In today’s Gospel reading we have one of the most important texts which underpins the structure of the Church. It is of course the great confession of Peter’s faith and Christ’s declaration: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.”
This is probably the most famous pun in the whole of history; the word Peter meaning rock. On this rock, the rock that is Peter, Christ proposes to build his Church. And from this pun the whole theology of what we call the Petrine Ministry is developed, in other words it is from these words that the Papacy came into being.
The basis for all this is the question Jesus puts to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” This is a question, of course, that all people everywhere must eventually answer in one form or another. Peter gives his own answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Then Jesus tells him that, “it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.”
Here we have an important teaching about the very basis of faith; namely that it is not something that comes about as a result of one’s own volition but rather is something that is itself a gift from God.
Faith then is something that is revealed to us. When we come to faith, whether it be in childhood or in adulthood, it is like scales falling away from our eyes because a new way of understanding the world has been revealed to us. And the one who does the revealing is naturally enough God himself.
Faith is therefore a gift, a gift directly from God. A person cannot be condemned therefore for not having it, although even without faith it is still necessary for them to live a good and honourable life.
But for those that have been given this gift, and that means all of us gathered here, it is an additional responsibility. I don’t say that it is a burden because it is in fact a joy. But it is a joyful thing which does come with certain responsibilities. And the first responsibility is to take care of this gift, to nurture it and enable it to grow in our hearts.
There are lots of things that we can do to nurture our faith. For example we must frequent the sacraments and, of course, we must pray. Prayer means giving time to God each day; it means thinking about God frequently and asking ourselves what he wants us to do in the circumstances of our lives.
Prayer means communing with our creator and giving him a share of our time. Doing this means that we get to know him better and better and it is in this way that our faith develops and grows. Never underestimate the value of time spent in prayer; a few minutes each day in prayer gains us inestimable spiritual benefits.
Nurturing our faith is the first duty of anyone who calls themselves a Catholic. It is for this reason that in the Church we place a great emphasis on preparing properly for the sacraments and learning about our faith; for while there are the obvious spiritual aspects to this nurturing there are intellectual aspects also.
We must attend to both these aspects, both the spiritual and the intellectual. Besides catechesis there are other ways that we can strengthen our faith such as reading Catholic newspapers and books and nowadays also viewing TV programmes. A very simple example would be even reading the parish newsletter. It is our particular duty to inform ourselves about areas of the faith of which we are ignorant.
Another good thing that we could do is to attend discussion groups, for example those we hold about the Sunday scriptures that take place after the 10.00 mass on Fridays. This is a good way of acquainting ourselves with the sacred scriptures and so learning more about Jesus and the faith of the Church.
Going back to the text you might think that Pter wasn’t actually the most reliable sort of a rock on which the Church could be built. We know from other parts of scripture that Peter denied Jesus three times at the most crucial moment of all. We know that he was timid and unreliable and could certainly be described as a weak man.
But Jesus was always attracted by weak and unreliable people. Look back into the Old Testament and you will see that Moses was a murderer and yet God chose him as the one Israelite he could do business with. We see then that God has a long history of choosing weak and unreliable people to carry out his purposes.
Perhaps we ought to say, “Thank God for that!” after all none of us are all that reliable, none of us are as strong examples of humanity as we would like to be.
We remember that St Paul told us often enough that God chooses the weak and fills them with his strength. It is precisely through weak people that God achieves in the world exactly what he wants.
Besides declaring that Peter was the rock on which the Church would be built Jesus states that, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.”
These are most profound words by which Christ gives Peter and his successors enormous spiritual authority. He is placing the fate of mankind in the hands of his apostles and those who will succeed them.
This ministry has been exercised in the down through the centuries. The Church sees itself as a beacon to light up the way of mankind leading in the direction of heaven and all that is godly. The Church and especially the Papacy realises that it is vitally important to speak out on the issues affecting the world at any particular time and pointing out the right way for us to go.
This is not always popular and oftentimes the Church points in a direction which is rejected by most of humanity. But the Church knows the heart of man and it knows too the heart of God and it directs humanity on the road to heaven despite the many difficulties that may result.
We should be proud to belong to the one true faith founded by Jesus Christ on the shoulders of Peter the Apostle. It is him and his successors that we should regard as our best guide as we pass though the struggles and difficulties presented by the world of today.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket