What Did Paul Say to Peter?

Last evening our Forty Hours of Prayer came to its conclusion with a procession of the Holy Eucharist through the church. It was a beautiful and moving experience at the close of a time devoted to praying for reparation, healing and reformation in the Church. Fr. Alexander Poccetto, an oblate of St. Francis de Sales, gave a short, but powerful homily that succinctly brought together the call to all Christians, especially Catholics, to be faithful to our Lord in these difficult times.

This morning the first reading at Mass was from Galatians 2. In the Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, he describes his call by Christ and his loyalty to the gospel. He makes it very evident in the first chapter that he did not venture out on his own, but went through the proper channels to validate his mission. In 1:11-12 he writes: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

On that basis, I might be tempted to print up my business cards, start a website and begin a public ministry. After all, what I have to share is a direct revelation from Jesus Christ himself. But not Paul. He went out into the wilderness for three years and allowed Jesus to further prepare him. Then after three years he tells us, “I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas (Peter) and remained with him for fifteen days” (1:18). Why is this important? Paul recognized the authority of Peter (Cephas is the Aramaic equivalent, meaning “rock” and the name that Jesus would have actually given to the apostle, upon whom he would found the Church). It was not only important, but vital that Paul be commissioned by the vicar of Christ, the one we recognize as the first bishop of Rome, the first in the long succession of popes in the Church.

It is interesting that Paul uses the Aramaic version of Peter’s name throughout his writings, even when writing to churches in the Greek world (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Galatians 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14). It’s not that he never calls him Peter, he does (Galatians 2:7, 8), but the use of Cephas seems to affirm even more his authority as the “rock.”

The passage that was read this morning refers specifically to Peter’s inconsistency at Antioch. Paul writes the following:

And when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews [also] acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Paul, as one of the apostles, saw the importance of “calling out” Peter regarding an inconsistency in his life and practice–something that would hinder the proclamation and practice of the gospel. Peter, even with his direct commission from Christ to be head of the Church, accepted Paul’s rebuke and later speaks highly of him in his second general epistle.

What can we learn from this Scriptural encounter? Paul never denied Peter’s leadership role, he honored him as the head of the Church. Yet when the very integrity of the Church was threatened, when other leaders close to Peter veered into potential error, Paul spoke up under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

We may be uncomfortable with recent calls to our Holy Father to state succinctly the faith that has been passed on to us, from the “dubia” cardinals and more recently from Archbishop Viganò, however, when these concerns are addressed by Pope Francis, the Church and the our witness to the world will be confirmed. Let’s pray faithfully for the Vicar of Christ and the College of Cardinals that together we will rebuild Christ’s Church through reparation, healing and renovation.

What Did Paul Say to Peter?

Bizarro World

On the TV show “Seinfeld” Elaine learns about Bizarro World from Jerry. See it here. I remember learning about Bizarro World from Adventure Comics. It was a cube-shaped planet called Htrae (Earth backwards), and there lived Bizarro Superman and several other Bizarro superheroes. In popular culture Bizarro World has come to mean “a situation or setting which is weirdly inverted or opposite to expectations.”

I don’t how many times recently I have commented to someone that we are living in a Bizarro World. How do I explain what I mean without being insensitive to someone or something. Let me give you an example that was mentioned to me yesterday at work. This comes from the category of truth is stranger than fiction. On August 16 of this year, the Babylon Bee which bills itself as “Your Trusted Source for Christian News Satire” offered this “fake” headline:

Pope Says He Will Address Sex Abuse Scandal Once He’s Finished Talking About Climate Change

On August 28, just eight days later, an interview by the Chicago NBC station with Blase Cardinal Cupich produced this real headline:

Cardinal Says Pope Has More Important Things to Address Than Abuse Scandal Like The Environment and Immigration

Bizarro World can show up in most any place. It is especially embarrassing when it comes from people who should know better. Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if you come across a news story today that communicates bizarre.

It should concern us anytime Christians make bizarre news. How do we avoid “scandal” that is not for the case of Christ? As St. Peter says we should make sure that the only “bizarre” we are involved in is because we are judged for not going along with the ways of the world. The early Christians were considered bizarre because they rescued babies that had been left to die under bridges (an ancient form of post-birth abortion), or because they would stay in the cities in the plagues to care for their dying neighbors instead of fleeing for safety as their fellow citizens did.

We should seek to live that kind of bizarre. St. Paul gives us some instructions to live by in Ephesians 4:17-23 (NRSV).

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

If it’s for Christ and his kingdom then be bizarre! Just be sure it’s for Christ and his kingdom!

Bizarro World

Following In Jesus’s Steps

It’s a very heroic thing when a person gives up his or her life for another. It usually makes the news, books are written and movies are made.

The greatest example we have of this is described by St. Paul in Romans 5 when he refers to Jesus Christ:

Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath.Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life (5:7-10 NABRE).

St. Peter tells us in his first letter “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (2:21 NABRE). So just as Christ suffered and gave up his life, it will come to us to suffer, and maybe even fully follow in his steps to surrender our life.

Today is the feast day of the Polish Franciscan martyr, St. Maximilian Kolbe. In 1941 at the German concentration camp of Auschwitz, one prisoner disappeared which prompted the deputy camp commander to pick ten men to be starved to death to discourage further escapes. One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, had a wife and children and cried out for mercy. Fr. Kolbe volunteered to take his place. In their underground bunker Kolbe led the men in constant prayers and after two weeks he was the only left alive. He was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid and died on August 14, 1941.

At his canonization in 1982 the verse from John 15:13 was read: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (NABRE). Ellyn von Huben writes about that special day.

There was one extraordinary man in attendance at St. Maximilian’s canonization: Franciszek Gajowniczek. Though spared the torture of the starvation bunker, Gajowniczek had still suffered greatly. He was in Auschwitz for over five years and his sons did not live to see the day of his release. Those prisoners who had grown so fond of Fr. Kolbe were particularly cruel to Gajowniczek, as they blamed him for the loss of their beloved friend and priest. But he received consolation in 1982, in St. Peter’s Square, when the man who offered his life for Franciszek’s was declared a saint.

As Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story!” St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!

Following In Jesus’s Steps

Humility and Charity

Over the past several weeks I have been reading daily from To Live Is Christ: A 40-Day Journey with Saint Paul. Each day takes a passage from one of Paul’s letters and combines it with a related reflection from different Christian writers.

A couple of days ago the passage of Scripture came from Colossians 3:12-17 which includes Paul’s instruction that if we allow God’s peace to rule our hearts and Christ to dwell in us, we will bear fruit.

The reflection that day came from St. Padre Pio (1887-1968) who was an Italian friar, priest and mystic and was canonized as a saint in 2002. He writes this under the title “Advice to One Striving to Do God’s Will.”

Regarding what you have asked me, I don’t want to say anything more concerning your spirit than this: remain tranquil, striving every more intensely with divine help to keep humility and charity firm within you, for they are the most important parts of the great building, and all the others depend on them. Keep yourself firmly fixed in them. One is the highest thing, the other the lowest. The preservation of the entire building depends on both the foundations and the roof. If we keep our hearts applied to the constant exercise of these virtues, we will encounter no difficulties with the others. They are the mothers of the virtues; the other virtues follow them like chicks follow their mother.

Padre Pio doesn’t specify which is which, but as I reflected on this, I thought that the foundation of my life should be charity (love), deeply rooted in love, and the roof of my life should be humility, in order to give me perspective and remember that I am what I am only by the grace of God.

Lord, may I be grounded in your love! Lord, may I never think too highly of myself. All that I am I owe to you. Thanks be to God!

Humility and Charity