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.

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What Did Paul Say to Peter?

On This Rock

360px-Entrega_de_las_llaves_a_San_Pedro_(Perugino)One of the key doctrines that separates Catholicism from all other Christian expressions is the firm belief that Jesus established his Church on the rock that is St. Peter. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19 NRSV). One of the things I didn’t realize until I began my journey to Catholicism is that in the Greek all the uses of “you” underlined above are in the second person singular. Jesus was speaking specifically to Peter.

On another occasion Jesus also gives all the apostles the power to bind and loose, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23 NRSV). In both cases it is obvious that Jesus is investing apostolic authority to these men and as Catholics we understand that because of apostolic succession, through the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, and through him all bishops, and through them all priests who represent them, minister the sacraments of the Church.

One of the beautiful passages that show the primacy of Peter reveals words that Jesus spoke to him before his arrest on Holy Thursday. “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34 NRSV). It will be Peter’s mission to strengthen his fellow apostles after the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

And while we know Peter certainly denied his Lord three times, by all standards disqualifying him from the important role of leadership, we see our Lord draw Peter to himself in a very significant and tender moment. In John 21:15-19 NRSV, we read of an important encounter between the two of them after Jesus’s resurrection.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus reiterates the commission he gave Peter in Matthew 16. He says to him, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep.” It is Peter a few days later in the book of Acts who takes charge and leads the search and installation of the successor of Judas. And then on the day of Pentecost, it is Peter who stands and preaches the first sermon that brought 3000 converts to the Church.

Pope Francis is now the 266th Bishop of Rome and 265th successor of St. Peter. No pope is perfect, not Peter, not Francis, not anyone of these men. Many times we are concerned with what a pope says or does. There have been many concerns expressed about our current holy Father. We must pray and pray always that Christ will guide his Church by the Holy Spirit operating through the Vicar of His Church.

St. Peter pray for us! Pope St. John Paul II pray for us!

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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

Is the Pope Catholic?

When I was growing up and someone asked a question with an obvious positive answer, the sarcastic response that was often given was “Is the Pope Catholic?” I found myself asking that “rhetorical question” once again yesterday after Pope Francis’s appearance before a large crowd of youth in Sicily.

At the end of his meeting with the youth of Sicily, Pope Francis prayed a simple prayer rather than give the Pontifical Blessing, so as not to offend the “many non-Catholic Christians, those of other religions, and the agnostics” present. In itself, there is nothing wrong with the prayer, although weak on actual message (I’m trusting someone else’s translation from Italian to English to provide the content):

Now I would like to give you a blessing. I know that among you there are young Catholics, Christians, other religious traditions, and even some agnostics. For this I will bless everyone, and I will ask God to bless that seed of restlessness that is in your heart.

Lord, Lord God, look at these young people. You know each of them. You know what they think. You know that they want to move on, to make a better world. Lord, make them seekers of good and of happiness, make them active in their journey and in their encounter with others; make them bold in serving; make them humble in seeking their roots and carrying them forward to bear fruit, to have identity, to have belonging. May the Lord, the Lord God, accompany all these young people on the journey and bless everyone. Amen.

It seems that “seeker sensitivity,” long popular in evangelical circles, has moved into the Vatican circle and is being practiced by Pope Francis. Understand that I’m not saying we should never try to contextualize the message of the gospel. But there are certain factors here that make this seem bizarre. I’m fully aware that not every Sicilian, especially among the youth, are practicing Catholics, but the vast majority of them are. For many of those young Sicilian Catholics it was probably the first time to see the pope in person and have the opportunity to receive a pontifical blessing from him.

A Pontifical Blessing

V. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
R. Now and forever.

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.

V. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
R. Amen.

Another issue is that the person who gave the simple blessing rather than the pontifical blessing was not just any cleric, but Pope Francis, the Holy Father, the Successor to St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ on earth. Who better to give a beautiful, significant and enduring Trinitarian blessing, than him. Pray the simple prayer, but then give the people the blessing that befits the holy office.

In this time of crisis in the worldwide Church we need more than simple, bland, generic, fluffy, fuzzy, theologically indistinct blessings.

St. Peter pray for Pope Francis! St. Peter pray for Christ’s Church! St. Peter pray for us!

Is the Pope Catholic?

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

“Lord, if it is you, command me…”

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew (14:22-36) relates the story of Jesus walking on the sea toward his disciples who are cowering in the boat. They are terrified because they think he is a ghost. He speaks to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” And then we have Peter’s response, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says, “Come.”

From there we usually get caught up on the details of Peter getting out of boat (at least he got out of the boat!) and then walking toward Jesus (he was walking on the water!), but then he sees how strong the wind was and he gets frightened and begins to sink.

I would like to go back to something that happened in the interchange between Jesus and the disciples, especially Peter. Jesus said, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter said, “Lord, if it is you…” Lord, if it is you!

I can truly relate to how Peter began his response to the Lord: “If it is you…” Jesus had already identified himself. Peter even calls him Lord, and yet there is that hesitation in his spirit. So often, I have sensed in my spirit that I am do so something, in fact, very strongly. I receive that impression and then I wait. I mull it over. I even pray and say, “Lord, I want to do your will, but what is it you want me to do?” No doubt, you have experienced something similar.

I mentioned a few days ago that I sensed strongly that I was to pick up this blog again after about 15 months of not writing. I kept hesitating. I even mentioned once to my confessor that I felt impressed to write, but didn’t because of fear that what I had to say might not be well received. He heard me and told me that he believed that God had given me an “apostolate” (a call) to share my faith through writing) and yet I put it off. I was doing the same thing as Peter, “Lord, if it is you…call me back to the blog.”

Now, I would be the first to say that there are many other blogs out there doing fine work of sharing the faith, but that is not the point. Our Lord was calling me to respond, and it is time to get out of the safety of the boat.

“Lord, save me!”

“Lord, if it is you, command me…”