Wednesday, August 3, 2016

"YOU ARE PETER."


 Homily for August 4th, 2016: Matt 16:13-23.

     “You are Peter,” the Lord says. Peter’s original name was Simon. In Jesus’ language, Aramaic, the name Peter was identical with the word for rock. In reality Peter was anything but rocklike. He was quick to proclaim undying loyalty to the Lord whom he loved; yet, as we know, quick to deny him three times on that evening when Jesus was on trial for his life in a nearby room. So the new name the Lord gave Simon -- Peter, the Rock -- was ironic. It was something like calling a 350-pound heavy-weight “Slim.”

     As long as Peter thought he was strong; as long as he could boast that though all the others might desert Jesus, he would remain faithful — he was unfit for leadership. He had to become aware of his own weakness. He had to be convinced that without a power greater than his own he could do nothing. Then, and only then, could Jesus use him. 

     We tend to think of Peter as weak before Jesus’ resurrection, but strong afterwards, when on Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down on Peter and his fellow apostles in tongues of fire, and in a rushing mighty wind. Pope Benedict XVI liked to remind us that something of Peter’s old weakness remained with him to the end.

     An ancient legend bears witness to this. It says that toward the end of his life Peter escaped from the jail where the Roman Emperor had imprisoned him and fled from Rome under cover of night. Outside the city, he saw in the darkness the figure of a man walking toward him. When the figure got close, he recognized that it was Jesus.    
     "Where are you going, Lord?” Peter asked. “I’m going to Rome to be crucified again,” Jesus replied. Filled with shame, Peter turned around and re-entered the city. When they led him out the next day to nail him to a cross, Peter demanded that they crucify him upside down.   

     The story helps us understand why we pray for Peter’s successor, the Pope, in every Mass. He is an ordinary weak sinner like every one of us. We pray that the Lord will strengthen his trust in the rock on which Jesus built his Church: Peter’s faith.