Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. June 29th 2014
Acts 12:1-10; 2Tim 4:6-8; Mt 16:13-19
Keeping the blessed faith
“Blessed are you, Simon Son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”
October 2011, barely a month after I arrived here in the Philippines, I was having a group picture with some Filipino college students immediately after Mass. As soon as the pictures were over, I turned to walk back to the Sacristy when they said to me, “Father, wait. It is now time for “Wackie-Wakie.” I later on learned that this meant a time for another picture taking but with us now making goofy or funny poses. So I made a mental note to remember that picture taking is not over in the Philippines until we have had the “Wackie-Wackie” version.
May 2014 and I was again taking pictures with parishioners after Mass. This time, maybe to show that I was now an expert in Filipino picture taking procedure, I shouted out after the initial pictures had been taken, “Wackie-Wackie.” Surprisingly they looked at me as if I was from the stone-age. One of them said to me, “Father, we do not do “Wackie-Wackie” anymore. We now do “Look-up, Look-up.” So, instead of looking at the photographer, we all looked up at the ceiling as our pictures were taken. We looked like a bunch of weirdos in that picture. I wonder what the next picture-taking pose is going to be a few months from now. Maybe we will be doing “Look-down” or “Show your back.” It surely is more fun taking pictures in the Philippines.
How quickly our tastes, ideas, and preferences change? What was once in vogue and acceptable in a given time becomes obsolete and unacceptable in a short while. Consider how rapidly our fashion and music tastes change. We take for granted that these changing tastes, values and ideas determine how we see and interpret reality. Most importantly, they affect how we respond to divine revelation.
In today’s Gospel passage, it is obvious that there was widespread confusion about who Jesus really was. Some thought He was Elijah, John the Baptist, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Jesus then asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter’s reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” sets the stage for Jesus to highlight what is unique about divine revelation: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” Peter is blessed because his reply is not a changeable human opinion, from mere “flesh and blood,” but it is a revelation from the Father. Through the words of revelation, God both reveals and communicates Himself such that the revealed word possesses something of the constancy and immutability of the divine revealer. It is in and through that which God reveals to us that God makes Himself present in our lives and we enjoy His beatifying effects. Unlike human opinions and tastes that change with time, divine revelation is constant and unchanging, and alone capable of bringing us into communion with the immutable God who lovingly reveals and communicates Himself through His words.
Because Simon Peter has been privileged to receive and communicate this revelation, he also receives guarantee of divine presence and assistance: “You are Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” This revelation of the divinity of Christ and His role as messiah, together with all its implications, is not meant for Peter alone; but it is meant to be handed on intact to God’s children in every age and time irrespective of humanity’s fluctuating tastes and values.
The First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows us how the public opinion towards the infant Church changed for the worse to the extent that the murder of James by the sword “was pleasing to the Jews.” King Herod, emboldened by this hatred for Christians, arrested Peter and locked him in prison. Public opinion had changed about Christianity but St. Peter chose to remain steadfast in the faith that had been revealed to Him by God, that faith that never changes, and to share this faith with others despite the sufferings involved in this mission. By holding on at all cost and sharing with others what God had revealed to Him, God held on to the Prince of Apostles and kept His promise by sending an angel to liberate him from prison.
The aged imprisoned St. Paul writes to Timothy in the Second Reading, recounting his life and looking forward to what is to come. This is a man who received divine revelation when he encountered Christ on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus. He held on to these immutable words of God throughout his life, sharing it with others in good and in bad times. As he nears his departure from this world, he exclaims, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” He is able to do this because “The Lord stood by him and gave him strength, so that the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles may hear.” He has no regrets about giving his life to spread the faith he received but he is full of hope that the Lord will give him “the crown of righteousness.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on the day of our baptisms, we became incorporated into the Church founded by Christ on the Apostles. We were enlightened with the Catholic faith and giving a sense of that faith that is rooted in the apostolic tradition. Like St. Peter, we too become blessed because it is God, and not “flesh and blood” that has revealed to us the faith that we profess. We also received the pledge of divine presence and assistance so that in our inevitable conflict with the forces of the netherworld, error and death will not prevail over us in this Body of Christ. No matter the changes in values and opinions that our world goes through, if we live and share this faith that we have received from the confession of St. Peter and the preaching of St. Paul, we will surely experience the blessed life that this faith offers as well as the saving power of God here on earth and the hope of the heavenly vision.
A few days ago, the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States voted 76% to 24% in favor of allowing their clergy perform “same sex” marriages in states that recognize such unions. In addition, each presbytery is to change the definition of marriage from a union of a man and a woman to a union of two people. Obviously, personal preferences and public sentiments took the place of appeal to the written word of God. Not only has public opinion towards “same-sex” marriage been growing, but the winds of constant change in preference have apparently trumped any faithful adherence of Christians to the written word of God and to the discernible laws of nature written into our being by our Creator.
But the truth about marriage is not something that we vote for or against; it is indelibly written into our nature as men and women created in the image and likeness of God. God loved us so much to reveal to us truths that we could discern from proper human reason. He revealed this through His written word and a Church founded on the unchanging confession of St. Peter that continues to exist today in the Pope and College of bishops. Indeed, God is too wise and too loving to have left us only His written word to guide us in the way of life. He knew that, despite our good intentions, we would eventually read and interpret the words of the bible based on our constantly changing whims and preferences. Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the Life, chose to give us also a Church founded on the Apostles wherein we can enjoy beatifying contact with unchanging revelation, authoritatively interpreted under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in every age, place and time. We are to grow in our understanding of these truths and how we apply them in different times and places and not to surrender them to the changing fads of time.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, times will continue to change. From the way we pose for pictures to our views on marriage, our preferences hardly remain static. Our preferences and likes will continue to evolve and affect our attitude to divine revelation. Sadly, it appears to be evolving for the worse in most cases. The God who lovingly reveals to us the unchanging truths that set us free also lovingly unites us to Himself in the Eucharist we celebrate on this altar. Jesus is indeed building His Church on St. Peters and his successors and He will do so till the end of time. If we hold on to that faith, defend it, and share it with others at all costs, the forces of darkness and death will not prevail and we will experience the beatifying power of God’s unchanging truths.
In addition, we will be blessed in this life like Mother Mary who believed, held on to, and shared faithfully what was divinely revealed to her – the blessed faith that cannot and will not change.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!