22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
August 30, 2020
Highs and Lows
If we track the Apostle Peter in Matthew’s Gospel from last Sunday to this Sunday, we might say that Peter’s “stock” plummeted in the eyes of Jesus. In other words, his standing with Jesus fell from high to low. So, what did Peter do to bring about such a reversal of his fortunes?
You might remember that, in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus asked his disciples a critical question: “Who do you say that I am?” Prompted by the Spirit, Simon answered, “You are the Christ, Son of the Living God.” Jesus responded by calling Simon “blessed” because God the Father had revealed that most fundamental truth to him. Jesus went on to give Simon the name “Peter” – a name that means “rock” – thus declaring Peter the “rock” upon which he would build his Church.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus prophesies that he would be put to death and raised up on the third day. That news did not align with Peter’s views about the Messiah, so he called Jesus aside and took issue with what he had said. In effect, Peter was arguing against the very core of God’s plan to save the world! That’s when his “stock” plummeted in the eyes of Jesus. Jesus told Peter that he was thinking, not like God, but rather as human beings do, and even called him a stumbling stone, an obstacle, in the doing of his Father’s will.
Why Did Peter’s “Stock” Fall So Dramatically?
But let us take a closer look as to why Peter’s “stock” fell so dramatically. Wasn’t it only natural that Peter, who loved and believed in Jesus, would want to keep him safe from harm and ensure the success of his mission? Perhaps that is just the point: it was only “natural” that Peter would want to do this. The trouble is, Peter defined success in purely “natural”, earthly terms – along the lines of political and military success. In his profession of faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord, Peter had spoken the truth of God the Father with the help of the Holy Spirit, whereas now, in reacting to Jesus’ prediction of his passion and death, Peter expressed his personal wishes and worldly ambitions.
Confronted with the unwelcome news of the Messiah’s impending death, Peter reacted impulsively; he did not take the time or make the effort to discern and discover the will of God in what Jesus had just revealed. Because he focused only on his own plans and desires, not on God’s plans, Peter earned a sharp rebuke from Jesus, “Get behind me, Satan!” – and was reduced from being the rock to being a stumbling block.
The Importance of Discernment in Our Lives
What about us? How does this apply to our lives, to yours and mine? To begin with, I am sure that somewhere out in cyberspace there must be an app called “Religion My Way”. Not unlike the Apostle Peter, we may approach religion as something that should be designed and tailored expressly to our needs … more a means of reaching our goals and attaining personal satisfaction, than a path to discipleship and holiness. When faced with teachings that do not align with our own ideas, or when we encounter some unexpected suffering, we may be tempted to rail against God and our religion, and maybe even to walk away.
Years ago, a priest visited a married couple and had dinner in their home. During that visit, the priest poured out his troubles – he wasn’t happy in his assignment, he felt he was unappreciated, etc., etc., and he capped off his lament with the words, “I didn’t sign up for any of this!” To which the couple responded, “We didn’t sign up for a child with special needs, but that’s what the Lord has asked of us and we are doing our best to respond.” This was a moment of profound conversion for that priest, a turning point in his life, and I would suggest you and I need to make that same pivot in our lives … Like Jeremiah, who complained to the Lord, “You duped me and I let myself be duped,” all of us, when frustrated and upset, may complain to the Lord, “I didn’t sign up for this!” “You promised me joy and not these crosses!” Like Peter, we may not take the time or make the effort to discern and discover the will of God lodged right in the heart of our problems and sufferings.
That is why Pope Francis frequently urges us to learn the art of discerning God’s will, and why he provides us with down-to-earth lessons on how to practice that art. So it is that the Holy Father speaks of two voices that whisper in our hearts. The first is “the voice of God who speaks kindly to our consciences” and the second is “the tempting voice that leads to evil.” These two voices speak to our hearts in two very different ways. … God knocks at the door of our hearts in truth, love, and mercy; … God never stops inviting us to welcome his light and love into our hearts. … God gently but persistently moves us from falsehood to truth, from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from self-centeredness to self-giving love, from bitterness and melancholy to a joy no one can take from us. … The voice of evil seduces us, deceives us, flatters us, appeals to our self-interest, destroys trust, and encourages secrecy and deception … and when we give in, it leaves us high and dry – bitter, alone, and guilt-ridden. … Every day, these two voices speak to us amid the confusion and turmoil of life. But if we rely only on our impulses, desires, and plans, we are easily deceived and end up substituting our will for God’s will. Instead, we must engage in prayerful discernment, rooted in the teachings of the faith and guided by the Holy Spirit – and we do this not only to distinguish good and evil but also to learn what is holy and pleasing in God’s eyes life’s in difficult and painful situations.
Worship and Discernment
In today’s reading from Romans, Paul caps off this biblical summons to discernment. St. Paul does so by showing us how worship and discernment are related. When we worship, God’s mercies enable us to present our whole life—body, mind, and spirit—like an open book—before God. As we absorb God’s Word and receive Christ into our hearts, we are rescued from the darkness of sin all around us. In authentic worship, our minds are “renewed”, that is to say, our minds are purified and enlightened so thoroughly that they are equipped to discern the will of God … whereas minds that stay darkened by sin oppose God’s will, to their detriment. As one author wrote, “True worship flows out into a rightly ordered life…” So, if anyone asks why you think it is important to participate in Mass each week, this is your answer and it is straight from the writings of the Apostle, St. Paul!
The Role of the Holy Spirit
Only after Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was his faith so rock-solid, that he imitated Christ by laying down his life, in witness to his redeeming love. Now, St. Peter’s “stock” will never tumble because he shares forever his Master’s glory and joy in the courts of heaven. My friends, the Holy Spirit has also been imparted to us in the Church’s sacraments. Relying on the Holy Spirit, may we open our hearts to Christ in true worship, so that we may find true joy, not in pursuing our interests, but in giving our lives to God and to others in love, truth, and service. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!