Peter Saw the Truth

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2015/06/26 at 12:00 AM


In our Gospel today our Lord asks His disciples a question about identity. He wants to know if the world around Him recognizes Him for Who He Is. The answers given by the disciples reveal that many people recognize at least aspects of Jesus’ identity.
Like John the Baptist, Jesus did come to call people to repentance. Like Elijah, Jesus did come to preach and defend the truth about God. But these are only aspects of Jesus’ identity and mission and not the full story.
Only St. Peter, the leader of the nascent Church, gets the answer correct. He knows that Jesus is more than a prophet, greater even than John the Baptist. Peter sees the truth that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Messiah, the One Who will save us from our sins.
Perhaps we are a bit scandalized that so many of the Jews of Jesus’ day did not recognize His divinity. How many people does one need to heal, how many demons does one need to drive out, and how many miracles does one need to perform to prove one’s divinity?
But we mustn’t be scandalized or hold the Jews of Jesus’ day in any more contempt than we hold modern man, for even now – 2000 years later – can we say with any certainty that mankind truly recognizes the full truth about Jesus, even those who profess a Christian faith?
While many people in this world may profess belief that Jesus is the Son of God, the Word- Made-Flesh, the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, our Savior and our Redeemer, so many of us fail to live our lives in a way that provides validity to our belief.
Living our lives in a way that provides validity to our belief that Jesus is both God and man is not to say that we must live perfectly sinless lives, but it does mean that we must be at least striving for perfection.
It means that we must be sorry for our sins and confess them, that we must live prayerful lives – adoring Christ and giving thanks to Him – and it means that we must try to follow His teachings, which are given voice in the teachings and traditions of the Church He founded.
Most importantly, if we profess belief in Jesus Christ, then we must seek to imitate Him in all ways, to identify with Him, to be as much like Him as possible.
Ultimately, it means that we must be willing to suffer and die with Him and for Him, for it is in our Lord’s suffering and death that we see our Lord’s identity most clearly.
In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul mentions today that through the Sacrament of Baptism we clothe ourselves in Christ. Just as a bride takes on the name of her bridegroom at the time of their marriage, so too do we take on the name of our Lord at baptism.
Baptism makes us Christians. Once we are baptized, our Christianity becomes our primary identity…so much so that St. Paul says that: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female.”
And so if we have been baptized, we must learn to think of ourselves first and foremost as Christians. It matters little what country we come from, what job we hold or profession we practice, or what color our skin is.
Nothing that the world says is important should truly define our identity, for nothing the world says is important will give us a better chance of being saved.
But being a Catholic does, for within the warm embrace of Holy Mother Church we find not only the fullness of Truth, but also an abundance of sanctifying grace, by which alone man is saved!
Yet if we wish to enjoy the sanctifying grace given to us and strengthened within us by the Sacraments, we must live out our identity as Christians, most especially in our willingness to suffer and die to self. This is the hard part about being a Catholic, and it’s often the reason why some people leave the Church: they simply don’t want to change their lives in the ways the Church demands.
Let’s face it: it’s hard to be a Catholic with integrity. And when we really take the Church and Her teachings at face value, what we find is that the Catholic Church is perhaps the only institution in the entire world that demands the transformation and ultimate perfection of every person and even of this fallen world.
If we live our faith well, as it’s meant to be lived, we find that our lives as Catholics are one long uphill battle against our vices and imperfections, but as well a battle against the evil we find in this world.
While we are called to forgive sin and to be understanding with the weaknesses of others, we mustn’t ever compromise with sin or come to a truce with it – most especially the sin within ourselves.
It is for this reason that our Lord tells us today that if anyone wishes to follow Him, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily! The follower of Christ must lose his life in order to save it!
That we must die to self so that we might live is one of the great paradoxes of our Faith, but as paradoxical as it may sound it is nonetheless true!
What does it mean to die to self? It means, my dear brothers and sisters, that we must live for God and God alone. All that is not of God: sin, attachments to worldly goods, desires for fame or fortune, must find no safe harbor within us.
We must be so convinced of the infinite goodness, loveliness, and beauty of God that glorifying Him becomes the soul purpose of our lives. And anything that hinders us from this joyful task of glorifying God in every aspect of our lives must be cut out.
St. John of the Cross teaches that, on that steep and rocky path through the narrow gate of Heaven, “there is room only for self-denial and the cross” (Ascent of Mt. Carmel, 7.7).
But he goes on to say that: “The cross is a supporting staff and greatly lightens and eases the journey, [for] if individuals resolutely submit to the carrying of the cross, if they decidedly want to find and endure trial in all things for God, they will discover in all of them great relief and sweetness” (Ascent of Mt. Carmel, 7.7).
In other words the cross – while causing pain – becomes a source of joy for those who carry it because the act of embracing and carrying the cross transforms us into an image of Christ, which is our goal as Christians! This is another great paradox of our faith.
The saints show us that suffering freely embraced and endured with faith, hope, and charity transforms us. The freer we are to embrace and endure the cross, and the greater our faith, hope, and charity, the more transforming our suffering becomes.
Brothers and sisters, we are given a hard Gospel today. Our blessed Lord calls us to recognize Him as the Christ and to follow Him. This means we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and be willing to lose our lives if we hope to save them for eternity. There is no shortcut to Heaven.
But while we will have to undergo the pain of dying to self, we will find much joy in doing so.
May we each resolutely strive to cut from our lives all that hinders us from denying ourselves and carrying our crosses.
• Through the intercession of our Lady and all the saints, may we each embrace our identity as Christians and die to self so that we may live solely for our Lord.

23 June 2013

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio.
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