This is an
excerpt from a homily given at St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary on the
solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.
Today’s feast of the two greatest Apostles, Peter and Paul, tells us what is meant in the Creed when we say we believe in a Church that is apostolic: that it goes back to Jesus himself and is founded on the Apostles.
Peter and Paul proved their faith in Jesus by shedding their blood for him, but each had a different mission: Peter was the guardian, the rock of the Church’s faith and its chief shepherd, and Paul was the great evangelizer, bringing the faith to the world around the Mediterranean Sea.
We know that the Pope, now Francis, the 266th successor of St. Peter as the Bishop of Rome, has the unique mission of ensuring that the teachings of Jesus remain uncontaminated down through the centuries. But the Pope also carries on the mission of Paul: to be a prophet, to preach to all nations, to carry the Catholic faith to the ends of the earth. The Church has to be both a guardian of the truth of the Gospel and a prophetic voice in the world.
I would like to take three questions that Jesus addressed to Peter and Paul – one to Paul and two to Peter – and see what they mean to us.
While not taken from today’s readings, the risen Lord addressed a question to Saul, who was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians whom he saw as Jewish heretics. Suddenly, as he was approaching the city, a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” The outward dazzling radiance blinded this once zealous persecutor who was interiorly blind to Christ. After obeying the Lord’s command to go into the city, Saul’s earthly sight was restored, but he could also see the truth and freedom of the Gospel.
Do we persecute Jesus ... by ignoring him?
And so the question to us is: Do we persecute Jesus, not by harming his followers, but by ignoring him? By pretending that he has nothing to say to us? By putting ourselves first and following our own whims and desires?
Jesus invites us, as he did St. Paul, to take off our blinders and see ourselves as he does – a little flawed, somewhat sinful, in need of healing and mercy and, above all, in need of his love.
Because Peter knew Jesus in the flesh during his public ministry, and not, like Paul, from a vision, we have many more conversations recorded between the master and the apostle. Two of these conversations are particularly significant.
The first is in today’s Gospel. As the disciples were walking along, Jesus took a kind of poll, asking his disciples a precise question: “Who do people say that I am?” The popular opinions given did not satisfy Jesus, who wanted a personal statement of his followers’ convictions.
So he turned to them and he insisted: “But who do you say that I am?” This question is at the heart of the Gospel and is addressed to you this morning with no less intensity than on that dusty road around Caesarea Philippi.
In fact, there are two ways of “seeing” and “knowing” Jesus: one – that of the crowd – is superficial; the other – that which Jesus expects of his disciples – is the genuine article.
This is how it still is with us today. Many people draw near to Jesus, as it were, from the outside. He is considered one of the great founders of a religion from which everyone may take something in order to form his or her own convictions about who God is and how they should live.
Just as he did then, Jesus repeats his question to us, his disciples today: “And you, who you do you say that I am?”
Jesus repeats his question to us, his disciples today: “And you, who you do you say that I am?”
In the Gospel, Peter, the impetuous leader, responded for the others: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Even if he did not fully understand what he was saying because it was “revealed” to him by the Father, this is the confession of the Church.
Today it is also our question. Do you believe Jesus to be the “Son of the living God?” The one who came among us to save us, to teach us what it means to be happy? Do you believe that he speaks the word of God and that, as such, is to be followed as the surest guide to fulfillment in this life and in eternal life?
The last chapter of John’s Gospel records Jesus’ last, and greatest, question to Peter. After the Resurrection, on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, he asks Peter three times, recalling his threefold denial on the night before his death: “Do you love me?”
This is a question we ask of others with whom we share or wish to share an intimate, personal relationship. And that is precisely what Jesus asks each of us: “Do you love me?”
That’s all he wants from us: to allow ourselves to be loved, and to love him and his brothers and sisters in return. Ask yourself: Do you love Jesus as he loves you?