Monday, August 28, 2017

A Church Built on a Rock: 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

   In today’s  first reading we hear one of the key moments in the history of Christianity. One of those moments which seems to exist outside of time and space. To put it plainly, when you hear people say that the words of Jesus are eternal, they are thinking about a Gospel reading like today's. 
    The story is simple enough. Jesus, while walking with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi, decides to engage them in conversation. I imagine the conversation went something like this:
Jesus: “ I saw you talking to some of them...Who were they saying that I was?”
The Apostles: “Well Master, some were saying you were John the Baptizer, others that you were a prophet, (Get a load of this) we even heard some calling you Elisha” …
Jesus ”Hmmm that’s nice… but you… Who do you say that I am?”
    If the Lord Jesus ever asked a loaded question... This. is. it.
    What follows is the moment in which Simon the fisherman without knowing it and inspired by the Holy Spirit, became the first person ever to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, The Christ. And because of this, Peter (As he was known from this moment on) was given authority and responsibility to guide the Church of Jesus Christ with the promise that this Church will be so inspired and protected that not even the Gates of Hell will ever be able to prevail against it.
    For the Catholic Church, today’s Gospel reading is a very important one, because this is the moment in which the Lord established this Church as an institution which, for the last 2000 years, has survived division, schism, persecutions, oppression and especially the leadership of flawed, weak and even evil men, all of them successors of Simon-Peter and the apostles.
    Now I’m the first one to admit that some parts of our history have been less than stellar. Some of the successors of Peter have not been the best examples of Christian life, in fact I can tell you some stories about some of these guys that would scandalize you to next week and back! However, I much rather point to a very interesting fact about the history of our Church:  It really doesn't matter how bad our leaders, how misguided, petty or plain incompetent these men were; Or how evil the members of this Church have been, there has never been a period in the history of this planet, that the Church Jesus entrusted to Peter has not been vibrant, growing and expanding. Even today, in our country, when  you hear of parishes closing and the very real future shortage of priest, if we look to parishes like St Michael’s, our Church is strong and vibrant.
    I think it is safe to say that the history of our church has been and will continue to be a sign of contradiction.  How can a divine institution be composed of flawed and sinful human beings? How come a Church which houses the greatest treasures of human art and knowledge, is at the same time the largest charitable organization in the world? How come this Church surrounded by a world obsessed with materialism and self contentedness, continues to feed the most hungry, care for the most sick and dying and protect the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters?
    To me the biggest proof that the Church is divinely inspired and guided by God, the biggest proof that this is the Church Jesus Christ founded is the fact that in spite the brokenness and sin of us, her children, the Church still stands strong, and continues to grow.
     In fact, when we think about the Church in all of its beauty and ugliness, and how God continues to act through this same Church it is very easy to bring to our mind the words of today’s second reading. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” that have created and sustained a Church like this!...And all this happened because one very flawed man, Peter recognized Jesus as the son of God.
    So the next time you hear someone blasting the church for this or that reason, someone pointing to you the ugly warts in the face of our Church, amaze yourself at the power of the Holy Spirit which continues the work of the Lord Jesus, here on earth, even when the only tools at hand are me and you.  GBMBAS