospel reading we hear Him put first the question:

            Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

and then follow it with another:

            But who do you say that I am?

we can almost sense Him waiting to discover to whom -- if anyone – the Father  would give understanding of the mystery of His Person.  And then it was that Simon spoke up, giving voice to a wisdom that was not his own:

            You are the Christ the Son of the living God!

Who has known the mind of the Lord?  writes St. Paul; and Jesus, recognizing His man, so to speak, said in response to Simon’s assertion:

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father.

And here we are at a supremely significant moment for the Church of Jesus: the Father has picked out, designated, Simon for special prominence in the proclamation of the truth about Jesus’ Person and in the continuance and extension of His ministry of saving grace; and Jesus, recognizing His Father’s intervention, adopts His Father’s choice by Himself appointing Simon as head of His Church by bestowing on him a new name, Peter, for that very purpose and function:

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.

The name Peter is a translation (through the Greek) of the Aramaic word ‘Kepha’, which is identical in form either as a personal name or as the word ‘rock’.

People of God, this is also a moment of great significance for each of us personally.   The Church, as a visible structure, is established, founded, upon Peter’s faith; and in like manner, as regards the interior and spiritual life of each one of us, the Kingdom of God is to be established in consequence of our act of faith.  The whole supernatural life-stream in us originates with our act of faith whereby we say ‘yes’ to God’s revelation, and to Mother Church’s proclamation, of Jesus.  Just as Mary said ‘yes’ to Gabriel’s message, so our ‘yes’ of faith in Jesus allows God’s saving grace to enter our lives and begin to totally transform and transfigure them.

But what kind of faith is this?  Earlier in St. Matthew’s Gospel (14:33) we were told how Our Lord walked on the waves of the storm-tossed lake towards His disciples labouring hard to keep their boat afloat, and how Peter had – at Jesus’ bidding – begun to walk from the boat towards Jesus, before hesitating and then beginning to sink.  Jesus rebuked Peter for his little faith as He raised him up, before they both got into the boat and the wind ceased.  Whereupon, we read that:

Those in the boat worshipped Him saying, ‘Truly, You are the Son of God.’

Now, to those words Jesus answered nothing at all so far as we know.  Yet, when Simon said, later on, as we have just heard:

            You are the Christ the Son of the living God!

Jesus proclaimed him blessed because he had been favoured with a revelation from His heavenly Father.   What was the difference between:  You are the Son of God’, and, ‘You are the Christ the Son of the living God’, that brought about such a result?

In the second example Peter recognizes Jesus as not only the ‘Son of God’ but also as the Christ, the Messiah … in other words, as distinct from the terrified disciples’ acclamation which expressed their own relief as much as it acknowledged Jesus’ sovereign power, Peter’s inspired exclamation expressed no personal relief, but ‘with heart and voice’ proclaimed a divinely bestowed awareness of Jesus not just as the powerful Son of God, but as the SAVIOUR; the Son of God indeed, but come to save and redeem -- make atonement for – Israel and all mankind!

Yes, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the faith which saves us today, the faith which is God’s gift, is not merely knowledge about God but the ability to recognize and respond to the divine truth of God’s-presence-to-save in Jesus and in His Church.

There are those today who denigrate concern for doctrinal accuracy, not only in public words but also personal thinking.  For them, with them, the words ‘dogma’ and ‘dogmatic thinking’ have acquired unsavoury overtones of meaning whereby they imply an overbearing, intolerant, and rigidly narrow cast of mind; they are said to stifle our spontaneity, extinguish constructive adaptation, thwart our spiritual growth.  Again, such thinkers and speakers claim that there is no such thing as objective truth, no incontrovertible truth concerning God.

But look at Jesus in today’s Gospel!  How interested and concerned He was that men, above all His disciples, should think the truth about Himself; and such was His esteem for that truth that when He heard Simon give voice to it He immediately concluded with absolute certainty that His Father had spoken to and through Simon, with the result that He most solemnly declared:

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father.

Moreover, He then went on to speak words of enduring validity:

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.

Again, later on He would declare (John 18:37):

For this was I born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth;

and would, on the eve of His crucifixion speak in prayer to His Father these most holy words:

Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you, and (these You have given Me) know that You sent Me (John 17:25),

where knowledge of truth embraces as one with the Father, Jesus and His disciples.

Faith is, indeed, a most sure knowledge of divine truth, for Jesus Himself is ‘the Truth’; and it requires, calls for, a total commitment of love.

To know the Truth, to recognize the Truth, to appreciate, love and proclaim the Truth … that is a most sure sign of God’s loving presence.  On the other hand, to embrace error, rejecting the truth, is subject to the following dread judgment of Our Lord:

Because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.  If I am telling the truth, why do you not believe Me?  Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not listen, because you do not belong to God.”  (John 8:45-47)

A theologian may be able to write volumes about God and more volumes about the Church and what it should be like .. but that, in itself, is not the exercise of Christian faith.  You who see in Christ your own Saviour, you who have come to Mass,  who draw near to the Holy Table at Communion, you who frequent the Sacraments and listen to the Word of God and obey it … you are those of whom  Jesus said:

Blessed are you; for flesh and blood have not revealed (such things) to you but My heavenly Father!

That ability to recognize Jesus as Saviour, the God-Man, come to save each one of us personally and to offer salvation to the whole of mankind in and through His Church, that is the true Christian faith which is the Father’s best gift.

A most important aspect of the need for dogmatic teaching in the Church and accurate personal thinking is the fact that our thoughts guide our choices and form our characters.  And that is the reason for the apparently strange, but in reality one of the most significant expressions in the New Testament writings, to do the truth (John 3:21; in the Latin, ‘qui facit veritatem’) well rendered in more modern idiom by:

But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

You who are true disciples of Jesus and desire earnestly to grow in love of Him and fidelity to Him, know your Catholic and Christian doctrine.  Do not let random emotional feelings determine your deliberate thoughts.  But rather, through your deliberate thoughts mould and adapt your feelings to the Truth of Jesus in the Church, and then endeavour whole-heartedly to love that Truth (at times it has to be willed as Truth before it can become loved as Truth) with your total commitment.

Note also that Simon said ‘You are the Christ’, the Christ foretold by the prophets from of old; the Christ whose message is for Israel and for the whole world through Israel; the Christ with Whom the whole world in all its inarticulate beauty, majesty, and power resonates in deep, mysterious, harmony; the Christ who fulfils all the longings and desires of the human heart; the Christ in Whom alone my own individual life at last takes on transcendent significance and purpose, as it experiences the unimaginable joy of a beginning to its fulfilment both temporal and eternal.

In this aspect of our Catholic and Christian faith, People of God, lies the hidden treasure of our heavenly calling and earthly service for our world today; for we have to live ever more deeply our faith that Jesus is the unique Christ and only Saviour for the whole of mankind, because He is Perfect God and Perfect Man. We must develop our ability -- by grace and through prayer -- to recognize and respond to Him; and in Him, with Him, learn to love the Father in heaven and our brethren on earth at all times and in all circumstances.  For all creation, all men, all happenings, have unique significance, beauty, and meaning when encountered, recognized, and responded to with Jesus the Christ for the Father; and only as we -- His humble and sincere disciples -- appreciate this ever more fully, will we be truly living in the heart of the world as authentic witnesses to and members of Jesus, and in Him as Spirit-formed and Spirit-endowed children of the heavenly Father.