Sunday, August 27, 2017


You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.
What ever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and
whatever you loose of earth will be loosed in heaven.
Matthew 16

Right after this homily, I will invite you to join me once again in saying the Creed, the summary of the basics of our faith.  In it we will profess to be in a church that has four qualities – a church that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic!

Last week, when Jesus was outside Jewish territory, curing the daughter of a Canaanite woman, the readings gave us an opportunity to think about our church being catholic, meaning universal, inclusive and welcoming to all. We see the catholic side of our church every time one pope is elected and another ones dies. Our church is not a Jefferson County Church or an American Church. It is a universal Church. Our leaders are elected from bishops of every color and from every nation on earth. The last four popes in turn have been Italian, Polish, German and now Argentinian. The next one could be Korean, Nigerian, Mexican, Filipino, Australian, Ugandan, American  or any other nationality on earth.

This week, the readings offer me a chance to talk to you about our church being apostolic, one that goes back in an unbroken line to the apostles themselves, with Peter as their designated leader.  The only reason our headquarters is in Rome, rather than Jerusalem or Antioch is that Peter, head of the apostles, preached in Rome, died in Rome and is buried in Rome. How can I ever forget that picture of Pope Francis hugging the box holding the bones of St. Peter last June 29 before they were reburied under the high altar in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome?  

You have all seen the big church in Rome that is named after Peter the apostle – Saint Peter’s Basilica. Saint Peter was crucified, like Christ but upside down, around 64. Two hundred years after his death, the Emperor Constantine erected a church in honor of Saint Peter on Vatican Hill. The fact that Emperor Constantine built his church over a cemetery and on a slope makes no sense unless he wanted to mark the grave of Saint Peter himself. It has long been believed that this was the spot where Peter was buried. The original church was torn down in the 16th century and the present church was built on the same site with the altar in the same spot.  It wasn’t till 1939 that excavations underneath the floor of Saint Peter’s Basilica uncovered a Roman cemetery and at a spot directly beneath the main altar was discovered a small shrine with a box of bones that are believed to be those of Saint Peter himself. Four years ago, I was deeply moved to see Pope Francis having the great honor of holding a box with the bones of Saint Peter in his hands.

Pope Francis is the 266th continuous successor to hold the “keys” given to Saint Peter in today’s gospel. Pope Francis is Peter in today’s church! He holds the power “to bind and loose” that was given to the apostle Peter in today’s gospel. When we say we believe the church is apostolic, we are saying that we believe that the line of succession is unbroken all the way back to the apostle Peter himself. 

We have to remember that Peter was a nickname that Jesus gave this apostle in today’s reading. Peter means rock. His real name was Cephas.  “Cephas, from now you will be called “Rock” and on this “rock” I will build my church.” 

Now, what about all the corruption that has happened throughout history? Should we not just start a fresh new church? Again, look at what Jesus said to Peter in today’s gospel! He tells Peter that “the gates of hell will not prevail against the church he has built on Peter.” He does not say that evil will not infect and afflict the church. He does, however, say that it will not prevail against it! As Vatican Council II said, “the church is semper reformanda, always in need of reform!  We are indeed the field of weeds and wheat growing side by side that Jesus talked about. Here is one of my favorite quotes by a faithful Catholic who has a love-hate relationship with the Church.       

How much I must criticize you, my Church, and
yet how much I love you! How you have made me
suffer and yet how much I owe you. I should like to
see you destroyed and yet I need your presence.
You have given me so much scandal and yet you
have made me understand holiness. Never in the
world have I seen anything more obscurantist,
more compromised, more false yet never have I
touched anything more pure, more generous or
more beautiful. How often I have felt like slamming
the door of my soul in your face - and how often I
have prayed that I might die in your arms! No, I
cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even
though not completely you. Then, too - where
should I go? To build another? But I cannot build
another without the same defects, for they are my
own defects I bear within me. And again, if I build
one, it will be my Church, and no longer Christ's.
Carlo Carretto

Those who would like to forget the apostolic nature of the church are like people who would take the family album and cut out all the people and events they don’t like and find embarrassing so that they can appear to be clean and pure. The only problem with that is that they will always be clipping and editing because the church will always have a sinful side - it always has been, and will always be, made up of sinful people. I am happy we have left all the losers, crooks, bad popes and sinners in our family album because it is indeed proof to me that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church founded on the Rock! We members of the church have had every chance possible to destroy it over the last 2,000 years, but the fact that it is still going, is still as healthy as it is, is proof to me that Christ is still “with” the church he founded on Peter the Apostle.


No comments:

Post a Comment