Homily for February 22nd, 2017. Matthew 16:13-19.
“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” The sentence contains a play on words. In Jesus’ language, Aramaic, the words for Peter and Rock were the same. Jesus was giving his friend Simon a new name. In reality, Simon, now called Peter, was anything but rock-like. When, on the night before he died, Jesus told Peter that within hours Peter would deny him three times, Peter protested: “Even though I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mt. 26:34f) We all know the sequel.
Yet Jesus chose Peter, of all people, to be the leader of his Church. As preparation Peter had to become aware of his 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.
What was rocklike in Peter was not strength of character or willpower, but faith — Peter’s trust in the One whose strength overcomes our human weakness. That is the rock on which the Lord builds his Church: trust in Jesus as God’s anointed servant: the Messiah, and God’s Son. As long as this trusting faith endures, Jesus says, even death itself will have no power over his Church.
We Catholics believe that Peter’s office of chief pastor continues in Christ’s Church. Every one of Peter’s successors, Pope Francis included, is an ordinary sinner like each of us, who must constantly seek God’s forgiveness for his sins in the sacrament of penance. Like Peter, he is strong only as long as he trusts not in himself, but only in the power that comes from God alone, through his Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
When you look within, do you see anything of Peter’s impetuosity and weakness? Take heart! You have a friend in heaven. The same Lord who gave the vacillating Simon the name “Rock” has made you, in baptism, his daughter, his beloved son. He wants you to be his messenger to others. You say you’re not fit for that? Neither was Peter. God does not always call those who are fit, by ordinary human standards. But he always fits those whom he calls.
God has a plan for your life, as surprising and wonderful as his plans for Peter. The only thing that can frustrate the accomplishment of God’s plan — for you, for me, for any one of us — is our own deliberate and final No.